(aka Doctor Mabuse Strikes Back,
Doctor M. Strikes Back)
For some strange reason, Jess Franco has a bit of a cult following.
I suppose it is natural as he made a lot — and I do mean a lot — of trashy Euro horror films, often with lots and lots of female flesh on display.
To be fair, some of his better films are reasonably good — and I quite liked The Diabolical Dr. Z in a moody Gothic Sixties mad scientist sort of way.
As the master of the absurdly low budgeted film, he (naturally) made versions of some very familiar characters, such as Dracula, Fu Manchu, and, of course, the legendary Dr. Mabuse, the master of crime and star of his own series of films (three of which were made by none other than Fritz Lang!)
Who, naturally, turns into yet another mad scientist bent on making the world a better place by making everyone his mind-controlled slave.
To achieve this, he needs to steal a moon rock. As they are just chunks of fairly routine basalt, this means we have to throw in a bit of talk about how they are charged with some kind of weird power.
Well, they’d have to be, wouldn’t they? Otherwise, why would he be stealing them, right?
Then we add the scarred monster as the doctor’s assistant, a domineering female accomplice and fellow scientist for Mabuse to talk to.
After all, that helps get all the exposition out of the way.
For those of you unaware of Dr. Mabuse, he was a master criminal with grandiose plans and strange hypnotic powers. He started out in a series of forgotten German novels, was adapted into a incredible two-part silent movie classic by Fritz Lang, who made a sequel a decade later and a third film — one of his last films — in the Sixties. This was the start of a series of German Mabuse films which ended up borrowing a lot from James Bond. By the time Jess Franco got into the picture, the series had run out of steam and the rights must have been cheap enough for him to afford.
Real cheap, that is.
One curious touch is that the one man Mabuse fears is Dr. Orloff, a name all too familiar to those who know Franco’s films. One of his earliest successes — and best films — was The Awful Dotor Orloff, sort of a low budget Spanish version of Eyes Without A Face. Orloff would show up again and again in his films, although he was killed in the first film and would have been incredibly ancient by 1972 as his first appearance was a period piece. Here he’s become some sort of important government scientist, which is a long way from a mad scientist transplanting unwilling donors’ skin on his daughter.
Despite the presence of Mabuse the basic plot here is very much like that of The Diabolical Doctor Z. Which should come as no surprise as Jess reused that basic plot a lot of times. Supposedly it was made for television which may help explain why it is remarkably hard to find and hasn’t ever appeared on DVD.
After all, it really isn’t that bad, in fact it is one of his better efforts from the era. It moves quickly, looks good and has a few pretty good moments. Which is about what you can expect from a trashy Seventies Euro Thriller.
And it’s only an hour long, so it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Claude Chabrol would take up Mabuse next in the Nineties, in a chilly end-of-the-millennium thriller called Doctor M.
But that’s a story for another time.