There’s an old say­ing in the busi­ness world that goes “If it moves, sell it.” Nowhere is this more true than the world of schlock.  Anything that gar­ners even the faintest whiff of suc­cess the first time is guar­an­teed to be repeat­ed ad infini­tum by the schlock mer­chants who made it.  How else would you explain all those sequels to Leprechaun and Children Of The Corn?

And this rule remains true no mat­ter what lev­el of the busi­ness you are at.  For instance, con­sid­er the case of Jesus Franco.  He scored a note­wor­thy European hit in 1962 with The Awful Dr. Orloff, an Eyes Without A Face knock­off built around a mad sci­en­tist who spe­cial­izes in plas­tic surgery exper­i­ments.  After it did well in the ter­ri­to­ries, Franco sub­se­quent­ly brought the char­ac­ter back anoth­er sev­en times.  Whether the good Doctor was a lead or just a cameo, his cin­e­mat­ic life extend­ed through the next few decades and involved mul­ti­ple actors.

The Sinister Eyes Of Dr. Orloff was made in 1973 and is one of the lesser-known Orloff/Franco ven­tures.  The sto­ry is built around the tra­vails of Melissa (Montserrat Prous), a trou­bled young para­plegic bedev­iled by night­ly bad dreams about the mys­te­ri­ous death of her father.  The extend­ed fam­i­ly mem­bers she lives with — main­ly the vain, sta­tus-obsessed Aunt Flora (Kali Hansa) and cous­in Martha (Loreta Tovar) — are not exact­ly con­cerned with her well-being.

Enter Dr. Orloff: this time, erst­while spaghet­ti west­ern reg­u­lar William Berger plays the role.  He is brought in to eval­u­ate Melissa’s psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion and he warns her that her father was mur­dered before leav­ing abrupt­ly.  That night, Melissa has a dream in which she can walk and mur­ders her Uncle Henry (Jaume Picas).  As her mur­der­ous night­mares blend with a death-filled real­i­ty, she begins to won­der if some­one around her is try­ing to dri­ve her crazy.  It is inevitable that every­one, regard­less of their motives and machi­na­tions, will soon dis­cov­er that Orloff is pulling the strings.

It’s sur­pris­ing that this film is so rare because it is actu­al­ly one of Franco’s more con­ven­tion­al films.  The plot makes sense in its own clunky way and the film focus­es on this sto­ry instead of the car­nal fas­ci­na­tions and self-con­scious artsi­ness his work is usu­al­ly known for.  Even the end­ing avoids the expect­ed Franco dime-store sur­re­al­ism in favor of a t.v. show-style end­ing that neat­ly ties every­thing up.

That said, none of the con­ces­sions to nar­ra­tive film­mak­ing make The Sinister Eyes Of Dr. Orloff what any­one would con­sid­er a com­mer­cial film.  The dia­logue mix­es awk­ward expo­si­tion with curi­ous stabs at poet­ry (par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing Orloff’s mono­logues) and the act­ing has a cer­tain blank-faced campi­ness to it.  Franco films it all in a hasty style that favors hand­held-cam­era flour­ish­es, result­ing in a style that falls some­where between exploita­tion film and art­sy stu­dent project.  The film also fea­tures a pret­ty hilar­i­ous folk song per­formed by “rock star” char­ac­ter that sounds like Jandek try­ing his hand at bub­blegum music.

In short, The Sinister Eyes Of Dr. Orloff is a mid-lev­el Eurocult odd­i­ty that occu­pies its own phan­tom space in the Franco fil­mog­ra­phy: it’s nei­ther the best nor the worst thing he’s done yet it’s not a rep­re­sen­ta­tive exam­ple of his film­mak­ing either.  Even the way it uses its most saleable asset — Dr. Orloff — is far afield from what the char­ac­ter is known for.  It’s prob­a­bly best left to the Franco com­pletists, who will no doubt find it a breath of fresh air when com­pared to the video-based quick­ies he’s been crank­ing out over the last decade or so.