EDITOR’S NOTE: I think this was the movie — we first watched it on January 2, 2018 — where I started to understand Jess Franco. And here we are, many movies and zooms later.
Sure, Jess Franco is just making a new version of The Awful Dr. Orloff with this film, but with bigger stars and plenty of gore. And when you’re looking for a movie to watch at 4 AM — and I often am — it certainly does the trick.
Dr. Frank Flamand (Helmut Berger, The Damned) is a plastic surgeon surrounded by gorgeous women who walk arm in arm to his fancy car. But a former patient wants revenge, so she tosses acid at him. Instead, she catches his sister, Ingrid, directly in the face, ruining her gorgeous looks.
Fast forward to a modeling shoot in Paris, where Flamand’s assistant Nathalie (Brigitte Lahaie, The Grapes of Death) drugs and abducts Barbara Hallen (Caroline Munro, Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, Dr. Phibes Rises Again). As she locks her into the basement of the doctor’s clinic, Nathalie gets into an argument with Gordon, a maniac who lives down in the basement and chops off women’s arms for a hobby.
Still with us? Then let’s go to New York, where Barbara’s dad Terry (Telly Savalas, Lisa and the Devil) is searching for his daughter, turning to Sam Morgan (Chris Mitchum, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Tusk, Bigfoot, Chisum) to help find her. He first travels to a Paris morgue, where her body supposedly is, but the headless victim is not her as it’s missing a mole.
Flamand and his sister meet Dr. Orloff (Howard Vernon, who played Orloff in six of his seven films) and learn how they can cut off Barbara’s face to replace Ingrid’s thanks to a Nazi scientist named Dr. Karl Heinz Moser (Anton Diffring, who played numerous Nazis in his career, including in Jerry Lewis’ long lost The Day the Clown Cried). Plus, Franco’s longtime muse, Lina Romay, appears here as Orloff’s wife. When the doctor returns to his office, he learns Gordon has cut up Barbara’s face.
Morgan beats up Barabra’s photo director before a bouncer makes him leave. He has to call Terry with some bad news — his daughter had been working as a prostitute.
The doctor finds another face donor for the surgery, but Moser destroys it. That means they need to find yet another victim, during which Barbara’s credit card is traced to Flamand’s clinic. Morgan starts surveillance and notices that Nathalie is wearing Barbara’s clothes.
He arrives at the clinic and takes out Gordon, but is overcome and locked into the cell with all of the girls. The villains leave them bricked up and with their air running out.
But Sam has sent Barbara’s dad a message, who gets ready to rescue everyone. And then…the movie ends.
The original ending of the film had Sam saving the day, but Franco wanted to make it different and leave it open as to whether Sam and Barabara survived. Why? Why ask.
Oh yeah — I almost forgot. This film is replete with surgical horror, like faces being sliced and lifted off, needles into eyeballs, scissors into throats and much, much more. If only it lived up to the promise of its poster, but that said, it’s grimy and seedy fun if you can’t find anything else.