07 October, 2007


The French production house Eurocine was instrumental in funding, promoting and distributing Jess Franco films from 1960 to 1990. His two colorful 1960 musical comedies LA REINA DEL TABARIN, VAMPIRESAS 1930, along with the seminal GRITOS EN LA NOCHE (THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF) were Spanish-French coproductions with Eurocine putting up the French side of the capital while Sergio Newman's Hispamer Films were the Spanish backers. Given their budgets these films are rather lavish affairs with bustling mise en scene, detailed sets and, in the case of GRITOS... Expressionist style set-ups and lighting that looked back to the classics of Fritz Lang (DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER) and forward to the gialli of Mario Bava. And there are virtually NO zoom shots in any of these films. The key was that they looked much more expensive than they actually were.

A decade later Eurocine was still making international coproductions but the world had drastically changed. This is illustrated by the 1970 Eurocine French-Spanish horror-sleaze item ORLOFF ET L'HOMME INVISIBLE, a sort of Jess Franco film without Jess Franco. Helmed by Pierre Chevalier, this modest project, a not really erotic or horrific mad doctor film with Franco icon Howard Vernon as Professor Orloff, a reclusive scientist who creates an insivible ape! That's right, an invisible ape! It's a kind of ape-man which is revealed to be a man in an ape suit very much like the ones seen in William Beaudine's B minus enterprises THE APE MAN and BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA . Actually, Beaudine's ape suits were more convincing, the one here looks pretty ratty in comparison and we only see it for a few seconds when someone throws a bag of flour on it making the invisible ape momentarily visible. The "special effects" of future Eurocine director Juan Fortuny (CRIMSON) feature shots of objects levitating and Orloff's housekeeper writhing in the hay as she is sexually assaulted by our titular ape-creature. The period costumes and settings are almost convincing, but not quite. It's not BARRY LYNDON.
The mood of absurd minimalism is enhanced by the scattered direction of Pierre Chavalier and the always entertaining presence of the prolific Spanish genre actor Fernando Sancho, who gives his usual con brio performance as a shifty servant who incurs the mad Professor's wrath by stabbing his daughter while robbing her tomb. You see, the daughter suffers from these cataleptic episodes.... Sancho found regular work in numerous 1960's Spaghetti Westerns as an archetypal Mexican bandit. One of my favorite Fernando Sancho Spaghetti bandits can be seen in the compellingly strange DUEL IN THE ECLIPSE. The best parts of ORLOFF AND THE INVISIBLE MAN are the opening credits sequence of atmospheric shots of the rural location during a rainstorm (accompanied by Camille Sauvage's very odd music cues) and the daughter's funeral procession seen reflected in a lake. There are also some rather delirious deleted scenes (which can be seen on the 2001 IMAGE DVD) of F. Valladares travelling toward the Orloff estate and Sancho attempting to escape the climactic inferno. Chevalier aka "Peter Knight" was an uninspired director, to say the least, but he made the kind of entertaining Eurotrash (HOUSE OF THE LOST DOLLS) which somehow demands multiple after-midnight viewings. And any film which features Howard Vernon and Fernando Sancho running amok is worthwhile as far as I'm concerned.
I first became acquainted with this via the 1980s era Wizard Video, THE INVISIBLE DEAD, which is English dubbed and features a mediocre fullframe print. The nicely colorful 1.66:1 IMAGE transfer, with a selection of English, French, German language tracks is preferable.

Jess Franco would return to the waiting arms of Eurocine in the mid 1970s for the essential LA COMTESSE NOIRE (FEMALE VAMPIRE), EXCORISME, along with such microbudgeted erotica as SHINING SEX, MIDNIGHT PARTY, MAIS QUI DONC A VIOLE LINDA. After some sporadic 1980's collaborations (including the still unavailable AIDS, THE 20TH CENTURY PLAGUE (1986), the Franco-Eurocine connection would be terminated after the disastrous World War II epic, LA CHUTE DES AIGLES (1990). Howard Vernon would return as Dr. Orloff in Franco's THE SINISTER DR. ORLOFF (1982) and FACELESS (1988).
(C) Robert Monell, 2007


Anonymous said...

"The mood of absurd minimalism..."

I always wondered how much this film might have been inspired by VAMPYR. I actually like the feel of the film until the invisible ape makes its first appearances (including the ridiculous rape of the maid).

David Zuzelo said...

That same line about minimalism struck me as well. However, I think the film is made much much better by the audacity to have an INVISIBLE gorilla as a monster. Talk about minimal!
Great overview of this fun film, thanks kindly. While this is by far his best, Chevalier always comes to mind for me in connection with the film Voil (Rape). Very sleazy stuff with a young Brigitte Lahie appearance to boot.
Panther Squad is super silly also, but comes with a cast to die for and even has a production credit for Sybil Danning.

Robert Monell said...

Anon: Interesting comparison. The daughter's funeral reflected in the lake and the journey by the Doctor to the castle are somewhat like VAMPYR. Now that you mention it I can see it as a possible influence. It gets more ridiculous, though, as it goes along.

Robert Monell said...

As always, thanks for your feedback, David. The Ape suit just looks like a shaggy carpet or something! You have to laugh out loud when you see it. I forgot about PANTHER SQUAD which I did catch on video in the early 90s, I forgot most of it.

Anonymous said...

re: VAMPYR, I was also thinking about the end with the Vallederes and Brigitte Carva (?) wandering outside the castle with the smoke from the fire in the place of the fog at the end of VAMPYR.

Robert Monell said...

That's another parallel. Only in VAMPYR it's much more compellingly staged and edited, also the mist is really effective. The fire at the end of ORLOF is laughable.

Robert Monell said...

David: I appreciate your recent blog on Eurocine artwork. It's a unique look.

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