The Diabolical Dr. Z [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (20th February 2018).
The Film

“The Last Word in Shock!”

Jess Franco’s horror films occupy a special place in the genre, a place akin to a feverish dream space of a reoccurring nightmare, complete with the sexual undertones of an exotic element with S & M connotations, the use of mental thought control, bizarre underworld cafes featuring odd dance numbers, and an innovative jazz soundtrack. Yeah, right, just another fever dream from the man himself, Jess Franco.

Franco was known for his rapid fire productions made on nearly no money, and had an uncanny ability to produce box office gold from his grade Z productions, and this film is considered by many Franco fans as one of his best. A man is seen skulking about an underground prison while outside a thunder storm roars, flashing lightning across the sky and momentarily illuminating the scene. The man, Hans Bergen, aka The Sadist Strangler (Guy Mariesse) in question is a convicted serial killer that was scheduled to face the gallows in the morning, but he manages to escape from the prison and makes his way to the woods in search of sanctuary. After a harrowing journey through the forest, the man stumbles upon the isolated home of one Dr. Von Zimmer (Antonio Jiménez Escribano), a chemist that has been experimenting on a variety of animals for years, but he is anxious to test his theories out on a living, breathing human being, and here he is now. What luck to have a convicted murderer just waltz into your laboratory and pass out! Dr. Z is wheelchair bound, has a headful of crazy hair, and sports a pair of thick spectacles that obscure his eyes; it is mentioned that he is a devotee of the late Dr. Orloff (another of Franco’s more infamous creations that stars in a different series of film), and he resides in a large mansion with his daughter Irma (Mabel Karr) and assistant Barbara (Lucía Prado) amongst plenty of caged animals that are often heard reacting in fear to whatever terror is being enacted at the moment. At Irma’s insistence, their newly discovered convict is dragged into the laboratory and is strapped onto a mechanized operating table, that uses robotic arms (how interesting that science has borrowed this idea now) and utilizing extremely long needles that are driven deep into the patient’s spinal column, the patient becomes Dr. Z’s willing servant. Later while at a scientific conference of the International Neurologist Congress, Dr. Z presents his findings to a shocked audience; he explains that he has discovered the genesis of evil in the human body and that he can manipulate it, thus making a vicious killer into a completely rehabilitated citizen or vice versa, but he is seeking the board’s approval to allow him to experiment on humans, but he is openly mocked and consequently suffers a fatal heart attack and dies on the spot. It is upon this request that Franco hangs his tale of revenge and retribution; just like Dr. Frankenstein before him, Dr. Z is about to verge on a scientific marvel, if only his colleagues would have the foresight to allow him to operate on living human beings, then we could take some serious steps in advancing science, but no, they shun such a ridiculous request, and thus bring about their own deaths. With his dying breath, Dr. Z asks his daughter Irma to take up his mantle of scientific research, and she happily does.

Dr. Phillipe Brighthouse (Fernando Montes) seeks to comfort Irma in her time of grief and he has the bright idea of taking her to a strange cabaret to see a suggestively charged act featuring Miss Death (Estella Blain looking stunning in a skin tight one piece semi-transparent outfit) and a mannequin (I know, WTF, but it is a Franco trademark); while watching the act, Irma realizes that Miss Death would make the perfect assassin. Irma returns to the club in disguise at a later date and acts like a talent scout who is wild for the act, “they’ll just love it in the states”, and she lures the actress to an abandoned house where she has set up shop. Shortly therein, Miss Death aka Nadja, finds herself on the operating table, where she too endures the knitting needle acupuncture treatment at the hands of Irma. Miss Death sports some killer fingernails and it is with these curare coated talons that she will issue forth her revenge on three scientists that helped usher in her father’s untimely demise. Irma enacts her first steps towards claiming her father’s revenge by faking her own death whilst trading places with an unlucky hitchhiker that she had just killed, but she suffers from severe facial burns when the car she is torching flares up in her face. Meanwhile back at the lab, Irma performs plastic surgery on herself via the use of a large mirror that she has mounted above herself; talk about a “do it yourself” practitioner!

The first victim is Franco regular, Howard Vernon as Dr. Vicas; he is seen aboard a passenger train peeling an orange with a knife when the lovely Miss Death enquires whether or not he minds that she sits at his table. Dr. Vicas is no fool and hastily asks the lady to join him wherein they exchange some innuendo laden dialogue as they pass through what must be one of the longest tunnels in cinematic history. Just as she suddenly appeared, the lady departs the dining car only to lure the unsuspecting doctor to her compartment. Miss Death embraces the good doctor in a deadly embrace and then uses her deadly nails to shred his face into a bloody heap. One down and two more to go! Hot on the case though are two intrepid police inspectors: Inspector Tanner (portrayed by the director Jess Franco himself) and visiting English Inspector Green (the film’s composer Daniel White): the two men reconnoiter with Professor Brighthouse to question him regarding the whereabouts of Nadja, and they also enquire about the recently thought deceased Irma Von Zimmer.

The next victim Dr. Moroni (Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui) is dispatched after a moody cat and mouse sequence in an alley with Miss Death trailing along behind the doctor. Meanwhile back at the doctor’s house, his wife Mrs. Moroni (Mer Casas) is killed by Bergen in a provocative manner that Dario Argento would apparently borrow for a scene in "Deep Red" (1975) by having her head thrust through a windowpane. After being laughed at by some lounging prostitutes Moroni flees to what he thinks is safety in a nearby taxi but it is actually being driven by Irma in disguise as she gases him to death in the backseat in a James Bond like type sequence. The last words he hears is “Dr. Zimmer.”

Irma crosses another name off the mirror in lipstick and so we are left with the last potential victim: Dr. Kallman. Miss Death trips up here and Dr. Kallman gets the drop on her rather easily with a pistol but little does Kallman know that there are strangers in the house as Miss Death has been accompanied by both Bergen and Irma. The body count continues to increase as these two quickly kill the servant and a nurse in short order and then take their place. Kallman telephones his servant and tells him to send for the police, but it is Bergen on the other end of the line and that isn’t going to happen. A knock on the door distracts the doctor who opens it only to find Irma standing there who rewards him with a shiv in the stomach. Irma doesn’t look too pleased with how her beautiful killer performed and she leads Miss Death into the waiting hands of Bergen who is only too happy to commit another killing. The entire scene is interrupted by the dashing Professor Brighthouse who comes to the rescue of his on again-off again girlfriend. Franco then stages a dramatic struggle as the two men fight from room to room, including the use of some serious antique fighting weaponry. Scenes such as this dismiss Franco’s reputation for being a hack director who loves to overuse the zoom lens as he displays a unique style with the framing of this scene. Ultimately Bergen is killed by a spear thrust to the stomach, but the Professor fails to escape Irma’s clutches and he is taken back to the lab where he is restrained by the mechanized arms of Doctor Z’s operating table. Miss Death, again under Irma’s control, prepares the professor for a Z-ray treatment with the long needle but at the last moment, Inspector Tanner appears and shoots Irma, killing her for once and all. The star crossed lovers embrace and Professor Brighthouse murmurs sweet nothings to Nadja as she caresses his face with those deadly fingernails. The End or is it, because this is, after all, a Franco film and he was notorious for re-using and re-shooting scenes from previous films.

The plot of the film moves along swiftly enough and the film hardly drags as Franco fills the frame with some engaging photography courtesy of Alejandro Ulloa, and of course there is the trademark “acid jazz” score by Daniel White that moodily plays along in the background. There are many elements that appear in this film that will become re-occurring touchstones for the director including the avenging woman theme, an obsession with plastic surgery, and the themes of female sexuality as both a lure and a weapon, and the use of robots or mind control. All in all, this is an excellent introduction to a fascinating filmmaker who was incredibly productive and who directed over two hundred films in his lengthy career.


Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.66:1 HD 1080p 24/fps mastered using AVC MPEG-4 compression, the clarity of the black and white photography is stunning. The blacks are very dark and the contrast is balanced and hardly excessive. The images are striking and fantastic.


Two audio tracks are present in English LPCM 2.0 mono and also French LPCM 2.0 mono. The audio is balanced and not overstated, composer Daniel White’s score features an unusual array of music and themes, ranging from orchestral to free range jazz. Very deep and rich in its lossless. Optional subtitles are included in English.


The disc includes an incredible voice over audio commentary track by Tim Lucas, former editor of Video Watchdog Magazine and co-author of Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco, this is literally the man who wrote the book on Jess Franco. Tim’s encyclopedic volume of film knowledge and its depth is quite simply amazing, and he thoroughly discusses everything there is to know about this film. Even if you only have a cursorily interest in this film or Jess Franco, I implore you to give this a listen; you will learn an incredible amount in a short amount of time and be entertained as well. It is because of Tim’s magazine and its influence that I even know anything about Jess Franco and for that I owe him my eternal thanks.

There is also the film's original theatrical trailer in French with English subtitles and runs for 3 minutes.


Packaged in a keep case with excellent cover art.


The entire production is a class act. The picture source is crystal clear and it looks very impressive. For a film this old, there is a total lack of scratches, blemishes, cut scenes, etc. Kino Lorber did a fantastic job on this Blu-ray and I urge all horror fans to add it to your library.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: A-


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