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The Diabolical Doctor Z

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Dans les griffes du maniaque / Miss Muerte
Jesus Franco - 1966
Redemption Films BD Region A

What struck me upon seeing Doctor Z again after several years was the remarkable use of depth of field in the images. This begins almost immediately with the interior of some kind of prison that appears to be underground, an extremely long passageway, with the camera following a prisoner to a gate first seen in the distance. The film was made not long after Franco's work with Orson Welles, primarily as second unit director on Chimes at Midnight. While there is nothing in Doctor Z that can be pointed to as looking like a specific homage, what is noticeable here is the use of space, of placement of characters that force the viewer to consider what is within the entire frame, and the frequent use of extended traveling shots that follow the characters in pursuit.

This is a beautifully rendered blu-ray disc, one of Franco's last films in black and white. This is also Franco's most easily accessible film, for viewers less familiar with the filmmaker or whose preference is for more classical modes of cinema. Certainly working two associates best known for their work with Luis Bunuel may have been an impetus here, with Jean-Claude Carriere on the screenplay, and Serge Silberman as one of the producers.

The titles are a bit misleading. Doctor Z, that would be Doctor Zimmer, dies after the first twelve minutes or so. And Miss Muerte is the stage name of a nightclub dancer turned killer. The villain here is Doctor Z's daughter, Irma, taking revenge on the three esteemed doctors who in publicly mocking her father caused him to die in front of a conference of his peers. While not a sequel, per se, there is reference to Franco's earlier mad scientist creation, Doctor Orloff. Zimmer is a disciple of Orloff's with some unconventional ideas about mind control and good and evil, which consists of placing some unwilling victims on a glass platform, pinned down by two long metal tentacles, and sticking long metal pins through their heads. Told to cease his operations, ends the conference by getting an apparent heart attack. Irma Zimmer's revenge begins by first faking her death with an unwary hitchhiker. Among the detectives on the trail are music composer Daniel White as Green from Scotland Yard, and the still baby-faced Franco as a detective sleep deprived by the cries of his newborn triplets.

The film comes with both an English and French language track. Keep in mind that the cast was made up of primarily French and Spanish actors, and that all dialogue was most likely dubbed in as was common at the time of production. The advantage to seeing the film in English is that it does not distract from the wonderful visual qualities here. Cinephiles will certainly get a chuckle from a cinematic reference in the French dialogue in an early scene. Tim Lucas provides the commentary track here, providing information throughout the entire running time. Unlike previous Franco films, Daughter of Dracula and The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, Doctor Z is less dependent on familiarity with the more arcane aspects of Franco's universe. Still, what makes Lucas's commentaries stand out is his preparation, with no lapses of silence or the fumbling of improvisation with scattered notes.

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