The Diabolical Dr. Z (1966) 

An early Jess Franco film, boasting an interesting plot and very impressive direction. Mondo Macabro US R0 release.

The Film

Jess Franco is surely one of the most controversial cult-directors of the 20th Century, if not just for the often shocking content of his films (that led to him beind dubbed the most dangerous filmmaker alive by the Catholic Church) then for the heated debates his films provoke among fans and detractors. For many fans The Diabolical Dr. Z ranks as one of the director's finest works.

Continuing the work of Dr. Orloff, wheelchair bound scientist Dr. Zimmer has managed to isolate the areas of the brain that control good and evil and by probing their brains is able to keep wild animals passive, and enrage them. Presenting this theory to a medical conference, he is mocked by the three professors present and ordered to cease his project, distraught he suffers a heart attack and dies. His daughter, Imra Zimmer, returns to the Doctor's lab where his first subject, a convicted killer who escaped death row is already under her control. After faking her own death, Imra kidnaps an attractive young nightclub dancer known as Miss Death, aiming to use her to murder the three professors who she blames for the death of her father. On board a night-train, Miss Death meets Dr. Vicars (Howard Vernon) and lures him to his death. Meanwhile, the police have become involved and the inspector (Jess Franco himself), along with a visiting English inspector (Daniel White), consult Dr. Phillippe Brighthouse who knew Imra Zimmer, and was Miss Death's lover. Meanwhile, Imra is continuing to use her two pawns to kill the other professors, and it is up to Brighthouse and the police to stop her.

The general plot of the film (co-written with experienced film writer Jean-Claude Carrière) is hardly original - revenge storylines like this have been doing the rounds since the dawn of cinema, and were the basis for practically every Euro-Westen - but fortunately the film contains sufficient unique elements to draw it away from the bulk. Nods to Franco's early sucess come in the name droppings of Dr. Orloff, Moroni and Radeck, while the quick and easy facial reconstruction surgery performed on Imra Zimmer during the film would seem to spoof the failed attempts in The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962). The film's Dr. Vicas would later appear in Franco's Kiss Me, Monster (1969). The script is not without problems however; the character of Phillippe Brighthouse seems far too convenient, he knows Imra Zimmer, was Miss Death's lover and was present at the conference where Dr. Zimmer died, while the film's ending is rather unimpressive. Overall, the film is very slow paced but it rarely drags, and even the police segments fit well with the rest of the story - all too often, police procedurals are used as padding to fill out a film's run-time.

More importantly, Jess Franco's strong direction is what lifts the film from a standard B-movie, into an incredible viewing experience. From the opening nighttime prison escape, to Miss Death's surreal nightclub act, the on-train murder and a pursuit through foggy streets, the film is full of excitingly filmed set-pieces; Franco uses a wide range of unique camera angles and a mix of still and moving shots while never seeming gratuitous and the use of stark black and white photography gives the film an unsettling, almost surreal edge throughout. Fortunatly, the production values in the film are strong, the sequence on-board the train looking very effective and the sets all well decorated. The music, from Daniel White, (who also appears in the film) is strange mix of jazz, although it generally remains in the background, and is not the core element of the film as in some of Franco's later work.

The cast is a relatively unknown mix of Spanish and French actors. Howard Vernon is instantly recognisable to Franco fans having appeared in several of the director's early works, and popping up again fequently until his death in the 1990s, and although his role here is small, he plays it well. The rest of the cast perform decently enough. Franco himself pops up as a police inspector suffering the recent birth (to his wife) of triplets, alongside the film's composer Daniel White as a visiting English police officer.

The Diabolical Dr. Z was one of the last films in Franco's black and white horror era, just around the corner was Harry Alan Towers who would give Franco the budget and stars that brought him world-wide fame; but despite this, Jess was rarely able to match the talents displayed here. For those who have given up on Franco having seen his recent DTV work, or his unimpressive near-poronographic 1980s films, The Diabolical Dr. Z should come as a revelation; strong direction, good photography, and not a zoom shot in sight. Highly recommended to all euro-cult and Jess Franco fans, and generally recommended to all film fans. Certainly not a bad place to enter the strange and twisted world of Franco for the first time.

In brief:

Is it a sequel? Considered a semi-sequel to Jess Franco's The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962), but contains few references to that film.
Anyone famous in it? Howard Vernon - a staple of Franco's output and with over a hundred Euro-cult films to his name.
Directed by anyone interesting? Jess Franco - infamous Euro-cult director, with over 180 known film credits. From Venus in Furs (1969) to The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (1972). He also has a small role as a police inspector in this film.
Any violence? A few killing scenes and a little blood, although nothing especially graphic.
Any sex? A skin-tight, see-through catsuit is as good as it gets.
Is it scary? Not really. Very atmospheric.
Who is it for?
Of definite interest to Franco fans, a generally well directed film that should appeal to all.
Good soundtrack? Very odd track, mix of jazz and modern piano music - often deliberately discordant.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 1.77:1 anamorphic wide-screen. Black and White.
The image is nearly perfect with only infrequent print damage, minimal grain.
Audio English and French language original dubs - Dolby mono. Sounds fine for most of the run time.
English track has one short scene in French, with English subs underneath (sub track #1)
Subtitles English - film only.
Run-TimeFeature - 1hr 23m 04s
Extras The disc includes:
  • 'Diabolical Jess Franco' - Section from UK documentary on eurocinema, about Franco. Liberally illustrated with scenes from this film, as well as various film posters. Plenty of interview clips, part-subtitled. (15m 22s)
  • English Titles - opening scenes with English language on-screen credits. (1m 45s)
  • English language original trailer - good condition, fullscreen. (1m 03s)
  • Poster gallery - manual scrolling gallery of posters used to advertise this film.
  • Stills gallery - manual scrolling gallery of still shots taken from this film.
  • Biographies of 3 cast and director. Short but detailed.
  • Easter Egg - brief audio clip with Howard Vernon describing an incident that occurred during filming of one scene in this film. Audio is sadly hard to make out, and is unsubtitled - English. (2m 36s)
    Packing Standard Amaray case.
    Region Region 0 (all players) - NTSC
    Other regions? None known.
    Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut, all scenes cut from English language prints are present.
    The film is from the French print, so titles and credits are in French.



    Return to main menu.

    All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 30th July 2005/17th March 2006.
    Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

    Please contact: