The Diabolical Dr Z (1966) poster

The Diabolical Dr Z (1966)


aka Miss Death; Miss Muerte
(Le Diabolique Dr Z)

France/Spain. 1966.


Director – J. [Jess] Franco, Screenplay – David Kuhne [Jess Franco], Adaptation/Dialogue – Jean-Claude Carriere, Producers – Michel Safra & Serge Silberman, Photography (b&w) – Alejandro Ulloa, Music – Daniel White, Production Design – Tony Cortes. Production Company – Speva Films/Cine Alliance/Hesperia Films.


Estella Blain (Nadia), Mabel Karr (Irma Zimmmer), Guy Mairesse (Hans Bergen), Fernando Montes (Philippe Whitehouse), Howard Vernon (Dr Vicas), Marcelo Arroita (Dr Moroni), Cris Huerta (Dr Kallman), Albert Bourbon (Inspector)


Dr Zimmer disrupts a medical conference in Paris to challenge the establishment. He claims that he has devised techniques that can reverse the aggression or pacific tendencies in a personality and seeks permission to conduct trials on a human being. Instead the doctors present ridicule Zimmer’s theories whereupon he collapses dead of a heart-attack. His daughter Irma vows to continue her father’s experiments and take revenge. First she kills a hitchhiker so as to fake her own death. She then sets up operations in Dr Zimmer’s secondary house. There she uses her father’s mind control techniques on the exotic dancer Nadia, who performs as Miss Death. She then sends the mind-controlled Nadia out to lure the doctors responsible for her father’s humiliation and kill them using her long fingernails.

The late Jesus or Jess Franco (1930-2013) is considered the world’s most prolific director. Between 1959 and 2013, Franco directed a purported 199 feature films. Many of these exist under a labyrinth of alternate titles and different cuts. Franco’s most prolific heyday were during the late 1960s to the mid-1970s when he was producing 6-8 films per year in numerous genres from thrillers, spy films and science-fiction but most of all horror and erotica/pornography. Despite the mixed critical reception at the time they came out, Franco’s films have attained a certain cult following for their arty pretentions, although just as many of them are cheaply made. (A full list of Jess Franco’s other genre films is at the bottom of the page).

The Diabolical Dr Z was made fairly early in Franco’s career – it was his thirteenth film since his feature-length debut in 1959. Even so, you can see that he has grasped the essentials and knows how to create atmosphere, while players that became part of Franco’s regular troupe like Howard Vernon are also present. Franco has mastered the early art of pan-European productions with co-financing from Spanish and primarily French production companies, while the film shot in French. (This does lead to the oddity where the dialogue is in French but it keeps referring to the title femme fatale of the show as ‘Miss Death’ in English).

There is the recurrent preoccupation of some of Franco’s regular themes. One of these is a Mad Surgery plot where Mabel Karr suffers from a facially disfiguring condition and periodically has to be operated on to restore it. Franco also ties in reference to his ongoing Dr Orloff mad surgeon films that began with The Awful Dr Orloff (1962), saying that Dr Zimmer’s experiments were inspired by the pioneering work of Dr Orloff, which now appear to be akin to Dr Jekyll’s experiments in personality transformation. There is a strong sado-sexual element that runs through most of Franco’s films, while here there is the central figure of the Femme Fatale who is sent out to seduce and kill men.

Estella Blain as Miss Murte/Miss Death in The Diabolical Dr Z (1966)
Estella Blain as Miss Murte/Miss Death

Franco was pushing an envelope before most of the Western world began freeing up censorship standards a few years later. There is the central figure of the dancer Miss Death (Estella Blain) who we see performing an exotic routine in which she crawls along a web towards a victim and then puts on a skull mask. There is little nudity (although this could be present in the Spanish version of the film, which appears to run three minutes longer than the French one that has been released to dvd). However, there are various scenes with the well-stacked Estella Blain wandering around in a transparent bodysuit with areolas visible through the material and full breasts exposed as she is tied up in the lab.

After being abducted by Mabel Karr and undergoing the Mind Control operation, Estella Blain emerges as a lethal Femme Fatale who is sent out to kill the doctors who humiliated Mabel’s father using her six-inch long fingernails as deadly weapons. In the most amusing scene, following the operation, Mabel Karr has to come in and confront Estella with a big stick and a chair held out just like a lion tamer.

Franco creates an undeniably stylish film out of The Diabolical Dr Z. He has the advantage of some fantastic black-and-white photography – much of the interiors, especially in the house and laboratory, leave a scene surrounded by deep shadow, while there are some great scenes with Marcelo Arroita fleeing through mist-covered streets.

Jess Franco’s other films are:– The Awful Dr Orloff (1962), The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (1962), The Secret of Dr Orloff (1964), Attack of the Robots (1966), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968), Necronomicon/Succubus (1968), The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969), Justine (1969), Kiss Me Monster (1969), 99 Women (1969), Sadisterotica/Red Lips (1969), The Girl from Rio (1969), Venus in Furs/Paroxysmus (1969), The Bloody Judge/Night of the Blood Monster (1970), Count Dracula (1970), Eugenie/Philosophy in the Boudoir (1970), Nightmares Come at Night (1970), Vampyros Lesbos (1970), Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (1971), She Killed in Ecstasy (1971), The Corpse Packs His Bags (1972), The Daughter of Dracula (1972), The Demons (1972), Doctor Mabuse (1972), The Erotic Adventures of Frankenstein (1972), The Silence of the Tomb (1972), The Bare-Breasted Countess/Erotikill/Female Vampire (1973), The Erotic Adventures of Maciste in Atlantis (1973), The Obscene Mirror/The Other Side of the Mirror (1973), The Sinister Eyes of Dr Orloff (1973), A Virgin Among the Living Dead/Christina, Princess of Eroticism (1973), Lorna the Exorcist (1974), The Perverse Countess (1974), Eugenie (1975), Doriana Grey (1976), Jack the Ripper (1976), Night of the Assassins (1976), Sexy Sisters/Satanic Sisters (1976), Greta the Mad Butcher/Wanda the Wicked Warden/Ilsa: Absolute Power (1977), Call of the Blonde Goddess/Voodoo Passion (1977), Wicked Women (1977), Demoniac/Exorcism/The Ripper of Notre Dame (1979), Man Hunter/The Devil Hunter (1980), White Cannibal Queen (1980), Bloody Moon (1981), Oasis of the Zombies (1981), Revenge of the House of Usher (1982), Grave of the Living Dead (1983), The Treasure of the White Goddess (1983), The Sinister Dr Orloff (1984), Mansion of the Living Dead (1985), Faceless (1987), The Killer Barbies (1996), Lust for Frankenstein (1998), Marie-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula in 8 Legs to Love You (1998), Tender Flesh (1998), Vampire Blues (1999), Vampire Junction (2001), Incubus (2002), Killer Barbies vs Dracula (2002), Snakewoman (2005), Paula-Paula (2010), Al Pereira vs the Alligator Ladies (2012), Crypt of the Condemned (2012) and Revenge of the Alligator Ladies (2013).

Trailer here

Longer trailer here (in French no English subs)

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