Friday, February 22, 2013

Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff (1973)

"Ah yes, I remember," says William Berger.  "I had very little time to make this one.  All my scenes were done in a row, in a very short period of time, three days or so.  I haven't seen the movie."  (1)

"I worked intensively with Jess," says Edmund Purdom.  "It was very stimulating.  He was such an incredibly prolific mind; it seems to be going in several directions at once.  I never saw [THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF].  In fact, I've never seen any of Jess's movies.  All I can tell you is the way he worked, which was very impressive indeed."  (2)

Despite the fact that its two leading actors have never seen the film, Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff (1973), I have seen the film.  It was given a DVD release a couple of years ago by Intervision Picture Corp.  The disc had been collecting dust in some nook of my room, and I had an itch to watch some Franco, so I gave it a spin.

Like most Jess Franco films, Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff (1973) has a curious history.  The authors of Bizarre Sinema:  Jess Franco El sexo del horror write that subsequent to Soledad Miranda's death, Franco was searching for another actress to replace her.  (3)  Montserrat Prous was the sister of Juan A. and Alberto Prous, two cameramen who had been working for Franco.  (4)  She had had a small role in a previous Spanish comedy and was assisting her brothers during the shooting of various movies.  (5)  Franco convinced Prous that she was going to be a star, and she was going to be the lead in the first film of Franco's new production house, Manacoa.  (6)  Along with Berger, Purdom, Robert Woods, and another new recruit, Kali Hanza, the first film of this new production company was Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff.  (7)
Prous plays Melissa Comfort, and she is the ward of her uncle, Sir Henry Robert Comfort (Jaime Picas).  Her immediate care is handled by her aunt, Lady Flora Comfort (Hanza) and her sister, Martha (Loretta Tovar), as Melissa is disabled and unable to walk.  Recently, Melissa has been haunted by nightmares which she believes involve an event ten years prior when she was a child concerning her father's death.  Flora and Martha consult Dr. Orloff (Berger) to examine Melissa about her nightmares.  Dr. Orloff reveals to Melissa that he knew both her father and her mother.  He tells her that he loved her mother very much and her father was a close friend.  He agrees to treat her by giving her medicine to help her sleep.

After her first dose, Melissa awakens in a somnambulistic state and reveals that she can walk.  She enters her uncle's study and murders him.  The following morning, Melissa awakens to learn that her uncle is gone from the house to go hunting (without knowledge of her behavior the night before).  Melissa believes something is amiss.  When his body is found by the side of the road, Inspector Crosby (Purdom) is assigned to the case.  Dr. Orloff, coincidentally, performs the autopsy upon Melissa's uncle.  Hmm...
I enjoyed Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff.  It's well-paced (short, too, at about seventy-five minutes); features good performances, with Prous and Berger standing out; and Franco indulges a particularly favorite theme, subjection/domination of the will by another.  Against the backdrop of Franco's other work, especially his work during this period, Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff is far from distinguishable.  The camerawork is clean for the majority and missing are those beautiful, subjective Franco shots, often leering at its ladies in provocative poses.  The mystery-cum-police-procedural story is very conservative and well-rendered, and there are no diversions or frolics from the action.  Frolics and detours from the plot would have been very welcome.
Subsequent to Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff, Franco attempted to make three films back-to-back with the Manacoa production house.  (8)  Two of the films were never finished and the other did not do well.  (9)  Franco would make much better films during the immediate period, such as La comtesse perverse (1973), Al otro lado del espejo (1973), and especially, Sinner (Le journal intime d'une nymphomane (1972).  The latter was produced by Robert de Nesle and features both Prous and Hanza.

I would definitely recommend Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff for those looking for a more restrained Franco film or for those, like me, who have seen a lot of Franco and are now looking for obscure titles from the filmmaker.  I have seen well over a hundred of his films and I know there are still plenty out there to uncover.  Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff isn't a hidden gem but it's very entertaining Franco.
1.  Obsession:  The Films of Jess Franco.  Ed. by Lucas Balbo and Peter Blumenstock.  Graf Haufen & Frank Trebbin.  Berlin, Germany.  1993:  p. 218.
2.  “International Man of Cinema:  An Interview with Edmund Purdom.”  Chartrand, Harvey F.  Shock Cinema.  No.  24/Spring 2004.  Ed.  Steven Puchalski.  New York, N.Y.  2004:  p.  31.
3.  Bizarre Sinema Jess Franco El sexo del horror.  Ed.  Carlos Aguilar, Stefano Piselli, and Riccardo Morrocchi.  Glittering Images.  Firenze, Italy.  1999:  p. 104.
4.  Ibid.
5.  Ibid.
6.  Ibid.
7.  Ibid.
8.  Ibid.
9.  Ibid.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nosferatu a Venezia (1988)

Nosferatu a Venezia (1988) is a rare film which can successfully sustain claims of both total incompetence and artistic genius.  Both claims have strong merit.

Professor Catalano (Christopher Plummer), a renowned expert on vampirism, is summoned to Venice, Italy at the request of Princess Helietta Canins (Barbara De Rossi).  The princess resides in her familial manor with her aged mother, younger sister, and spiritual advisor, Don Alvise (Donald Pleasence).  She is convinced that an evil curse has overtaken the manor and has infected the entire family.  Below the manor and below the canals of Venice, a tomb is located, bound completely in chains.  The princess believes this tomb houses the source of the evil and wants Professor Catalano to help her open the tomb and end the curse.  He says no.

The ancient evil residing in the tomb might actually be the legendary vampire, Nosferatu (Klaus Kinski), to whom Professor Catalano has devoted his life’s study.  Opening the tomb, the professor argues, would be unleashing too great an evil.  He presents evidence supporting his claim:

Two hundred years prior to the present day, Nosferatu’s last known appearance occurred in Venice while a plague was overtaking the populace.  Specifically, Nosferatu was last seen in the princess’s palatial manor and had given one of her ancestors the vampire’s kiss.  Nosferatu disappeared thereafter, never having been seen again.

The princess is adamant.  The family and the house are cursed, and the curse must be lifted.  She schedules a séance at her home where a medium successfully summons Nosferatu from his slumber.  Interestingly, it appears that during the séance, the ancestor of the princess channeled her spirit through the body of the princess.  Nosferatu, in effect, must have been called back to the world of the living by his last victim who is also clearly in love with the creature.  Shit is about to go from bad to worse.
Among real cult-film aficionados, Nosferatu a Venezia is a curiosity, known for its troubled production history.  The IMdB, as trivia, lists these facts, which are mostly corroborated by Luigi Cozzi, an assistant to the production, here (especially pages five and six).  Given the production problems, it is unsurprising then that Nosferatu a Venezia appears disjointed and poorly-structured.  The film is totally unengaging on an emotional level and extremely difficult to follow, despite a very simple narrative.  Producer, and subsequent director, Augusto Caminito failed to make a film equal in praise to its predecessor, Werner Herzog’s masterful Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979).  Instead, at its most superficial level, Nosferatu a Venezia is a travelogue of the beautiful city of Venice and of Klaus Kinski traversing its streets, alleys, and canals.  In between the sequences of the city and of Kinski, some story unfolds.  This is not say that there are not brilliant sequences which are very memorable.
After Nosferatu has entered the manor a couple of times, one time committing murder and the other assaulting the princess, the professor and company realize that Nosferatu may be coming back again.  In a daylight sequence in an enclosed garden behind the manor, the professor feels a climate change and knows that Nosferatu is coming.  With a shimmer in his eye, the professor realizes that his entire life study is about to come to its fruition:  an ultimate confrontation with Nosferatu.  (Plummer deserves a lot of praise for his performance, as it is quite good.)  Kinski appears in dramatic fashion.  Nosferatu rebuffs two powerful shotgun blasts from the local doctor (and also, incidentally, the princess’s would-be paramour).  Plummer’s professor grabs his cross and begins a litany, one it appears that he has been preparing for a while.  Kinski, in an essential Kinski moment, seems slightly perturbed at the sight of the professor.  (One of the best emotions that Kinski could faithfully and inimitably produce is that of contempt.  He is in top form, here.)  De Rossi appears at the stairs and beckons for Nosferatu.  Kinski now sees Plummer’s character as inconsequential and with an unforeseen incendiary ability, violently heats the cross in Plummer’s hands.  The professor drops to the ground with his wounded hands (and even more so, wounded pride), and Nosferatu nonchalantly steps over him to take the princess’s hand.  An amazing sequence.
The subsequent sequence rivals its predecessor, where Plummer, thoroughly defeated, packs his bags to leave the manor.  Plummer gives this wonderful speech about failure while Don Alvise follows behind him, shaming him by yelling at the top of his lungs.  (Pleasance gives a bizarre, emotional performance.  His character has almost no narrative weight in the final film.  This anomaly quality of his character just heightens the disjointed nature of the film.)  Plummer crosses a pedestrian bridge across one of the canals and a gulf of fog overtakes him.  When the fog clears, his character is gone, while his suitcase floats in the canal below.  Unbelievable.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of reading Klaus Kinski’s autobiography, Kinski Uncut, is well aware that Kinski quite enjoyed fucking or at the minimum, quite enjoyed writing about fucking in descriptive detail.  Unfortunately, I could decipher little in its text about Nosferatu a Venezia, but the final act of the film seems as if it could have come from pages from his autobiography.  Describing the final act, here, would be a disservice, but I hope that I have hinted towards its content sufficiently.  The final act is ridiculous, over-the-top, and much like the final film, totally incompetent or artistically brilliant.

Nosferatu a Venezia has a DVD release from Germany, available here.  It is well worth seeing, if you are a serious fan of the antiquities and curios of European cult cinema.