Five women have disappeared in three months. Two villains carry a coffin into a big gothic castle. Clearly, they're up to no good... After several bungled surgical experiments, former prison doctor, Orlof (unblinking Howard Vernon), realises that he needs living girls to donate new flesh for skin grafts necessary to fix his scarred (and seemingly catatonic) daughter's face. The detective on this daunting case, Inspector Tanner (smug Conrado San Martin), is too busy dallying with his ballerina/girlfriend Wanda (Diana Lorys), to follow-up signposted clues - like the lost necklace. Wanda, who likes to dress as a shameless hussy, and knows how to make a memorable entrance at the town's cheesy nightclub, foolishly puts herself in harm's way to solve the kidnapping mystery, shortly before the police arrive to save her.
Awful Dr Orlof has lots of things in common with Georges Franju's masterly Les Yeux Sans Visage (aka: Eyes Without A Face, 1959), but these two films are still distant relatives. Franju's drama is a haunting genre classic of visual poetry; Franco's merely stands in its shadow. Fogbound cobblestone lanes, top hats and horse-drawn carriages are reminiscent of Jack the Ripper's London, while some theatrical venues - where the thoroughly insane Orlof stalks his prey - evoke The Phantom Of The Opera. But this exploitation film benefits from an outstanding heritage that dates back to the silent era's The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari.
As usual with Franco's oeuvre, there's the usual atrocious dubbing of ridiculously camp dialogue, but fans of gaslight movies may find the variable black and white cinematography surprisingly atmospheric at times (though it's not a patch on the often exquisite camerawork of comparable Italian schlock horrors), making Orlof an oddly compelling piece, despite numerous flaws. And Franco gets remarkably amusing mileage from simple clichés, like setting up the heroine to be spooked by seeing her own reflection in a mirror. Blind henchman Morpho (Riccardo Valle), the convicted and supposedly executed sadist, is an absurdly menacing figure in his opera cape, hauling unconscious women off into the nightly vampire shift just like Dracula. It's also worth mentioning the film's cacophonous score, which owes much less to jazz percussionists' jam sessions than it does to a drunken one-man band falling downstairs.
Previously released in Britain on video by Redemption, Orlof was cut by 37 seconds, and this DVD release appears to be the same version, with its singular topless shot remaining out of much reported nudity. Image Entertainment has an unrated NTSC Region 1 DVD in their Euro-shock collection - with an advertised 90-minute duration, but this may be approximate as other reliable sources state the original running time as only 88 minutes.
Sequels, with increasingly strained links to this film, include The Secret Of Dr Orloff (1964), the enjoyably barmy Sadisterotica (aka: Case Of The Two Beauties, aka: Rote Lippen, 1968), Orloff And The Invisible Man (1970) - not directed by Franco, Doriana Grey (1976), Fall Of The House Of Usher (1983), and Faceless (aka: Les Predateurs de la Nuit, 1988). This last offering featured Helmut Berger, Anton Diffring, Telly Savalas, and Caroline Munro.
DVD extras: animated menus, scene finder (12 chapters), and filmographies of Jess Franco as director and cinematographer, plus catalogue of 36 Arrow titles.