Friday, February 24, 2017

FRANCO FEBRUARY! JESS FRANCO'S FORGOTTEN FILMS VOL. 1 (Blu-ray Review)

JESS FRANCO'S FORGOTTEN FILMS VOL. 1 (Collector's Edition) 
THE SILENCE OF THE TOMBS (1972)/ THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF (1973)

Label: Dorado Films 

Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 85 Minutes / 81 Minutes 
Video: 1080p HD Full Screen (1.33:1) / Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Audio: Spanish Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 with Optional English, Italian, and Spanish Subtitles
Director: Jess Franco 
Cast: Montserrat Prous, Albert Dalbés, Glenda Allen, Mario Alex / Montserrat Prous, William Berger, Robert Woods,  Edmund Purdom

THE SILENCE OF THE TOMBS (1972)

When movie star Annette (Glenda Allen, TV's Space: 1999) invites her Hollywood friends to her isolated island home for a weekend getaway they get more than the expected 70s loving, drinking and dancing, the weekend quickly devolves into a whirlwind of kidnapping, murder and weirdness. 

We're introduced to Annette's weird sister, the suspicious Valerie (Montserrat Prous, The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff) who lives on the island where she cares for the movie stars young son Christian. No sooner has Annette arrived on the island with her movie making friends when we are treated to some sinister voice-over narration from Valerie, who hates her sister, wishing her dead, and loathes \ her Hollywood type friends, which include a lawyer-lover Vincent (Mario Álex, School of Death), former lover and Christian's father Jean-Paul (Francisco Acosta, Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac), movie producer Jerome (Luis Induni, Night of the Howling Beast) photographer Vera (Yelena Samarina, Murder Mansion), and Annette's personal bodyguard Juan (Alberto Dalbes, Cut-Throats Nine)  

Thing begin to go awry when Valerie overhears Annette, her lover and the boy's father arguing about who Christian should live with, which angers Valerie, who threatens Annette. Later that night the boy is kidnapped by someone who demands a large ransom through a note left next to the boy's bloodied bed. Soon after Annette's guests begin to be killed off in a very Ten Little Indians sort of way. The guests cannot escape the island as the only transport to the mainland has been blown up with one of the guest's aboard, and with no other boat coming till Monday. The kidnapping-murderer must be one of the guests, or perhaps the increasingly erratic sister, or maybe the suspicious housekeeper Laura (Kali Hansa, Countess Perverse) or the caretaker Pongo (Manuel Pereiro, Satan's Blood). 

Franco's love for Mediterranean island locations is in full swing, however, the lurid eroticism is toned way down, and the story is a fairly linear one, a psychological murder mystery along the lines of an Agatha Christie story, though it is actually adapted from a novel by author Enrique Jarber. The film has some decent lensing from cinematographer Javier Pérez Zofio (Franco's Night of the Assassins) who also did some second unit on the Agatha Christie adaptation Ten Little Indians(1974). There's also a cool jazzy score from Jess Franco himself plus contributions from composer Fernando García Morcillo (The Cannibal Man).  

Montserrat Prous as Valerie really anchored the film for me, I love her wide-eyes, she doesn't have the sexual allure of later Franco muses Soledad Miranda or Lina Romay, but she does cast her own spell with those deep, mysterious eyes, and an unhinged performance  with with the weird voice-over narration. She makes for an easy suspect early on, but when the bodies begin to pile-up Valerie winds up with a double-barrell shotgun in hand and is a total badass at the end. 

Franco manages to muster up some great atmosphere towards the end with Prouse wandering through the darkened island house with a gas lantern in one hand and the shotgun in the other, casting shadows and expecting danger around every corner, ready for just about anything, except maybe that shocker-twist of an ending, which is nutso.  

THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF (1973) 

In Jess Franco's The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff (1973) Melissa Comfort (Montserrat Prous, Diary of a Nymphomaniac) is a young woman who is without the use of her legs since childbirth. Nightly she is haunted by nightmares of her father's mysterious death years earlier. In the horrific recurring dream her father (played by Franco himself) stumbles to her and drips blood onto her nightgown, she awakens terrified and screaming. Melissa lives with her conniving step sister Martha (Loreta Tovar, The Night of the Sorcerers), her aunt Flora (Kali Hansa, Countess Perverse), a loyal butler Mathews (Jose Manuel Martin, Curse of the Devil). 

The family calls in a psychiatrist friend of the family, the titular and sinister Dr. Orloff, played by the steely eyed William Berger (from Mario Bava's Five Dolls for An August Moon). However, it turns out that Dr. Orloff and members of her family are conspiring against the wheelchair bound invalid, his diabolical plan involves using drugs and hypnosis to coerce Melissa to violently murder the other members of her family. In a weird twist Melissa is able to walk, but only under the post-hypnotic commands of Orloff. 

I think Berger is fantastic in the role as the evil master of hypnotism, this is definitely his show, he steals nearly every scene in the film in my opinion. A suspicious folk-singer neighbor alerts Inspector Crosby (Edmund Purdom, Pieces) that something just ain't right over at the Comfort house, but will it work in her favor? 

I remember watching this movie the first time, I had to double check and be sure this was a legit Jess Franco film as it was a nearly bloodless affair with only a hint of nudity, not what I'd come to expect from the master of Euro sleaze at that point. However, the film is pushed along by some good psychological horror elements and atmosphere which was enhanced by a haunting score composed by Franco himself. Spoilers, my favorite scenario in the film has the butler Matthews whisking Melissa away to safety in the trunk of a car after overhearing the conspiracy against her, only to be murdered by Melissa (under the hypnotic command of Dr. Orloff)on a misty road. 

I didn't love this one, it was my first disappointment from Franco when I first watched, but certainly not the last, they guy made over 200 films, and they vary in quality from film to film, era to era, ad from producer to producer. Orloff was a recurring character in Franco films, and sadly lovely Lina Romay (The Hot Nights of Linda) appears only briefly, which was a serious let down for me. The movie is slow paced, but it picks up towards the end, it has some decent visuals but largely lacks the visceral erotic flavorings I crave when watching a Franco film, this one is for the Franc0 lovers and completest only I think. The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff (1973) is not the stuff of euro sleaze legend but it is a tasty slice of 70's Spanish psycho-sleaze featuring a mesmerizing performance from William Berger as the evil hypnotist. 

Audio/Video: The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff (1973) was previously released on DVD from distributor Intervision a few years ago. Sourced from a 1" tape it was a soft, smeary VHS quality image that left a lot to be desired. Thankfully, here comes Dorado Films, who I knew in the past for DVD releases of euro-spy films (Mission Bloody Mary) and spaghetti westerns (The Three Musketeers of the West), this is their first foray into Blu-ray, pairing up two slice of early 70's Franco-philia. Both films are sourced from 35mm theatrical prints, and scanned in 4K. The boost in quality for sinister eyes is clearly evident, detail, clarity and colors are richer, but the print is well-worn with loads of white speckling and some print damage and fading, but this is a step-up in every way, but come to it with lowered expectations, the elements were not in the best shape.

The Silence of the Tomb(1972) is making it's digital home video debut with this release. It is also sourced from a 35mm theatrical print, but nicely framed in the scope widescreen (2.35:1) aspect ratio. It looks overly bright and a bit washed out in places, softer than the full frame Sinister Eyes, also sporting some print damage and celluloid wear, but still very watchable and treat to see in HD.

Both films feature lossy Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono with optional English, Spanish and Italian subtitles. There's some minor audio distortion but overall a solid, though lossy, audio presentation.

Extras on the disc include 24-min of movie trailers for possible upcoming releases from Dorado Films, a 15-min chat with ageing actor Robert Woods (The Sinister eyes of Dr. Orloff) who speaks about the collaborative European style of movie making in the 70s, working with Franco, the audio syncing process of the time, and being convinced by William Berger and Edmund Purdom to come down to Spain and work with Franco. Woods also touches on how Jess appeared in his films like Hitchcock, and his distaste for his more erotic fare. There are also script pages which include an alternate ending for the movie. Additionally there's a 2-page booklet with writing on the film from  Alex Mendibil. There's also an Ultimate edition of this release from Dorado Films with alternate artwork and a 24-page collector's booklet, but the on disc  extras are exactly the same.

  

Special Features:
- Video Chat With Robert Woods (15 min) HD 
- Script of Original Ending for Silence of the Tomb
- Trailer: El Asesino No Está Solo (4 min) HD, Camino Solitario (6 min) HD, The Counselor (4 min) HD, Crimes of The Black Cat (4 min) DH, Horrible sexy Vampire (3 min) HD, Knife of Ice (3 min) HD 
- Collector's Booklet with writing by Alex Mendibil 

This is a nice Jess Franco/Montserrat Prous double-feature from Dorado Films, both films look reasonably solid in 1080pHD, with the previously issued The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff looking significantly better than the previous DVD release from Intervision. Franco-philes should be very pleased with this double-feature, a must-have for their collection, looking forward to Vol. 2 of the Jess Franco Forgotten Films, which will be Jess Franco's Camino Solitario (1984) along one of the three following titles: Las Chicas del Tanga (1987), ¿Cuánto Cobra un Espía?(1984) or Dirty Game in Casablanca (1985). 3/5   

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