This HD double bill, JESS FRANCO’S FORGOTTEN FILMS: Vol. 1 from Dorado Films, is another welcome addition to the growing list of Blu-ray releases of the the films of the prolific director. This set contains two of his first MANACOA FILMS productions, LOS OJOS DEL DOCTOR ORLOFF/THE SINISTER EYES OF DOCTOR ORLOFF (1973) and UN SILENCIO DE TUMBA (1972).
This is a review of The Ultimate Edition of this Dorado Films release, which contains 4k scans from 35mm elements of both features. Also included in the edition is THE MANACOA EXPERIENCE, a 14 page history of Films Manacoa P.C., the production company which Franco founded in late 1972. The Manacoa company lasted until the very end of his career, including his last two features, AL PEREIRA VS THE ALLIGATOR LADIES and REVENGE OF THE ALLIGATOR LADIES (2012 and 2015, respectively). One of my favorite Franco films LOS BLUES DE LAS CALLE POP (1983) was also spawned by Manacoa. The well researched booklet, written by Jess Franco experts Francesco Cesari and Roberto Curti, also analyses both completed films in some depth, including how they differ from their original screenplays.
UN SILENCIO DE TUMBA was the first completed Manacoa film production. Based on a novel by E. Jarber (Enrique Jarnes Bergua). He also authored comics, a format beloved by Jess Franco who even modeled the visual style of some of his films after them (NECRONOMICON, LUCKY, THE INSCTRUTABLE, LOS BLUES DE LAS CALLE POP, in particular). Santos Alcocer’s somewhat similar locked room murder mystery EL ENIGMA DEL ATAUD aka ORGIES OF ORLOFF (1967) is also based on a Jarber novel, and features Howard Vernon in a key role.
UN SILENCIO… is in fact more like another version of Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE….. a group of people, this time a movie star (Glenda Allen) and her friends, are targeted by a seeming madman who kidnaps her son and disposes of the adults one by one during a weekend retreat on an island. It registers as a psychological thriller, with the action being experienced through the consciousness of the vulnerable Valerie (Montserrat Prous), the sister of the movie star who is also the kidnapped child’s caregiver and guardian during his mother’s long absences.
Franco allows for a kind of stream of consciousness, interior narrative by conveying Valerie’s disturbed, conflicted thoughts though voice-over, through which we learn that she hates her famous sister for being socially and sexually promiscuous while neglecting her young son. She also despises the entourage of cinema people who surround her, especially the womanizing producer (Luis Induni) and his sleazy lawyer. Her thoughts and self isolation from this decadent bunch is cleverly illustrated by the director’s staging of scenes with Valerie placed out of stage center, on the literal sidelines as the group drinks, dances and parties the night away. She is also quieter and dresses more conservatively, focusing her presence on her sister’s son. When the son is kidnapped and a ransom note is found her deportment and demeanor rapidly and decidedly evolve as the hipsters run for cover. Standing up to the increasingly alarming demands of the invisible kidnapper with a level head, she finally becomes a tightly wrapped current of integrity and, despite her slight frame, a courageous warrior when the power to the villa is cut and she stands alone against the terror,* armed with a shotgun, swathed in a full metal bandolero of live ammunition, as she stalks the criminal from room to room.
Montserrat Prous would appear in several more significant roles in such Jess Franco films as SINNER: LE JOURNAL INTIME D’UNE NYMPHOMANE (1972), which revolved around her as a tragic prostitute whose suicide triggers a CITIZEN KANE style prismatic narrative. She is the heart and soul of UN SILENCIO… and one cannot imagine the film without her. The Argentinean actor Alberto Dalbes, familiar as Doctor Seward in such Franco monster fests as DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN and EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN (both 1972), also has a quietly effective presence as the private detective who acts as the rock solid supporter of Valerie even as his actual identity and agenda surprisingly evolve in the twist ending.
A solid mystery film with a thumping score by “David Khunne” supported by an opening and closing samba composed by favorite Franco musician Fernando Garcia Morcillo. It looks and sounds absolutely terrific here, with saturated colors, even in the dark scenes where architectural details of the villa, the furniture covers and costumes seem to almost glow in the dark, where in the previous only available video everything was too dark to see. This marks the film’s digital as well as HD debut.
LOS OJOS DEL DOCTOR ORLOFF aka THE SINISTER EYES OF DOCTOR ORLOFF also features Montserrat Prous (voiced, as in UN SILENCO DE TUMBA, by Spanish dubber Selica Torcal) in the lead role of the paralyzed-from-birth Melissa Comfort, who lives in a wheelchair and is attended by a butler and her two scheming sisters, who are quite unsympathetic to Melissa’s existential plight. Opening as a literal locked-room mystery, in the midst of Melissa dreaming of how her teenage self was able to walk one stormy night in the locked house, empty except for herself and vulnerable late father (played by Jess Franco himself) who has been stabbed by an unseen assailant and bleeds to death with his blood staining his daughter’s nightgown. Opening in media res, Franco immediately introduces a kind of psychoanalytic horror into the development of the story. The nightmares of compulsive murders under the authority of Orloff are further explained by him as he recounts to the terrified Melissa how he psychically guided her deformed growth through magnetic waves while she was in her mother’s womb. His utter confidence in this science fiction scenario is consistently unsettling, especially given the malignant deportment and delivery of Berger, voiced here by Spanish actor-dubber Jose Guardiola (THE VAMPIRE’S NIGHT ORGY’s Mayor). Repeated close-ups of Orloff’s hypnotic eyes underline his baleful, inescapable gaze.
Melissa is introduced to the eminent neurologist Doctor Orloff, who also acts as the local coroner, as someone who uniquely qualified to “treat” her, by her untrustworthy sisters. His treatment turns out to be another Franco mind control scenario in which the victim is used as a human robot to eliminate the rest of her family so Orloff and the sisters can control the family fortune. It doesn’t work out quite that way, of course, because Orloff has a master list and he plans to be the only one left in control of the property when All the names are crossed off. Melissa’s physical impairment mirrors the emotional vulnerability of the victim of a similar mental dominance in Franco’s 1970 NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT, a more straightforward crime film and the mother of all the following versions/remakes. These characters and this story were further elaborated in the director’s much later, more downbeat SOLA ANTE EL TERROR (1983), in which Lina Romay took on the role of Melissa, and most successfully in the visually entrancing MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE, featuring Romay as a nightclub psychic under the menacing control of her criminal manager (Daniel Katz).
There are numerous mirror shots in LOS OJOS… as well as imprisoning chambers filled with stifling furniture, strange clocks and details filmed from stifling camera angles which make the villa seem like a ready made prison. Doctor Orloff’s office is more like a cement bunker used by the typical mad scientist in countless B horrors. More familiar from other Euro genres are the reassuring presences of Spaghetti Western icon Robert Woods (SEVEN GUNS FOR THE MACGREGORS-1965; MY NAME IS PECOS-1972; SAVAGE GUNS-1971), as Melissa’s hippie-musician savior; Edmund Purdom (PIECES) as a typically ineffectual Franconian police inspector and Austrian actor Berger, who had a lot of practice playing stone killers in such Eurowesterns as FASTHAND IN STILL MY NAME (1973). The use of a complex flashback structure, an attempt at some subliminal imagery and another whistling, industrial-experimental percussion-organ score composed by the director, fill in the outlines of this inheritance thriller which also recalls some of the 1960s German produced Edgar Wallace pictures, including Franco’s own DER TODESRACHER VON SOHO (1971).
This is the HD debut of LOS OJOS DEL DOCTOR ORLOFF, which has had a Spanish VHS and a 2013 Spanish language DVD release, as well as a 2010 US DVD release, with English subtitles, from INTERVISION. This 4k scan makes all previous releases immediately obsolete, with vivid color, outstanding sharpness of detail and overall image.
Both of these Manacoa productions only received very spotty local distribution in the mid to late 1970s at off-circuit Spanish venues, with Orloff only garnering 26,000 admissions during a brief theatrical run.
Included on the Ultimate Edition version is an informative 15 minute interview with Robert Woods**, the script of the original ending of THE SILENCE OF THE TOMB and Dorado trailers. A highly recommended collector’s item for Jess Franco enthusiasts and those wishing to enter the director’s closed, parallel universe. Both features include newly created English language subtitles.
*a play on Franco’s 1983 locked room thriller SOLA ANTE EL TERROR
** Robert Woods told me in a separate interview which I conducted with him several years ago that he had quite a bit of good natured fun with William Berger at the expense of a somewhat exasperated Edmund Purdom during the shoot of LOS OJOS…in the summer of 1973. Woods would go onto appear as the male lead in several other key Franco titles that summer, including LA COMTESSE PERVERSE, PLAISIR A TROIS and AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO (all 1973). Woods also explained during our interview that the locations for the interiors of LOS OJOS…. were shot at a villa rented by Franco about 15 minutes outside of Barcelona, the same villa is also the main location of PLAISIR A TROIS.
Thanks to Nzoog and Robert Woods.
(C) Robert Monell