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Dr. Jeckyll's Mistresses

Review by: 
The Secret of Dr. Orloff
Release Date: 
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Jess Franco
Hugo Blanco
Agnes Spaak
Perla Cristal
Bottom Line: 

 The UK title of this Jess Franco film is rather misleading, having absolutely nothing to do with Jekyll & Hyde. Instead, this is the sort-of sequel to The Awful Dr. Orloff, one of Franco's most famous early films. It is an oddly endearing, if rather schizophrenic & occasionally incoherent, blackly comic gothic horror that will doubtless please fans of this director's particular style, whilst leaving more mainstream viewers reaching for the off-switch. On the other hand, if you're looking for something a little different, you can do far worse than this effort.
Dr. Orloff passes on to his apprentice Dr. Fisherman (Marcelo Arroita-Jauregui) the secret for inducing & controlling movement in corpses through the cunning use of ultrasonics. Fisherman then takes his living corpse (Hugo Blanco) off into the night to roam the countryside & befriend a lonely blind man in a quaint remote cottage. Well no, actually - this is a Jess Franco film, so consequently he takes his corpse so seedy, cheesy jazz strip joints in order to brutally murder naked women. At the same time, his orphan student niece Melissa (Agnes Spaak) comes to pay him a visit during the holidays.
This film contains many classic images of the gothic horror, & Franco plays around with them to entertaining effect. Pleasingly present & correct are such standards as long shadows, creepy castles, thunderstorms, random skulls, cobwebs, chandeliers, mystery forbidden room, plus of course the mad scientist with his Frankenstein-style zombie creation, complete with its dark coat & black gloves. Franco then adds to this theatrical Guignol milieu some then-trendy nudity & violence, & a liberal dose of humour - notably in the early scenes between Melissa & her suitor Juan Manuel (Jose Rubio), with the utterly crazy comedy doorman, & in the character of the investigating policeman (Heriberto Pastor Serrador), who shows up half-way through & does very little except be quite funny & indulge in some classy "swearing". There is some very amusing dialogue of the "I am so surprised that you don't wait until my 21st Birthday to arrange this occasion," variety. I particularly liked the line (spoken during dinner), "I know that my days are numbered in this vale of sorrows." There are also a couple of little musical interludes, first with a disturbingly camp & cheesy 60s strip routine, & then a brunette bar singer gets a couple of songs (one of which is actually quite catchy!) - with Franco's cameo as the pianist. Franco's regular composer Daniel White contributes a typically off-beat but highly entertaining score.
There are some really great touches to be found herein too, such as the moment when the Dr meets the singer in silhouette in front of a picture of Chaplin - surely the most blatant indication that we shouldn't try to take this stuff too seriously. I also really liked the death which occurs off-screen, just hearing the woman's scream echoing around the seemingly empty square. The opening is another stand-out moment for me, filling in some back-story with a dream/flashback sequence slowly zooming through cross-fades of largely still images. It's also worth noting that this film dates from the period before Franco discovered that zooming was much easier than actually moving the camera, for there are some lovely tracking shots to be found & (outside the opening) very little use of the zoom. There are even a couple of quite eerie & creepy moments, such as when Melissa wakes in the night to hear her aunt talking in her sleep, & the trip into the fore-mentioned forbidden room.
Dr. Jekyll's Mistresses is by no means a classic, & many viewers will be severely put off by the film's quite random & off-beat tone, lo-fi technical prowess, "interesting" acting, & relatively slow pace. Plus this is very much a product of its time, & hasn't dated as well as some other films from the period. Nevertheless, I found the film to be a deliciously drugged-out blast from the past, & it put a big grin on my face several times. One for fans of Euro-sleaze-gothic, then - but if you don't often venture off the beaten track, you're probably best off approaching it with caution.
I've been watching the recent UK PAL release from Arrow films, which includes some sequences Franco shot purely for the French market - a little extra nudity basically. The film is presented in it's what appears to be the correct widescreen ratio of approx 1.85:1, with 16x9 enhancement. I was pleasantly surprised at how good the picture was, pretty sharp, if a touch grainy. Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of print damage in some places & there seems to be one or two frames missing. Audio is via a standard dubbed English mono track that sadly has quite a bit of background hiss, but nothing too distracting & everything is still audible. Still, it's about as good as it's going to get without a full (& expensive) restoration - which frankly the film doesn't deserve. As for extras, all we get is scene selection (which gives it one up on Mulholland Dr.!), which is perhaps unsurpising given the nature of the film. There can't be too much of a market for a film like this, so to be honest I'm just glad that it's available & looking so good. Plus, another bonus - it's come through the BBFC uncut & with a mere 15 certificate.

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