While not a household name in the U.S, director Claude Chabrol is revered in his homeland—and throughout Europe—alongside other prominent, “mainstream” filmmakers birthed from the ‘50s French New Wave: Francois Truffaut (1966’s sci-fi Fahrenheit 451) and Jean-Luc Godard (1965’s sci-fi Alphaville).
Inspired by German Expressionist filmmaker Fritz Lang (1932’s apoc-futuristic Metropolis) and Alfred Hitchcock’s oeuvre, Chabrol is best known to U.S audiences for his 1969 (written/directed) foreign hit, La Femme infidel (The Unfaithful Wife). A Fatal Attraction-esque husband-murders-lover-of-cheating-wife thriller, Chabrol’s film received renewed interest when remade by that film’s director, Adrian Lynne, as Unfaithful (2002; with Richard Gere and Diane Lane).
When the centenary year of Lang’s birthday came around, Chabrol decided to pay tribute to his cinematic idol with a futurist-Metropolis spin to Fritz Lang’s 1922 silent, mystery-masterpiece, Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler. Most likely, with a cast featuring Jennifer Beals (as Sonja Vogler) and Andrew McCarthy (as an “assassin”; his appearance, so brief, it doesn’t warrant his top-billing), this admittedly low-budget, but engrossing film (titled Dr. M throughout Europe) was criminally slapped with a hackneyed, U.S teen-slasher title: Club Extinction, for its home video bow.
In a cost-effective, not-too-distant Bladerunner future, Berlin (remember, the Berlin Wall didn’t fall until November 1991; so it is still standing in this “future”), a police inspector (as in Alphaville) traverses the city in his investigation of an “outbreak” of shocking-spectacular suicides that “plague” the city. Clues soon lead him to a “Big Brother” multimedia combine (as in Kamikaze ’89). The combine employs his lover, Sonja, as the spokeswoman for a series of commercials with a sinister, clandestine purpose (as in John Carpenter’s They Live; more accurately, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome): to hypnotize and control, and eventually destroy humanity (in Charbrol’s case: a Hitler metaphor).
The “Fuhrer” behind the plot: Dr. Mardsfeldt (the always incredible Alan Bates; Paul Newman’s post-apoc bow, 1979’s Quintet), who passes himself off as a self-help guru at a remote holiday “health” resort—complete with a “life support system” in a control room (read: brainwashing) for a Jim Jones-styled religious cult. And, Crazy Imagery Alert: One that only Chabrol can dream and commit to film: Bates and Beals having sex—intercut with images of war and destruction (interpret that how you will).
This examination of the life of Adolf Hitler and the goals of a Fascist dictatorship reminds us that, while the world reviled him as evil incarnate, Hitler saw himself as sane, righteous and justified. In most films, we encounter evil, cackling, mustache-twisting Castor Troy’s (Nicolas Cage in Face/Off). That is not how an “evil reality” thinks or operates. Dr. M doesn’t see himself as evil. In his mind, his goal is a logically sane endgame (and Bates plays it close to the chest; no histrionics). And technology, in the wrong hands—as we now experience in today’s modern world (as with the current vaping epidemic)—can be detrimental to humanity.