Friday, August 3, 2012

133. THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z (MISS MUERTE, 1965)

Jess Franco's finest horror film of the 1960s -- co-written with Jean-Claude Carrière -- is a pulp rewrite of Cornell Woolrich's 1940 noir classic THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, given a mind control twist and accessorized with outrageous fetish costumery. Mabel Karr stars as Irma Zimmer, the daughter of a scientist literally ridiculed to death while defending his experiments in behavioral control before a board of colleagues at the International Neurological Congress. These three colleagues -- Vicas (Howard Vernon), Moroni (Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui) and Kallman (Cris Huerta) -- are subsequently marked for death by the vengeful Irma, who fakes her own death and, working with a neurotically-rewired Death Row inmate known as "The Sadistic Strangler," recruits an exotic dancer known as Miss Death (Estella Blain) to serve as her seductive, poison-taloned messenger of death.

With the exception of bland hero Fernando Montés, the entire cast is formidable but the film is nevertheless stolen by Blain, in her only performance for Franco, as the first of his many fantastical femmes fatales. Miss Death, introduced in an exotic dance performed while lying on her back on a floor painted in a German Expressionist likeness of a Black Widow's web, is an extraordinary character; she is Franco's Alraune, but she is also sympathetic as a puppet of the film's real villainess, and something about the transparent flimsiness of her spider-crotched danceskin accentuates her emotional vulnerability, as we see her naked flesh sigh and tremble through its netting.  The character was never used again, in a career built on repetition, but echoes of Miss Death can be seen in Melissa, the blind vulture-woman in THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN, and in the twisted brides of AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO and BAHIA BLANCA. This is also one of the very few Franco films that look carefully storyboarded, and in their only collaboration, cameraman Alejandro Ulloa gives Franco possibly the most lustrous visual support he ever had.

I watched this film again several times in preparation for an audio commentary track that is forthcoming as part of a two-disc release from Subkultur Entertainment in Germany.

Viewed via Mondo Macabro DVD.

2 comments:

  1. Still my all time FAVORITE Franco movie, because it is so polished and carefully made and totally UNLIKE anything else. What a treat when I saw it at age 11!

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  2. I love when I get the chance to read your Franco reviews. I hope you put out your own Franco book in the future.

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