International Horror Review: Jack The Ripper (dir by Jess Franco)

In this 1976 German film, Klaus Kinski plays Dr. Dennis Orlof.

He’s a doctor in what is supposed to be Victorian-era London.  (Some of the characters where Victorian-style clothes.  Some of them definitely do not.)  Dr. Orlof is known for being a kind and compassionate man.  He has dedicated his life to taking care of the poor and the sick.  He is one of the few doctors willing to take care of the men who fish on the Thames and the women who walk the foggy streets of Whitechapel.  Because his patients are not rich, Dr. Orlof makes very little money.  He is usually behind on paying the rent for his office but his lady doesn’t care.  Dr. Orlof is such a kind man.  Who could possibly even think of evicting a living saint?

Of course, what only he and his wife know is that Dr. Orlof is also a deviant who is haunted by hallucinations of a nearly naked woman taunting him and daring him to “come and get me.”  Dr. Orlof haunts the sleazy dance halls of London and he often offers to give the dancers a ride in his carriage.  Dr. Orlof is also the murderer who the press refers to as being Jack the Ripper.

Klaus Kinski as Jack the Ripper?  That sounds like perfect casting, right?  Actually, it’s too perfect.  Klaus Kinski is so obviously unhinged from the first minute that he appears onscreen that it’s impossible to believe that he wouldn’t automatically be everyone’s number one suspect.  Kinski plays Orlof as being someone who is in a permanently bad mood.  Even when Orlof is doing his “good deeds,” he comes across as being so annoyed with the world that the viewer is left to wonder how anyone could have fallen for his act.  Kinski himself seems a bit bored with the role.  When Kinski was invested in a character (as he often was when he appeared in the films of Werner Herzog), he was a dangerously charismatic force of nature.  When he was bored, though, Kinski made little effort to keep anyone else from noticing.  Kinski moves lethargically through Jack the Ripper.

Trying to solve the Ripper case is Inspector Selby (Andreas Mannkopf).  The film spends a lot of time on Selby’s investigation but it’s never as interesting as one might hope.  Selby spends a lot of time in his office, looking concerned.  When he actually talks to the witnesses to the Ripper’s murders, the scene seem to drag out forever.  In one unfortunate scene, he gathers all the witnesses in one room and asks each one to describe what the Ripper looked like so a sketch can be made of him.  Again, what should have been a minute or two-minute scene is dragged out to an unbearable seven minutes.  Seven minutes is a lot of time when you’re bored.

Jack the Ripper was directed by Jess Franco.  On this site, I’ve defended some of Franco’s other films.  Franco was an idiosyncratic filmmaker whose films often felt rushed but who was also capable of creating a dream-like atmosphere and occasionally coming up with an insanely bizarre plot twist.  Jack the Ripper, with its tormented title character and its dance hall scenes, in unmistakably a Jess Franco film.  Unfortunately, it’s also often excruciatingly dull.  Kinski was obviously a big name in Europe in the 70s but I kind of wish that Franco had cast his frequent star, Howard Vernon, as Jack the Ripper.  Not only was Vernon the start of the original Awful Dr. Orlof but Vernon also specialized in playing self-loathing aristocrats.  If nothing else, Vernon would have been a bit less oblivious in his madness than Kinski.

Jack the Ripper is definitely a lesser Franco film.  It’s also a lesser Kinski film and a lesser Jack the Ripper film.  There is one good sequence in which Orlof and a victim ride through the London fog in a carriage.  Otherwise, this is a Franco film that you can get away with skipping.

International Film Review: Revenge in the House of Usher (dir by Jess Franco)

In the 1982 Spanish horror film, Revenge in the House of Usher, Antonio Mayans plays Dr. Alan Harker.  Harker receives an invitation to visit the estate of his former mentor, Prof. Eric Usher (Howard Vernon).  Usher is elderly and in poor health.  He’s attended to by several mysterious servants, including his physician, Dr. Seward (Daniel White).  While trying to figure out what has led to Prof. Usher’s current state, Harker discovers that….

Well, here’s where it gets confusing, as things tend to do whenever one tries to discuss the later films of director Jess Franco.  There are actually three different versions of Revenge In the House of Usher and each one of them tells a totally different story.  In the first version, Usher is revealed to have been a decadent, Giles de Rais-style serial killer who has murdered hundreds of women through the years and who is now being haunted by their vengeful ghosts.  Apparently, that version didn’t go over well when it made its debut at the 1983 Festival Internacional de Madrid de Cine Imaginario y de Ciencia-ficción.  The audience booed and laughed and Franco couldn’t convince any distributors to purchase the film from him.

So, Franco filmed thee more scenes that established that Usher wasn’t just a serial killer but that he was also a vampire!  (This explains why two characters in this Edgar Allan Poe adaptation were suddenly given names from Dracula.)  This reception of this version was not considered to be much of an improvement on the reception of the version where Vernon was just a serial killer.

With the backing of Eurocine, Franco then put together a third version of the film.  This time, he turned it into another Dr. Orlof film, though Howard Vernon’s character was still referred to as being Prof. Usher.  In this version, Harker discovers that Usher and his elderly servant Morpho (Olivier Mathot) have spent years abducting women from the village and using their blood to keep Usher’s daughter alive.  This leads to a solid 15 minutes of flashbacks to Usher’s past activities, all of which are taken directly from The Awful Dr. Orlof.  Just as in the other two version of the film, Usher is haunted by the ghosts of his victims.  As his mental state deteriorates, so does his castle.

As far as I know, the third version of the film is the only one that currently exists.  The first version is now considered to be lost.  For his part, Franco claimed that the first version was a misunderstood masterpiece but he was still willing to turn it into another Orlof film so that he could at least make some money off of it.  Franco may have been an often frustrated artist but he was also a pragmatist.

Considering its production history, it’s not surprising that Revenge in the House of the Usher is a bit of a disjointed film.  It’s only 91 minutes long (and 15 of those minutes is taken up with black-and-white footage from The Awful Dr. Orlof) but this film still feels like it has several false endings.  There were so many times that I thought the film had to be over, just for it to keep going.  Watching the film, one can sense that Franco is willing to try almost anything to finally wrap the film’s somewhat incoherent story up.  That said, Howard Vernon brings the right amount of haughty decadence to the role of the decaying Usher and Franco’s decision to film in an actual castle (and to largely utilize natural light) does give the film perhaps a bit more atmosphere than one would expect.  This is a lesser Franco film but it does do a good job of capturing the bizarre logic of dreams.  The film is, at times, so incoherent that it’s actually rather fascinating.

Following this film, Vernon would play Dr. Orloff one final time, in Franco’s surprisingly entertaining Faceless.

10 Shots From 10 Horror Films: 1973 and 1974

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, dir by Tobe Hooper, DP: Daniel Pearl)

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we take a look at two very important years: 1973 and 1974!

10 Shots From 10 Horror Films: 1973 and 1974

Female Vampire (1973, dir by Jess Franco, DP: Jess Franco)

Don’t Look Now (1973, dir by Nicolas Roeg, DP: Anthony Richmond)

The Wicker Man (1973, dir by Robin Hardy. DP: Harry Waxman)

Lisa and the Devil (1973, dir by Mario Bava, DP: Cecilio Paniagua)

The Iron Rose (1973, dir by Jean Rollin)

The Exorcist (1973, dir by William Friedkin, DP: Owen Roizman)

Black Christmas (1974, dir by Bob Clark, DP: Reginald H. Morris)

Deathdream (1974, dir by Bob Clark, DP: Jack McGowan)

The Ghost Galleon (1974, dir by Armando de Ossorio, DP: Raul Artigut)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (dir by Tobe Hooper, DP: Daniel Pearl)

Horror Scenes I Love: The Opening of The Awful Dr. Orlof

For today’s horror scene that I love, I present to you the opening of Jess Franco’s 1962 film, The Awful Dr. Orlof.

Franco doesn’t have the best critical reputation but I’ve always felt that, when he wanted to and actually had the time and the budget, he was capable of directing some memorably surreal scenes.  The opening of The Awful Dr. Orlof is full of atmosphere and sudden horror.  It plays out like a dream of dark and disturbing things.  Franco often claimed to a disciple of Orson Welles (and Franco reportedly did do some second unit work on Chimes At Midnight) and the opening of Dr. Orlof, with its shadowy cinematography and its skewed camera angles, does definitely show some Wellesian influence.

From 1962, here’s the opening of The Awful Dr. Orlof:

6 Shots From 6 Horror Films: The Early 60s

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we take a look at the early 60s!

6 Shots From 6 Horror Films: The Early 60s

Psycho (1960, dir by Alfred Hitchcock, DP: John L. Russell)

Black Sunday (1960, dir by Mario Bava)

Peeping Tom (1960, dir by Michael Powell, DP: Otto Heller)

Pit and the Pendulum (1961, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Floyd Crosby)

The Best of Yucca Flats (1961, dir by Coleman Francis, DP: John Cagle and Leo Strosnider)

The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962, dir by Jess Franco, DP: Godofredo Pacheco)

International Horror Film Review: Dr. Orloff’s Monster (dir by Jess Franco)

This 1964 Spanish film takes place in Austria.

The notorious Dr. Orloff is dying.  Orloff was the lead character in director Jess Franco’s The Awful Dr. Orlof.  (The spelling of Orlof’s last name changes from film to film.)  In the first film, Orlof (played with maniacal relish by Howard Vernon) was a father driven mad by his daughter’s disfigurement.  With the help of his mute servant, he murdered women so that he could perform skin transplants in order to give his daughter back her beauty.  In Dr. Orloff’s Monster, Dr. Orloff is a more of a generic mad scientist and he is now played Javier de Rivera.  Knowing that his time is running out, Orloff passes along his secrets to one of his disciples, Dr. Conrad Jekyll (Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui).

(In the dubbed American version of the film, Dr. Jekyll’s name is changed to Dr. Conrad Fisherman.)

Dr. Jekyll returns to his own remote Austrian castle.  He’s soon joined by his innocent niece Melissa (Agnes Spaak).  Melissa is searching for her father, Andros (played by Hugo Blanco).  What she doesn’t know is that Dr. Jekyll earlier caught Andros in bed with Jekyll’s wife, Inglud (Luisa Sala).  Jekyll murdered Andros.  This led to Inglud becoming an alcoholic.

However, thanks to the teachings of Dr. Orloff, Jekyll knows how to bring Andros back to life.  Unfortunately, the reanimated Andros is a hulking monster who Conrad uses to kill all of his former mistresses.  It turns out that Inglud wasn’t the only one who had trouble sticking to marriage vows.  Soon, Inspector Klein (Pastor Serrado) is investigating a growing number of nightclub-related murders.  Inspector Klein is also falling in love with Melissa, which has the potential to make things more than a bit awkward.

Dr. Orloff’s Monster (which is also known as The Mistresses of Dr. Jekyll) was Franco’s first sequel to The Awful Dr. Orlof and it was also the tenth film that was he was credited with directing.  (As Franco was a prolific filmmaker who used a huge amount of pseudonyms and whose films were often released under several different titles, we will probably never have a definite answer on how many films he actually directed over the course of his long career.)  Particularly when compared to Franco’s later films, Dr. Orloff’s Monster seems rather restrained.  As always with Franco, there’s a bit of nudity and an emphasis on murder but the violence is rather bloodless and the usual Franco perversions are hinted at without being explicitly shown.  Instead, with this film, Franco emphasizes atmosphere over shock.  The black-and-white cinematography creates the feel of a perfect noir, with Andros emerging from the shadows to attack his victims and then retreating back into the darkness.  This, along with a deliberate pace and Franco’s frequent use of close-ups, gives Dr. Orloff’s Monster the feeling of a languid but menacing dream.  With this film, Franco fills the screen with nightmarish ennui.

Unfortunately, the film suffers due to the absence of Franco’s usual villain, the great Howard Vernon.  Vernon always brought a hint of old world decadence to his performances and the rather bland Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui is simply not as interesting as Dr. Jekyll.  Despite his death at the start of the film, Dr. Orloff would appear in other Franco films and, fortunately, Howard Vernon would return to play him.

International Horror Film Review: Bloody Moon (dir by Jesus Franco)

A 1981 West German/Spanish co-production, Bloody Moon open with a disfigured man named Miguel (Alexander Waechter) putting on a Mickey Mouse mask and sneaking into a party being held on the campus of a private school that is known as (deep breath) Europe’s International Youth-Club Boarding School of Languages.  It’s a school that is meant for the young, the rich, and the unburdened.  In short, it’s not a place for Miguel at all.

With his face safely hidden behind the smiling image of Disney’s favorite mouse, Miguel meets a young woman who is dancing by herself.  She mistakes him for her boyfriend and heads into a nearby bungalow with him.  They start to make love but — uh oh! — the mask falls off!  The woman screams at the sight of Miguel’s scarred face.  Miguel grabs a pair of scissors and stabs her to death while Mickey Mouse’s smiling face smiles on the floor.  (One can only imagine how Disney reacted to this film.)

A few years later, Miguel is being released from a mental hospital.  He’s released into the custody of his sister, Manuela (Nadja Gerganoff).  Miguel’s doctor (played by the film’s director, Jesus “Jess” Franco) says that Miguel should be fine as long as he’s not around anything that reminds him of the incident.  Manuela says that she’ll look after him and then promptly takes him back to the school where he committed the murder.  What part of not reminding him did she fail to understand?

Manuela does actually have an excuse for bringing Miguel to the school with her, though.  She and her aunt, Countess Maria (Maria Rubio), own the school.  Countess Maria is an angry, wheelchair-bound woman who is convinced that Manuela wants to kill her so that she can take over the school and it does seem that Manuela does have some hostility towards her aunt.  Of course, another reason for bringing Miguel back to the school to live with her is that he and Manuela have an incestuous relationship …. or, at least, they did.  Now that Manuela refuses to sleep him, Miguel is reduced to lurking around campus and staring at all the students while they sunbathe topless at the pool.  While Manuela stands naked in her room and stares at the moon (the bloody moon?), Miguel is hunched down in the shrubbery and peeping through windows.

Among the students is Angela (Olivia Pascal).  Angela is upset because she discovered a dead body but no one’s willing to believe her because she also enjoys reading mystery novels.  Angela knows that someone is committing murders on campus but is it Miguel or it is Professor Alvaro (Christoph Moosbrugger) or could it even be the enigmatic Bueno (Otto Retzer), a bald guy who seems to randomly pop up around campus?  Can Angela convince her remarkably stupid classmates that there’s a murderer on campus before it’s too late?

Bloody Moon was one of the many films directed by the Spanish auteur and former Orson Welles collaborator, Jesus Franco.  In a career that lasted over 60 years, Franco directed at least 173 feature films.  (It’s felt that he actually directed quite a bit more, usually under a pseudonym.  Franco, himself, claimed that he didn’t really remember how many films he had directed.)  As a director, Franco is remembered for his low budgets, his unapologetic embrace of the sordid, his rather casual attitude towards maintaining continuity from one scene to another, and for occasionally framing an interesting shot or two.  By his own admission, Bloody Moon was not a personal project for Franco.  It’s something that he did for the money, as a director-for-hire.  However, Bloody Moon is unmistakably a Franco film.  The budget is low.  The subject matter is often so sordid that it borders on parody.  As far as continuity goes, Angela goes from wearing a nightshirt when she discovers a dead body inside her bungalow to wearing a colorful sweater when she runs outside in a panic.  (I guess she could have stopped to change clothes with a dead body on the bed and a killer lurking somewhere in the bungalow but I doubt it.  When there’s a dead body on your bed, modesty should be the least of your concerns.)  And yet, as silly as it all is, there are moments when Bloody Moon does achieve a certain dream-like intensity.  The mix of badly dubbed performers, sudden jump cuts, bloody violence, and the total lack of narrative logic makes Bloody Moon feel a bit like a filmed nightmare.  It works despite itself.

Bloody Moon is one of the films that was, for a while, banned in the UK due to its violence and bloodshed.  And indeed, there is a lot of blood and the violence is a bit more graphic than what one might expect to find in the American slasher films that Bloody Moon was obviously meant to capitalize upon.  This film is notable for just how cruel the killer is.  Not even Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees resorted to using a giant radial saw.  That said, this is one of those films that has a reputation for being bloodier than it actually is.  The majority of the film is taken up with scenes of people wandering around campus, either searching for their friends or stalking a potential victim.  Personally, I felt the nonstop searching scenes added to the film’s dreamlike feel but I imagine those who only watch films like this for the kills will find it all to be a bit slow.

Bloody Moon was clearly made to capitalize on the success of American slasher films like Halloween and Friday the 13th.  That said, Bloody Moon has more in common with the Italian giallo genre, right down to the whodunit nature of the plot, the ludicrously sleazy motives of the killer, and the total lack of intentional comic relief.  Like so many giallo films, Bloody Moon takes place in a world where everyone’s either a victim or a killer and no one’s particularly likable.  It’s not one of Franco’s personal films but there’s still enough of his signature style to appeal to his fans.  As with most of Franco’s film, it will be best appreciated by those who like a little ennui mixed with their horror.

International Horror Film Review: The Awful Dr. Orlof (dir by Jess Franco)


This 1962 Spanish film opens with a village gripped by terror!  Someone is abducting young dancers from their apartments and sometimes straight off the street!  Who could be responsible for such a terrible act?  Could it be the Mafia?  Could it be the Communists?  Could it be a wayward jazz pianist or maybe an aspiring filmmaker who befriended Orson Welles when the latter moved to Europe to escape the IRS?  Or could it be that awful Dr. Orlof?

Who is Dr. Orlof, you may ask?  He’s a former prison doctor who retired after a fire disfigured his daughter.  Now, he lives in an isolated castle, where he cares for his daughter.  They say that his only companion is Morpho, a blind former convict who wears an emotionless mask over his features and who is often seen wandering around the village in the middle of the night.  Could it be that Dr. Orlof is responsible for the disappearances?

Of course it’s Dr. Orlof!  His name is right there in the title of the film.  In fact, it’s so obvious that Dr. Orlof is sending Morpho out in the middle of the night so that he can abduct beautiful women who are then used in experiments designed to restore the beauty of Orlof’s daughter that you have to wonder why the police just don’t arrest him as soon as the crimes start.  I mean, yes …. I assume that the police need to find some sort of evidence to prove that Orlof is behind the crime but then again, this film was shot in Spain during the years when General Francisco Franco was in charge of the country.  I’m sure the police could have done whatever they wanted.

The Awful Dr. Orlof is considered by many to be the first Spanish horror film.  It was also one of the first films to be directed by Jess Franco, who was no relation to the general.  With both critics and at the box office, this was one of Jess Franco’s most successful films and it was one that he would remake several times over the course of his career.  Dr. Orlof, always played with decadent haughtiness by Howard Vernon, went on to appear in several other Franco films.  (In subsequent films, he added an extra F to his last name.  That’s probably because The Awful Dr. Orlof was released in some countries as The Awful Dr. Orloff.  The double F brings to mind Boris Karloff so it’s not a bad idea to spell it that way but all of the evidence that I’ve read and seen would suggest that Franco originally spelled the name Orlof, with only one F.)  For that matter, Morpho also appeared in quite a few films, some with Orlof and some without him.  In the Awful Dr. Orlof, Morpho is played by Ricardo Valle and he’s a genuinely creepy character.  The blank mask that he wears as he stalks through the night is perhaps the best-known image to come out of The Awful Dr. Orlof.  In fact, if you’ve only seen screenshots of the film, it’s easy to assume that Morpho is the title character, just because of how prominently he is featured in every shot.  It’s impossible to take your eyes away from him.

On the whole, Jess Franco does not have a great critical reputation.  He worked fast.  He made a lot of movies and occasionally, it was obvious that his main concern was getting a paycheck.  Especially when it came to his later films, Franco could be a sloppy and inconsistent director.  And yet, when Franco took his time and when he actually cared about the material, his talent was undeniable.  The Awful Dr. Orlof is one of Franco’s better movies.  While the story won’t win any points for creativity, Franco’s direction is atmospheric and, at it best, the movie feels like a filmed nightmare, full of slightly askew angles and menacing shadows.  The black-and-white cinematography helps, adding a touch of gothic class to the film.  Howard Vernon gives a multi-layered performance as Orlof.  He may be, as the title state, awful but there’s no doubt that his actions are the actions of a desperate parent.  And, of course, Morpho will haunt your nightmares.

All in all, The Awful Dr. Orlof is not awful at all.  It’s a good film to use if you’re tying to introduce Franco to someone who might not be familiar with his work.  Definitely show them Dr. Orlof before showing them A Virgin Among The Living Dead.  Just a suggestion.

4 Shots From 4 Jess Franco Films

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today, we pay tribute to the enigmatic master of Spanish horror and suspense, Jesus “Jess” Franco!  It’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Jess Franco Films

Vampyros Lesbos (1970, dir by Jess Franco, DP: Manuel Merino)

Female Vampire (1973, dir by Jess Franco, DP: Jess Franco)

Countess Perverse (1973, dir by Jess Franco, DP: Manuel Merino)

Faceless (1988, dir by Jess Franco, DP: Maurice Fellous)


6 Shots From 6 Christopher Lee Films

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today, we honor the legacy of a man who was not just a great horror star but also a great actor. period  Christopher Lee worked with everyone from Laurence Olivier to Steven Spielberg to Peter Jackson to Martin Scorsese.  Though he turned own the chance to play Dr. No, Lee later did go play a Bond villain in The Man with The Golden Gun.  He was one of those actors who was always great, even if the film wasn’t.

That said, it’s for his horror films that Lee is best known.  He was the scariest Dracula and the most imposing Frankenstein’s Monster.  He played mad scientists, decadent aristocrats, and even the occasional hero.  Christopher Lee was an actor who could do it all and today, we honor him with….

6 Shots From 6 Christopher Lee Films

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957, dir by Terence Fisher, DP: Jack Asher)

The Horror of Dracula (1958, dir by Terence Fisher, DP: Jack Asher)

Rasputin The Mad Monk (1966, dir by Don Sharp, DP: Michael Reed)

Count Dracula (1970, dir by Jess Franco, DP: Manuel Merino and Luciano Trasatti)

Horror Express (1972, dir by Eugenio Martin, DP: Alejandro Ulloa)

The Wicker Man (1973, dir by Robert Hardy. DP: Harry Waxman)