The Diabolical Dr. Z (1966)

Hey!  This week has something pretty special on B-Movie Enema.  So, when I was trying to think about what movies I wanted to watch for October, I couldn’t really think of a theme for the month.  However, I had some movies I’ve always wanted to do that are either somewhat popular, or have a cult following, or this week’s movie, The Diabolical Dr. Z, which features a returning director – Jess Franco.

As I explained last week, October is kind of a big month for B-Movie Enema.  In fact, it was the month I started writing the blog way back in 2014.  One of those movies was Oasis of the Zombies.  That was also directed by Jess Franco.  Unfortunately, that movie sucked.  Hard.

Since then, ol’ Uncle Jessie bounced back with an Ilsa movie and a “Black” Emanuelle movie.  And this week, Dr. Z will take him back to his earlier days of filmmaking and is a surprisingly stylish and atmospheric movie.  On top of that, it’s been a very long time, almost 2 years to be exact, since I covered a movie from the 60s.  Additionally, it was also the last time I looked at a black and white movie on this site.

This movie gets some high praise for being part of the movement in the early and mid-60s of moving away from more spooky monster scares and into a more dreamy, and even erotic, tone.  This, of course, is what Jess Franco is all about.  Additionally…  As it so happens… Exactly what we here at B-Movie Enema Industries thrive on.

We connect you to the spooky and the erotic and the spooky erotic.  We are B-Movie Enema Industries.

Anyways…

So yeah, this isn’t about ghosts and goblins and monsters and what have you.  This is less about the physical horror as seen previously, but more of a psychological horror.  There’s a little bit of medical body horror in there which often finds this movie named among types of movies that David Cronenberg would excel with in just a short 10-20 years later.  With the mind and body being what mostly featured in the horror, it brings with a very different feel.  Almost like it could even be something that can befall an unfortunate person in real life.

With that said, the movie is about the daughter of a doctor who was a disciple of another Franco character named Dr. Orloff.  Doctor Zimmer was hounded until the day he died.  Ms. Zimmer decides to pick up the baton and use Dr. Z’s unique form of mind control to use an erotic dancer, named Miss Muerte, to exact revenge on those she felt was responsible for her father’s death.  Awesome.  Let’s dive in!

The movie begins in a German jail where a man kills a guard, takes his machine gun, and kills another guard before opening the gates and escaping.  Shortly after, a super old man with crazy Strangelove shades and his hot blonde daughter find out that this hardened criminal just flew the coop over at the local prison.  This is Dr. Zimmer and his daughter, Irma.  As it just so happens, the criminal collapses at their gate.

Dr. Zimmer decides that maybe this criminal dude will make for a good test subject.  Irma and the other chick that lives there, Barbara, bring the criminal inside where they strap him into this crazy contraption.  Barbara sticks these giant knitting needles into his temples and they start shocking the shit out of him.   Next, we see Irma taking the good(?) doctor to a congress of neurological doctors.  He’s probably gonna say he’s made huge strides in the evil, mad scientist, and mind control fields.

That is exactly what he does.  He says that he has discovered where the centers of the brain that processes good and evil are and figured how to toy about with those areas.  He asks the congress of stuffy docs for permission to test his findings on people.  He figures this can help turn all those murderers and rapists of the world into good dudes.  He figures it could greatly improve society.  The congress of docs try to throw him out.  But he gets the last word… by dying right there in the chamber.

Irma swears to carry on her father’s work.  She hits the bottle and gets pretty down on herself.  An old friend from medical school, Philippe, befriends her and tells her he didn’t agree with the other dudes, Vicas, Moroni, and Kallman, that so brazenly belittled her father.  She says she won’t forget what they did.  Just then, we meet Nadia, Miss Muerte herself, as she does one of her erotic performances at the club where Philippe and Irma are having a drink.  Irma gets an idea in her sexy little blonde head of hers.

The next day, Irma picks up another sexy blonde, Joan, thumbin’ it on a country road.  As they pass a little lake, she’s like, “Hey what a cool little lake!  Can we stop for a swim?”  Irma is cool with this and even borrows a swimsuit from the hitchhikin’ babe.   Don’t you think this is a bit strange?  I mean, these two literally just met.  One was already asking for a ride, now she wants to go for a swim?  Sure, whatever.  That seems very European, huh?

However, it does lead to a really cool, and pretty chilling scene.  Irma decides the lake is a bit too cold for her tastes so she gets out and heads to the car.  She slips on a glove and you think that maybe, just maybe, she’s gonna drug the girl or something and bring her back for human testing on her father’s diabolical Dr. Z machine.  She starts the car and I’m still thinking she’s just doing that pull up closer to stuff this chick into the trunk or something.  As the girl comes running up the little road next to the lake, Irma guns it and plows the girl over killing her instantly.  That’s some cold shit.

She redresses the girl and puts her into her car and pushes it over by the lake.  She douses the car in gas and lights that son of a bitch up before sending it into the lake.  What’s more, she’s left her own ring on the girl’s finger to make it look like she’s the one who died…?  I dunno.  She returns to her dad’s home and Barbara is there and, obviously, Irma is still alive.  I guess it doesn’t really matter because she throws Barbara into the Diabolical Dr. Z Machine and decides to stick needles into her head too.

I should also point out a couple things.  First, apparently it was Irma who convinced her father to use the machine on an actual person like the criminal in the beginning.  Also, when she released the car to go into the lake while on fire, she burned her face pretty badly.  So, she may have already been a little nutty or at least pushed her father toward the very thing that got him laughed out of the congress place.  Now, she’s disfigured and even more unhinged.    I’m not exactly sure how much that even matters because she performs surgery on herself and fixes her burned face.

Alright here’s the plan…  Irma did indeed set up the hitchhiker to pose as her when she lit her car on fire and dumped it into the lake.  Yes, Barbara did intend to leave her because she was really only hanging around for Dr. Zimmer’s sake, not Irma’s.  But since that criminal dude was already altered to be docile, he apparently takes his orders from Irma.  Now that she’s done the same thing to Barbara, she’s got a couple little henchmen to do her bidding.  She does intend for the world to think that she is dead and they are going to move their operations to an abandoned mansion’s cellar where Irma can work fairly secretly.  But to exact her revenge on Vicas, Moroni, and Kallman, she needs to find someone she can control completely, but can also be beautiful and seductive enough to bring them close and lower their defenses.

Sometime later, Philippe is now dating Nadia and they are planning a trip to Paris in the near future.  After she does one of her Miss Muerte performances, Irma pays her a visit.  Irma’s disguised herself as a talent agent.  She claims she can offer Nadia a contract for shows in Hollywood and Las Vegas, but Nadia must come with her immediately to sign the papers.  Irma leads her to an empty theater where Nadia nearly escapes, but gets caught by Irma’s fugitive goon.

They take Nadia to the mansion in the country and stick those knitting needles into her head.  Unlike her goons, they don’t make her docile and obedient.  Instead, Irma’s turned on the killer portions of her brain.  The moment she awakens, she attacks Barbara and scratches her with her poison nails.  Like a lion tamer, Irma gets Nadia under control and basically tells her that she’ll kill who she wants and when…  Which totally works, by the way.  Nadia is kinda both a docile servant and a super killer.

Irma sets her little killer chick on her path to exact revenge for the death of Dr. Zimmer.  First up is the head of the neuroscience congress, Vicas.  Nadia engages him on a train.  The scene is incredibly well-shot.  The train goes through a tunnel and in the dark, you can only see Nadia’s eyes as she speaks sexily and basically uses her voice, her words, and her eyes to utterly seduce Vicas.  When they come out of the tunnel, she is no longer across from him leading him to chase her to a passenger car where she draws him in for a kiss before slashing him with those poison nails.

What’s even more alluring about the sequence is that Estella Blain, who played Nadia, had previously been seen as this kind of young, not much more than flat out sexy dancer.  In the scene with Vicas, she is far more confident and mature.  She speaks and moves and does these slight movements with her eyes that isn’t what a sexy girl would do, but instead what a much more seductive and sensuous woman would do.

Before he died, Vicas learned that Nadia was “under the spell” of Dr. Zimmer so he was aware of who it was that led to his death.  He was tossed out of the train where Irma’s goon delivers a death blow.  However, Nadia is resisting her programming as she knows what she’s done, but not the why.  Irma refuses to tell her and instead locks her up in a cell.

Philippe is curious about why he was stood up on his trip with Nadia.  So he begins to start poking around and asking questions at the cabaret Nadia danced at.  Additionally, Inspector Tanner, played by Jess Franco himself, is called in when Irma’s car was found.  He also happens to be working on a case surrounding the death of Vicas.  Tanner knows that poison was found in the slashes on his throat.  He reveals this in front of Philippe who has been called in to identify Irma’s body.  He seems to have this look like he knows someone with crazy ass, long, stripper finger nails as well as someone who has motive to fuck up Vicas.  We are treated to a very cool shot of Philippe identifying the body from Irma’s car wreckage with Tanner that is all done in shadow with a bluesy horn score playing.

Tanner immediately starts piecing together that all of the people who have died attended the conference earlier.  Granted, Dr. Zimmer died at the event, but suddenly.  The other two deaths were under suspicious or unusual circumstances.  That puts a little concern onto Philippe.  While they don’t call him a suspect, they do say he should be concerned for his safety.

At a local pub, Moroni stops in for a drink and sees the seductive Nadia a little ways down.  Now he, like just moments ago, said to his wife that the last person seen with Vicas was a strange blonde woman no one had seen before.  So I would like to think one of two things in this scenario.  First, he’s wise to Nadia’s shenanigans.  Second, Nadia is just that sexy to make him forget what it was he had just said to his wife.

Either way, Irma’s prison guy goon breaks into Moroni’s house and kills his wife.  So…  I guess that makes things easier for Nadia to get close to Moroni?  I mean, the guy is gonna get lonely.  Nadia is stupid hot.

Nah, it doesn’t really play into anything.  Well, I mean he does ultimately discover her body but I don’t think that was all part of the plan?  Before he does that, it gets foggy in Moroni’s town and he hurriedly walks through the foggy streets.  He first runs into Irma at one end of the street only to turn the other way and see Nadia closing in.  He goes down an alley and gets heckled by a hooker.  Moroni’s life is a goddamn nightmare.  He gets in a taxi driven by Irma’s goon where he gets gassed and dumped.

After discovering Moroni’s body, Tanner and a guy he’s working with from Scotland Yard pick up Philippe to ask some more questions.  Philippe wonders if the body pulled from the lake was even Irma’s.  On top of that, he says that Nadia’s nails were long and it’s possible she was exploited and used as an unconscious killer for Irma.  He finds where Zimmer’s secret country home is and plans to snoop around.

Next, we see Kallman in a German town.  As he drives through the countryside, we learn that Irma and Nadia plan to pull a Miss Tessmacher Superman stunt.  Kallman finds Nadia in the road.  He sees that she’s alone, and she has a wound on the side of her head.  He scoops her up and puts her in his car and drives off.

Whether or not Otis and Lex Luthor messed around with a nuclear missile while he saw to Nadia, I cannot say for sure.

While Kallman takes Nadia to his house, Philippe is snooping around Zimmer’s country home.  Kallman is wise to what Nadia is because he realized that Moroni and Vicas being killed was no coincidence.  He doesn’t know, though, that his help has been killed by the goon and Irma.  Irma surprises Kallman and stabs him.

Back at the country house, Irma says that Nadia is no longer of use to her and tells her goon to get rid of her.  When he is about to stab her, Philippe attacks and kills the goon by stabbing him with a fucking spear.  He goes back for Nadia, but she is in a daze and returned to Irma in the lab.  Irma tries to use her father’s machine to hold Philippe down so he can be needled in the Diabolical Dr. Z Machine.  He begs Nadia to help him while she preps him for the procedure.  She turns on Irma and just as Irma is about to shoot both Nadia and Philippe, Tanner shoots her in the back.  Philippe promises to take Nadia away from all this and help her so she can be normal again.

The end!

This movie is quite good.  In fact, it should be listed among the upper echelon of the movies I’ve covered on this blog.  Which, if you think about it, is pretty amazing considering Oasis of the Zombies is one of the absolute worst movies I’ve watched for this site.  While it is spoken with high regard in terms of horror starting to turn more toward the dreamy atmospheric cinematography and the start of obviously tying eroticism to horror, I would say it is much more the former than the latter, though you can make the argument for both.  With the below picture.  Which is goddamn spooky and sexy.

First of all, in terms of the atmospheric appearance of the film, the movie is one of those really pretty black and white movies.  It’s well preserved and crisp.  The scene on the train when Nadia was seducing Vicas was marvelously lit and really sexy (but more on the sexy in a moment).  However, my favorite scene was when she was following Moroni in the foggy streets.  You can argue the fog was inconsequential and kind of incomprehensible because it was suddenly there and then suddenly not, but it really looked good.  The overall look reminds me of one of my most favorite dreamy, moody, and atmospheric thrillers of all time – Carnival of Souls.

In terms of the eroticism and overt sexiness of this movie, this movie isn’t so much sexy as it is seductive.  I mentioned it a couple times already, that scene on the train is incredibly sensuous.  Sure, Nadia is a cabaret/burlesque dancer.  Yes, her Miss Muerte costume is see through enough that, yup, you can see her nipples.  But the movie is more physically tame in terms of the physical sex appeal.

Instead, it relies on three things – a beautiful fly caught in a beautiful spider’s web and manipulation.  I’d argue that Irma’s stern, seething rage is even sexier compared to Nadia’s seductive beauty.  She has help from her father’s crazy ass mind control machine, but how she turns into this utterly composed monster who doesn’t just have complete control over her own emotions, but the minds of her minions is sexy in a different way.  It’s kind of awesome to see this controlled female character in control of others and not simply scorned, but has legitimate, deep hatred and blame to spread around.

This is a really great movie.  Next week, it’s more of the same as I take a look at a sometimes forgotten 70s horror gem with a couple legitimate names involved.  I only say it is sometimes forgotten because it is one of the favorite movies of a particular favorite drive-in theater critic.  So come back and get caught in a Tourist Trap!

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