The Grab Bag: The Diabolical Dr. Z (1966)

At the beginning of March in 1896, some 113 years ago, scientist Henri Becquerel was in his lab investigating phosphorescence in uranium salts, you know the usual, when the Frenchman stumbled onto radioactivity. Now Henri would go on to win a Co-Nobel prize in 1903 for his discovery, which he had to share with Pierre and Marie Curie, Brangelina of the Science set. It had to sting. The achievements of the Curies would become the textbook gospel of every schoolchild, while Becquerel, let’s just say the name doesn’t roll off the tongue. So from this day all those years ago, Becs not only gave birth to one of the building blocks of the nuclear age. He did much more. Henri surely was the first mad scientist. 

And so as the month of March begins, we are visited by our old friend Jess Franco, and a little film about mad science, mind control, spider babes, and killer sunglasses. Welcome to the world of ....
The Diabolical Dr. Z [a.k.a Miss Muerte] (1966) starring Mabel Karr, Estella Blaine Fernando Montes, Ana Castor, and Antonio Jimenez Escribano. Directed by Jess Franco.

When Hans, a killer, escapes from a local jail, he ends up passing out at the gates of Dr. Zimmer’s laboratory, his assistant Barbara (Castor) and daughter Irma (Karr) bring the man inside. Once they bring him in the Dr. and company get to work performing a strange experiment on the man.

When next we see Dr. Z (Escribano), he burst in on a conference at the Institute for Neurology. He claims to be able to manipulate the centers of the brain that causes people to do good and evil, and he can control these impulses with the use of his newly discovered ‘Z’ rays. The attendees call him a crazy fool, but Zimmer is not done yet. He petitions the Institute to let him experiment on a human subject. They laugh in his face, and as the old man defends himself he is overcome and dies from the strain.

Dr. Zimmer’s daughter Irma is overcome, and blames the Institute members who opposed her father for his death. So she devises a plan. First, Irma fakes her own death with the aid of the world’s most convenient victim, a pretty blonde hitchhiker. Irma kills the girl and sets fire to her own car with the girl in it. The she sends out the brainwashed Hans to abduct seductive spider costumed dancer Nadja a.k.a Miss Muerte (Blaine). Irma transforms the not so innocent girl into a vicious killer with poisonous fingernails, and she sends Nadja out to reap her revenge on the scientists who shamed her father to death.

Film Facts

--Mabel Carr appeared as Mirte in the early sword and sandals entry from Sergio Leone, the Colossus of Rhodes.

--This was Jess Franco’s 17th film out of a career which spans 189 directorial efforts.

--Jess Franco has a cameo in the film as an inspector.

The Bugg Speaks

Again Franco continues to shirk off the ‘hack’ mantle that has been placed on him. The further I dig into this fascinating director’s catalog, the more interesting the films get. The Diabolical Dr. Z is filled with tons of style, great camera work, and a brilliant jazz score. Dr. Z, or more appropriately Miss Muerte, is not part of Franco’s Dr. Orloff series, but Orloff is mentioned by Zimmer as an idol before he checks out. The film is strengthened by Mabel Karr’s Irma becoming the main focus. She is both alluring and dangerous, and to top it all off, she gives a great performance that is a treat to watch.

Speaking of great performances, I gotta give it up for the sexy performance art of Miss Murte. Estella Blaine in her sheer body stocking with a spider printed on it is obviously the envy of campy gothic strippers everywhere. While the hilarity of her routine is reason enough to love her, the dispatching of victims with her long black poison nails, makes her one for the ages. One of the greatest scenes in Dr. Z occurs when Nadja goes to take out the first scientist. As she seduces him on a train, it enters a tunnel, and the play with light and shadow is so evocative in this scene, I had to run it back to watch several times. Tied with that is Nadja's kidnapping when the bodystockinged vixen is chased around a theater by Irma and Hans.

There are several other noteworthy turns in the film. The short portrayal of Dr. Zimmer by Escribano is an inspired piece of over the top fun. All the ladies ooze sex appeal, even Ana Castor in her small role as Dr. Z’s assistant. The Number one line of the film has to be when Fernando Montes as Phillipe, a scientist in love with Nadja, is questioned about the girl when she comes up missing this exchange happens:

Inspector: Is she a natural blonde?

Phillipe: Natural blonde! Now you’re asking me too much, Inspector!

As I mentioned earlier Dr. Z has a great look to it. Franco was working with cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa, a veteran of many productions. Ulloa was behind the lens with Fulci on Perversion Story and Conquest, Enzo Castellari’s Go Kill Everyone and Come Back and western/comedy The Smell of Onion, Spanish auteur Paul Naschy’s Human Beast, and also the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee public domain goodie Horror Express. The two men gave this film a unique style, and with the frenetic energy of the climax, the movement of the film feels like it’s taking its cues from the jazz score.

In the end this is a very entertaining piece of cinema, and while not really either a pure horror or thriller title, it manages to straddle the line and deliver. With a trio of gorgeous Spanish actresses, a soundtrack worthy of bopping your head to and a story with enough campy strangeness, The Diabolical Dr. Z will please most fans on Europeans cinema, and give supporters of Jess Franco another reason to be proud.

Bug Rating


  1. Great review. I love this movie. One of Franco's best.

  2. Just from the screen cap of the girl in 'spider bodystocking' I am going to have to track this one down...

  3. Another great review of a film that I am going to have to add to my ever growing list of movies to be checked out!

    Thanks LB! :-)

  4. mr. lightning bug could you reveiw franco`s 1973 film "female vampire" it`d be great to hear your opinion on that one, lina romay`s the star, (when she was 18), and she is naked all the way through the film, and hopefully after telling you that it`ll be the very next film you reveiw. And just one more incentive, when lina was 18 she was arguably one of the most gorgeous chicks of all time.

  5. thanks for all the great comments on this one guys, truly a film which begs to be seen.

    Snob, the 1973 film Les Avaleuses is one I totally want to see (and now even more so) I will attempt to pick it up soon as I can to sate your desire for my thoughts on the nubile lina romay


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