Haunted my recurring nightmares, crippled Melissa (Mona Proust), the heiress to a huge fortune, falls under the care of Dr. Orloff (William Berger). Unforunately, Orloff doesn’t have Melissa’s best interests at heart. Still enraged over having failed to win the lover of Melissa’s mother, Orloff enacts his revenge by using his hypnotic powers to transform Melissa into a killing machine. One by one, the distinctly unsavory members of Melissa’s family fall under the knife.
A 1973 effort by Jess Franco, the god-emperor of Eurosleaze, this is a pretty handsome film. Franco doesn’t abuse the zoom lens quite as much as elsewhere, and he makes excellent use of his Gothic settings, especially in a remarkably strong stalk-and-kill sequence late in the film. There are quite a number of truly beautiful scenes, showing what Franco is capable of when he’s interested. Meanwhile, the violence and nudity are very restrained by Franco standards, but the characters are just as depraved and twisted as ever (that’s a good thing). The score (by Franco), meanwhile, varies from the disturbingly effective (abstract soundscapes punching home the nightmare Melissa is trapped in) to the WTF laughable (a folk song so dire it will live forever). This isn’t Franco’s best work, but it has a lot going for it, and fans are strongly advised to check it out, with two strong caveats in mind. One is that the subtitles are horrendous. The grammar is all over the map, vocabulary is mind-boggling (one character is “condoned as a pedophile”), and the subs go missing altogether for the entire sequence that explains Orloff’s motivation! That’s helpful! The other problem is the picture quality, about which more below.
The logo for Intervision appears on the screen as if it were from a stretched piece of VHS, and this is a foreshadowing of picture quality to come. The print appears to have been struck from a VHS master, and is presented in (wait for it) anamorphic fullscreen (?!). The picture is soft and grainy. The colours are rough, the blacks are terrible, and the final shot degenerates into a washed-out sepia. If you’re feeling nostalgic for those heady days of the 1980s, when fuzzy prints of films like this could be found in the discount bins of bargain stores, released by outfits like Interglobal and Wizard, then this will warm the cockles of your heart. But if you were hoping to see a nice transfer of a Jess Franco movie, look elsewhere. Given that many of Franco’s films are hard to come by, this may be the best one can hope for, though, and it is, at least, watchable.
Things are not much better in the audio department. The sound is very muzzy. Not understanding Spanish, I can’t speak to the clarity of the dialogue (my sense is that it just gets by), but the tone of the English vocals in the folk song are beyond laughable. I’m betting that the original theatrical release quality wasn’t anything to write home about, but either way, this is just barely mediocre.
The Sinister Origins of Dr. Orloff: (18:26) Franco reminisces about the origins of the character, and talks fondly about the cast of the film, and relates William Berger’s tragic story. The film also appears to have been one of his more satisfying work experiences.
A very rough picture, but a movie well worth seeing all the same.