THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z (1966) Blu-ray
Director: Jess Franco
Redemption Films/Kino Lorber

Jess Franco has a date with Miss Death in THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z, on Blu-ray from Redemption Films.

Continuing the work of discredited mentor Dr. Orloff who believed that there was a physiological basis for good and evil, blind and wheelchair-bound Dr. Zimmer (Antonio Jiménez Escribano, GRAVEYARD OF HORROR) – with the help of daughter Irma (Mabel Karr, CUT-THROATS NINE) and faithful servant Barbara (Lucía Prado, SLUGS) – has located the positions in the brain and spinal column to manipulate behavior with his Z-ray by way of acupuncture needles. Zimmer presents his findings to the International Neurological Conference only to be ridiculed and branded a criminal when he requests to experiment on humans, not informing them that he has already started doing so with escaped murderer Hans Bergen (Guy Mairesse, THAT MOST IMPORTANT THING: LOVE). Zimmer has a heart attack under the strain of humiliation, but his last dying wish is for his daughter to continue his work. On the way home, a distraught Irma runs down hitchhiker Juliana (Ana Castor, THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS) with her car, switches clothes, and lights the car on fire to fake her death. Unfortunately, Irma is horribly burned herself but manages to perform plastic surgery on herself. Whereas her father thought to use the Z-ray to rehabilitate criminals, sadists, and murders, Irma decides to use it to avenge her father on the doctors who she believes caused his death – Vicas (Howard Vernon, THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF), Moroni (Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui, DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER), and Kallman (Cris Huerta, THE FEAST OF SATAN) – by enslaving nightclub performer Nadia (Estella Blain, THUNDER IN THE BLOOD) AKA "Miss Death" to seduce and murder them with her curare-tipped nails. Irma proceeds with her plan, unaware that Nadia's lover is her own former lover Philippe (Fernando Montes, FOUR BULLETS FOR JOE) who must find Nadia and prove her innocence when Inspector Tanner (Jess Franco) and his observing British colleague Inspector Green (composer Daniel White) find links between the deaths.

The fourth of Franco's "traditional" monochrome horror films – the others being THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF, DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER and THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS – DIABOLICAL DR. Z is the most experimental, largely eschewing the more gothic settings while carrying over certain ideas, situations, and characters with slightly better plotting via Jean-Claude Carrière's (THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY) adaptation of Franco's non-existent David Kuhne "source novel." It is also the most expressionistic, with the photography of Alejandro Ulloa (NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF) reveling in Wellesian low angles, surprisingly refined tracking shots, and occasionally jolting handheld ones. While Zimmer the elder is not unlike Dr. Fisherman's mentor Dr. Orloff in DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER and Mairesse's Hans is another variation on automaton Morpho, the revenge scenario looks forward to Franco's other Cornell Woolrich/THE BRIDE WORE BLACK variation SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY while the mind control of a vulnerable woman to seduce and kill would be reiterated in SUCCUBUS, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT, THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND DESIRES, and VOODOO PASSION among others. Blain's Miss Death does a cabaret act with a mannequin that will be familiar to those who have seen more explicit versions in VAMPYROS LESBOS, HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN and TENDER FLESH.

Released theatrically by U.S. Films (THE 4D MAN, THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER), THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z was unavailable stateside until Something Weird Video's "Sexy Shockers" line release of the American version. Mondo Macabro made it more widely available with their 2003 DVD of the fully uncut French version with English subtitles and an optional English dub track that reverted to French for cut scenes. The disc also featured the U.S. theatrical trailer and alternate English-language credits sequence as well as a re-edited featurette of the Jess Franco "Eurotika" TV special. While Germany saw a two-disc special edition DVD in 2012 with a commentary by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas (the film itself was not English-friendly) as well as the shorter German cut in its entirety, the film did not get an HD upgrade until this year with Kino Lorber's and Redemption's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray. While the Eurocine- and Euro London-licensed Franco masters have been imperfect in varying ways, THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z's restoration was carried out by French rights holder Gaumont and is comparable to the beautiful remasters of their more mainstream arthouse fare (many of which have been debuting stateside courtesy of Kino Lorber and Arrow). Blacks are deep but just a shade lighter than the pillarboxed mattes while the highlights can be go up to bone white without clipping detail. This is easily the best-looking of Franco's monochrome titles on Blu-ray thus far. Clean English and French LPCM 2.0 mono tracks are provided but the optional English subtitles only translate the French track and are not available for the French segments of the English track.

The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by Tim Lucas which may be the same as the German disc or perhaps a revised script based on that one. He notes that Zimmer the elder makes an early exit but that Irma should be considered the "diabolical" one since she perverts her father's goals for revenge. He notes that Franco preferred Ulloa's photography to Godofredo Pacheco's lensing of THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF as well as the situations and character/place names carried over from the Orloff films as well as influence the film had on his later works (including the first hint of lesbianism that would pervade subsequent titles). Besides the other mind controlled heroines of later Franco films, Lucas also draws comparisons between Miss Death and VENUS IN FURS' Wanda and THE EROTIC RIGHTES OF FRANKENSTEIN's Melissa the Bird Woman. He also provides some production trivia, revealing that Castor was initially meant to play Irma but that she did not want to play a disfigured character even for the short amount of time before Irma operates on herself. The only other extra is the film's theatrical trailer (3:03). (Eric Cotenas)