It just occurred to me, as I was sitting here writing this, that the one corner of the SF genre which seems to have disappeared almost completely is the mad scientist film.
Oh, sure, there are exceptions – say, Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (which is really a superhero film) and Brett Piper‘s Queen Crab (although it’s basically Mighty Joe Young with a big crab and it’s hard to say whether the mental balance of Mark Polonia‘s scientist is disturbed because he gets so little screen time!) – but I would be hard pressed to think of any hardcore recent examples.
In fact, they were already getting scarce by the mid-Sixties – except in the sort of Euro-Trash Horror that Jess Franco specialized in.
The real surprise here is that, despite Franco’s well deserved reputation for turning out terrible films, The Diabolical Dr. Z is actually quite well made for what it is. There is a lovely, gothic, black and white look to this film, and he manages to create mystery, tension, and even a number of visually striking scenes – like the overhead shot of “Miss Death”‘s very strange nightclub act.
Also interesting is that “Dr. Z”‘s lab includes a set of mechanical arms which mostly get used to pinion people so they can be operated on. They really don’t look all that impressive or formidable, but fortunately everyone moves slowly enough to get caught by them. Or at least, everyone who’s conscious when they’re dumped onto the operating table. Whether being dangled by your outspread arms would immobilize a patient enough for delicate brain and spinal surgery is another question.
And there’s a very nice bait and switch here, where we know from the opening scene just who “Dr. Z” is – the frightening Dr. Zimmer, played by Walter “Mabuse” Rilla – only to have him killed off rather quickly, leaving the mad scientist duties in the capable hands of his daughter.
As usual for this sort of low-budgeted sixties Euro thriller, we’re talking a lot of iffy dubbing, and a few strange bits of translated dialogue. But then, we expected that. All in all, it does what it is supposed to do: give the audience a few stylish thrills with enough weirdness to make it all tasty. And it does that quite well.
Which is all you expect from a film like this.