One of the staples of West German popular cinema in the 1960s was the krimi film. Adapted from the blood and thunder thrillers of early 20th century British writer Edgar G. Wallace, the krimi has been identified as the lost (or forgotten) horror film series of the period, one that exerted an especially strong influence upon the Italian giallo.
Typically set in an imaginary London that seems to exist in both the 1920s and the 1960s, where names like Soho and Dartmoor have a talismanic status, the krimi combines stock footage of London landmarks with obvious German studio lots. The earlier films shot in black and white are more atmospheric, the later films shot in colour more lurid, while the soundtracks of Martin Bottcher, Peter Thomas and others are consistently weird.
The cast soon become familiar in a manner recalling Hammer and Carry On films – Klaus Kinski usually plays the villain or a red herring, Joachim Fuchsberger the Scotland Yard detective, Karin Dor the ingénue in peril, and Eddi Arent the bumbling comic relief.
With this season we present a selection of six of the best, most influential, and just plain kitsch/camp/trash fun of the cycle.
Face of the Frog / The Fellowship of the Frog / Der Frosch mit der Maske
Harald Reinl | West Germany | 1959 | 89 minutes
The film that inaugurated the post-war krimi boom sees Scotland Yard and an amateur American sleuth go up against a sinister criminal organisation led by a mysterious mastermind known only as the Frog, in reference to both his signature mark and penchant for a somewhat bizarre goggle-eyed costume.
Dead Eyes of London
Alfred Vohrer | West Germany | 1961 | 104 minutes
London is struck by an epidemic of rich, well-insured old men being fished out of the Thames. Scotland Yard are called in to investigate and a clergyman running a mission for blind down-and-outs becomes the focus of their attentions. Wallace’s novel had earlier been filmed in the UK as Dark Eyes of London, with Bela Lugosi in a starring role.
The Inn on the River
Alfred Vohrer | West Germany | 1962 | 92 minutes
A wet-suit wearing, harpoon-gun shooting master-criminal, The Shark, is terrorizing the London underworld. Inspector Wade comes to suspect there are links with a smuggling operating run out of a seedy Thames-side dive, The Mekka.
Harald Reinl | West Germany | 1964 | 82 minutes
Dancers at the High-Low club are falling victim to a straight-razor wielding maniac. The nightclub also serves as the base of operations for gangster Joe Legge. An obvious influence on Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Tenebrae, the film also includes some topless shots of the High-Low dancers. This blatantly opportunistic, exploitative move backfired as the film was given an adults only rating in its homeland that hindered rather than helped its box-office.
The Hunchback of Soho / Der Bucklige von Soho
Alfred Vohrer | West Germany | 1966 | 89 minutes
The first of the colour krimis, this sees a charity mission for wayward schoolgirls operate as the front for a gang of kidnappers and euphemistically named white slavers.
The Monk with the Whip AKA The College-Girl Murders AKA The Prussic Factor
Alfred Vohrer | West Germany | 1967 | 88 minutes
This colour in-all-but-name remake of 1965’s The Sinister Monk is one of the most deliriously over-the-top entries in the series, as suggested by its titular murderer and girls’ boarding school setting – a locale also used in Antonio Margheriti’s giallo of the same year, The Young, The Evil and The Savage.