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  Diabolical Dr. Z, The My Fiend Irma
Year: 1966
Director: Jess Franco
Stars: Estella Blain, Mabel Karr, Howard Vernon, Fernando Montes, Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui, Cris Huerta, Alberto Bourbón, Lucía Prado, Guy Mairesse, Antonio Jiménez Escribano, Jess Franco, Daniel White
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: A prisoner has escaped from a high security compound, having been placed there because he is a danger to the public since he murdered a number of people, but the journey from the isolated jail to anything like civilisation is an arduous one which leaves him close to collapse. When he does reach a country house, he doesn't know this but he has made a poor choice, for inside is Doctor Zimmer (Antonio Jiménez Escribano), a scientist who has long been experimenting on animals and wishes to graduate to humans. Using his machine to hold the criminal, he and his daughter Irma (Mabel Karr) carry out their first investigation into a man...

What the Doc wants to find out is whether it is possible to switch off evil in the human brain and rehabilitate those who would otherwise have done harm, which actually doesn't sound like such a bad idea no matter how much of a torture chamber his laboratory appears to be, but early on we see him derided by his peers as a barbaric madman. Thus chastised, the wheelchair-using Zimmer expires right there and then in the press conference he has gatecrashed with Irma, which promptly has her forget all that boring stuff about peace and goodwill and law abiding citizenry and throws herself into an old-fashioned revenge plot.

There are three scientists on her hitlist, and you could muse over her hypocrisy about turning into the sort of criminal her father would presumably have told her he was trying to rid the world of, but then this was purest pulp, and the results of possibly the most prolific director who ever lived, Jess Franco, of whom this work was typical of his earlier years. Some viewed it as a sequel to his Les Yeux Sans Visage-inspired The Awful Dr. Orloff or at least part of that series, though such a character does not appear, it's just the same template of mad science which was adhered to, though with a feminine twist in that it's the daughter performing the wicked crimes rather than the father.

There are those who regarded this as Franco's finest hour and a half, and it was true there was a slick finesse to the proceedings which you did not always get in his work, though this remained a low budget effort. That did not prevent a series of striking images and sequences which dallied with kinky sadism, not as far as he would go in the future, but enough to offer it an edge that say, the Hammer movies of the same decade would be reluctant to go as far with, preferring to supress the unhealthier desires of their characters or at least channel them through violence. Which was essentially what happened here, though the inclusion of a catsuited killer with poison fingernails spoke to a fetishistic conception of womanhood.

That killer was Nadia (Estella Bain), a blonde nightclub performer who catches the eye of Irma as the ideal vessel for her evil schemes, and soon she has been captured and subjected to the machine, which includes some form of extreme acupuncture to mesmerise the recipient thus making them more malleable to Irma's bidding. As you can see, it's not Dr. Z who is the diabolical one, unless his daughter had a certificate we didn't know about which entitled her to her claim as a proper scientist, and she even operates on herself when her attempts to fake her own death with a hapless hitchhiker end up with her getting a faceful of flames, necessitating hasty plastic surgery leaving her with an oddly shiny visage thereafter. Mostly this is wrapped up in that vengeance, something you can imagine another doctor, Phibes, taking notes during, as the remote controlled Nadia sees to it that the jeering boffins get what Irma believes to be their just desserts. It wasn't sophisticated necessarily, but under the sixties schlock was an engagingly twisted sensibility. Music by Daniel White (who appears as a cop).

Aka: Miss Muerte
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Jess Franco  (1930 - 2013)

Legendary director of predominantly sex-and-horror-based material, Spanish-born Jesus Franco had as many as 200 directing credits to his name. Trained initially as a musician before studying film at the Sorbonne in Paris, Franco began directing in the late 50s. By using the same actors, sets and locations on many films, Franco has maintained an astonishing workrate, and while the quality of his work has sometimes suffered because of this, films such as Virgin Amongst the Living dead, Eugenie, Succubus and She Killed in Ecstasy remain distinctive slices of 60s/70s art-trash.

Most of his films have been released in multiple versions with wildly differing titles, while Franco himself has directed under a bewildering number of pseudonyms. Actors who have regularly appeared in his films include Klaus Kinski, Christopher Lee and wife Lina Romay; fans should also look out for his name on the credits of Orson Welles' Chimes of Midnight, on which he worked as assistant director.

 
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