Contributed by our panelist member, Hateful Jock.
It is hard in film, or in any discipline really, to argue who did what first. Herschell Gordon Lewis says he was the first man to use gore in cinema and we find out that the Japanese were doing it years before and better (see JIGOKU). We can never say anything for sure but I'm saying this for sure. This is a proclamation that the very first medical horror movie as we understand them today (You DR. CALIGARI people can sit down) is, THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF.
THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is, of course, a great film and an inspiration for goth kids the world over. Yet, as far as I remember, hardly any breasts were cut open in that one. (Eyeballs were done in '29 with UN CHIEN ANDALOU, but it took 35 years to cut open the next most logical thing in cinema.) This movie opens with the aforementioned scene and doesn’t back down for the rest of the movie. The story centers on a doctor (Howard Vernon) who is trying to bring his wife, or daughter, or mother, or just someone back to life by cutting open women. His blind assistant Morpho, and a woman who I can only assume was his maid, assist these surgeries conducted in his creepy old castle.
While the Da Vinci-esque group is at work, a woman breaks into the castle looking for her sister. It readily becomes obvious that her sister died in the good doctor's experiments, yet this reporter-type woman creeps around the castle looking for clues until she ultimately ends up on the operating table herself. When Orloff unleashes his scalpel on the girl, Morpho decides that he is in love with her and the two men start a wrestling match that somehow brings the castle down in flames. And you thought Andre The Giant vs. Big John Studd brought the house down! The girl escapes and the maid dies...I think.
You may have been able to tell by the description of the plot that it isn't all that important. However, this movie was the first popular movie to introduce the concept of nudity to the horror genre. Horror has always been sexy but Mr. Jess Franco (the director) decided that the time for subtlety had passed and it was time for people to start taking off their clothes, even if he did use the same body double for two different actresses. It also fused the idea of modern horror in gothic settings deeply in our brain. Here is a modern doctor experimenting with new techniques in an old decrepit castle.
Before someone shouts FRANKENSTEIN, I want to make an observation. Dr. Frankenstein was a scientist and used science; in the book he used medical techniques but in the movie it was lightning and a table that brought him to life. Orloff used the table to be sure, but also the scalpel. Orloff is more akin to Dracula than Frankenstein, because he kidnaps you, put you under and penetrates you. But while Dracula was a horror from the past, Orloff was shockingly modern. Europe was mad about these types of movies for about twenty years and came out with countless imitations, many were better; but this movie started it all.
Europe was mad about these types of movies for about twenty years and came out with countless imitations, many were better; but this movie started it all.
RATING: *** (out of four stars)