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Orloff Against The Invisible Man (DVD)

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Actors: Howard Vernon, Brigitte Carva, Fernando Sancho, Paco Valladares, Isabel del Río / Directors: Pierre Chevalier / Format: PAL / Language: French / Number of discs: 1 / Classification: 18 / Studio: Arrow / DVD Release Date: 10 Nov 2003 / Run Time: 76 minutes

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      05.09.2013 09:44
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      A profoundly terrible old horror movie

      This DVD from Arrow is less than £5 on amazon, and still feels overpriced.Whenever I think I've hit rock bottom, something proves me wrong. Of all the 'worst films I've ever seen', this one currently holds the crown as the stinkiest of stinkers. There are almost certainly worse films, and I'll probably end up seeing at least some of them. But for the time being this one wears the brown crown. It's a witless period horror, a Spanish/French co-production from 1970.

      It's the olden days. I'm not sure where the film is meant to be set, but either France or Spain would be my guess. Young Dr Garondet is summoned in the middle of the night to attend the castle of Professor Orloff, where he is given to believe that someone is very sick. The local peasantry react with fear and hostility when he mentions where he's going, but he makes it there eventually.

      Orloff's servants are surly and hostile. Orloff's daughter believes that she is being stalked by someone she can't see. And Orloff himself... well, let's just say he took revenge on the graverobbers who stole his dead daughter's jewels by creating an invisible man as a servant.

      Wait, what? He took revenge on *who*? By doing *what*? The plot of this film is idiotic. Orloff's daughter is still alive, so a lengthy flashback in which she appears to die can only try the patience (and my goodness but it's a long flashback. It takes up about half the film). Orloff claims at first to have created an invisible man to act as a servant; then to allow him to take over the world (why is it that mad scientists always overreach themselves?); and finally to get his revenge in some way over the people who desecrated his daughter's grave. And he tells all this to an unwelcome houseguest whom he initially pulled a gun on.

      The name of the film doesn't bear any real relation to what happens, incidentally - while there is an invisible man, he is not opposed to Orloff; he works for him. Also, the front cover of the DVD shows zombies. There aren't any zombies.

      It isn't just the plot of this that's terrible. Absolutely everything else is as well. I assumed this was directed by Jesus Franco, the 70s' most prolific purveyor on incoherent trash cinema. Turns out it was made by someone called Pierre Chevalier. He clearly belongs to the Franco school of directing, but at least his camera doesn't wobble as much as Franco's. He does like speedily zooming in on actors' faces (and occasionally on other things, like a stuffed owl). And he'll pan slowly around completely banal details, like the ceiling of a bedroom, and leave the camera pointing at things like a lake in which nothing is happening for up to ten seconds at a time. Some shots are poorly framed, too, so that important details are cut off. In short, this film is very badly and boringly directed.

      The reason I thought it was a Franco film is the presence of Howard Vernon in the cast, playing a character named Orloff. Vernon was one of Franco's favourite actors, and appears in plenty of his films, often as a mad scientist named Orloff. Vernon was a Swiss actor who made an astonishing number of films around Europe from the 60s to the 90s, many of them for Franco. He landed a few roles in respectable films, like Alphaville and Delicatessen, but he's mostly remembered now for his schlock horror stuff. The problem is, he is one of the most apathetic actors I've ever seen. He rarely shows a flicker of emotion, and one gets the feeling it's because he simply couldn't be bothered. During a scene in the flashback his voiceover assures us he was mad with grief, but all we see is him sitting in a chair looking bored, like a man whose dentist's appointment is 20 minutes late.

      The rest of the cast aren't much better. The doctor, our notional hero, is fairly inert. The thuggish gamekeeper who robs the daughter's jewels is played by the impressively ugly Fernando Sancho, who is also in one of the Blind Dead films (the second one, I think). He has a really unsightly sore on his lower lip. Orloff's two servants sit in their little kitchen having conversations so sparse and hostile they feel like some kind of 60s experimental theatre troupe. There are three women in the film, and all of them get naked. In one bad-taste sequence that lasts way too long, one of them is raped by the invisible man. That's probably what earns this film its otherwise incongruous 18 certificate.

      The whole film looks incredibly cheap and shabby. The period costumes are threadbare (the most impressive is the doctor's cape. That's probably where half the film's budget went). The furniture on the castle looks rickety and shopworn. The professor's laboratory is absolutely pathetic - there aren't even any electrical gadgets, although there is a large, mysterious wheel that keeps rotating and squeaking. The stuffed owl is probably the most impressive thing in the entire film.

      It's the kind of film where the day-for-night filming is so bad that it looks like broad daylight. The dubbed voices are lame (there are foreign language soundtracks included on the DVD, but no subtitles). At one point we see some friendly looking dogs running around, with some completely inappropriate dog noises dubbed onto the soundtrack. If you can't even dub a dog convincingly, you might as well give up.

      The special effects have to be seen to be believed. The 'invisible man' is a pitiful collection of doors being opened by people crouching out of shot, stop-motion footprints, and items moving around on obvious wires. (OK, I wasn't expecting them to have a real invisible man in the film; but a bit more effort might have made this less risible). And when he finally appears, as all invisible men must inevitably do... well, he's a surprise. I'll say that much. Not all surprises are good.

      The worst special effect, though - perhaps the worst I've ever seen in a film - is when someone gets trapped in a room where the walls start to close in. Except they don't, because that would cost money. Instead, the camera slowly zooms in on the wall while some creaking appears on the soundtrack, which is presumably meant to convey the idea that the wall is closing in. This is unutterably lame. Did anyone think that would fool an audience?

      Did anyone care? Probably not. This is a short film (76 minutes, although I think it's missing some scenes). It was presumably cranked out to be slotted into the lower half of horror double bills, and presumably did so well enough. I'd have been furious if I'd spent more than a few pounds on it.

      The picture quality on the film is poor. It's raining when the film starts, but it's actually quite difficult to tell, as there's so much damage to the print. While it does improve as the film goes on, it never stays clear for too long. There's also damage to the soundtrack, which jumps and crackles. There probably wasn't a better quality copy of the film available, and I'd rather have damaged versions of films available than none at all. Even when they're this bad.

      The only extra is a trailer, which includes a shot from at least one scene that isn't in the version of the film presented here (a shame, too, as it looks hilarious). While this film does have its funny side, it's ultimately a wearying experience, and even at 76 minutes it feels too long. I really, really wouldn't bother.

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