Written by: Johan Fundin on May 21st, 2006
Theatrical Release Dates: France/Spain 1965
Director: Jesus Franco
Writers: Jean-Claude Carrière, Jesus Franco
Cast: Howard Vernon, Estella Blain, Mabel Karr, Guy Mairesse, Daniel J White
DVD released: April 29th, 2003
Approximate running time: 84 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono French, Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Mondo Macabro
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $24.95
Jess Franco (Jesus Franco Manera) was a visionary and a predecessor to the modern day Pedro Almodóvar in Spain. Even if their films are quite different the fellow countrymen shared the dynamic visual grammar of absurdity and sexual explicitness, experimentalism and limit-pushing artistic exploration. They both welcomed the liberation from the heavy restrictions and uncompromising censoring within the puritanical Spanish cinematic community following the death of the other Franco, the dictator, in 1975. Spanish filmmakers were now finally allowed to make whatever films they wanted in their native country. By then the younger Almodóvar was only twenty-four years old but big times would come in the 1980s when he directed a handful of startling underground movies using pop-art colour schemes and garish production designs. It comes without saying that Almodóvar was and is the more talented and more gifted of the two filmmakers.
Back to Jess Franco…After all we are talking about the most prolific director of all time (some 150+ films) and an artist who was picked by Orson Welles to work on the maestro’s Chimes at Midnight. Certainly some of his movies must be worth seeing? It is safe to say that the quality of Franco’s work is strongly fluctuating, where the major opinion seems to be that his earlier serious art house films and crime thrillers are better than his later pornographic outings. Diabolical Doctor Z, an early Franco, made in 1965, is a film well worth to check out by those with a genuine interest and curiosity in discovering gothic Euro horror beyond the contemporary works by Bava and Margheriti.
The plotline of Diabolical Doctor Z is three-dimensional: A scientific research project in Neurology, a triangular relationship and love story, and a revenge thriller. Dr. Zimmer, an independent researcher, has invented a mind-controlling machine that he claims can permanently change the personality of criminals and turn them into normal, law-obeying citizens. So far he has experimented with the minds of animals but has yet to try his equipment on humans in order to prove his theories. At a scientific conference he presents his work and asks his research community for permission to carry out experiments on humans. But Dr. Zimmer’s request is rejected; instead he is verbally humiliated and ridiculed by his colleagues, most notably by Drs. Vicas, Moroni and Kallman, and he dies from a heart attack caused by his frustration. Dr. Phillipe Whitehouse, a younger scientist within the community and a close friend of the Zimmer family, is the only one who supported the groundbreaking research of the deceased. Zimmer’s daughter Irma, who has an intimate relation with Phillipe, is firmly determined to avenge her father’s death, and part of her plan is to kidnap a young and attractive woman, Nadia, to programme her into a vicious killer employing her father’s mind-modifying innovation, and to use her against Vicas, Moroni and Kallman. Things turn more sensitive when Phillipe falls in love with Nadia.
Diabolical Doctor Z is anamorphic enhanced and it is in its original aspect ratio. The black and white image is striking as details are razor sharp. Shadow details are exceptional and black levels remain solid through out. The source used for this DVD is flawless as there is no sign of any print damage.
Two language options are available French and English. Both are in Dolby Digital Stereo. The French language audio mix is the cleaner of the two. The English audio mix has some minor instances of hiss that is present through out the film. English subtitles have also been provided.
Extras for this release include the films original trailer, English language titles, poster & still galleries, cast & crew bios and a fifteen minute documentary titled “The Diabolical Jess Franco”. Despite its short length the documentary covers a lot of information and it is a wonderful introduction piece for those interested in the cinema of Jess Franco. There is also an Easter egg hidden on this release.
Diabolical Doctor Z is an ultra-low budget film and it certainly looks very cheap, but it has its memorable moments. The tense scene on the train with Nadia and Dr. Vicas with its atmospheric blend of danger and seductive female beauty echoes Alfred Hitchcock, and the set design and contrast lighting of Phillipe’s apartment is strongly reminiscent of a scene in Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970), a scene which Paul Schrader borrowed in American Gigolo (1980), lit by Vittorio Storaro. Diabolical Doctor Z might not be a masterpiece but is an interesting little film from a director driven by his passionate and limitless love for cinema.