German week: Im Banne des Unheimlichen

Hier spricht Edgar Wallace… We’ll excuse you if you thought Edgar Wallace was German. In fact, he’s a Brit, but his books were extremely popular in Germany, more than anywhere else in the world. We’re not talking about his most famous creation, for that is King Kong, but about the dozens of crime novels. In the sixties these was turned into movies by the masses. (If you force us to be exact, it’s actually from 1959 to 1971.) As it’s German Week here at DV, we’ll take a closer look at the phenomenon Edgar Wallace tonight.

It wouldn’t actually be not too difficult to review all these movies together, as most of them are somewhat similar. Most begin with a voice saying “Hier spricht Edgar Wallace”, most of them are decent but not exactly masterpieces (I think I must’ve given plenty of Wallace adaptations either 6 or 7 out of 10) a lot of them were directed by the same people (of these Harald Reinl and Alfred Vohrer should be mentioned, for they were the best) and – it’s almost as if someone kept them in a box – most of these films contained the same actors: it’ll be hard to find one without Joachim Fuchsberger (most often as the Scotland Yard detective), Eddi Arent (as the clumsy assistant) and Klaus Kinski (almost always as a psychotic gangster). But, so as not to overcomplicate stuff, we’ll review one of his films in depth: In Banne des Unheimlichen, which also got the pretty exciting English name, The Zombie Walks.

Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace was born in 1875. He died in 1932, one year before King Kong was released. So it’s not just the German crime movies he never got to see. Don’t worry though, by the time of his death, already 35 film adaptations of his works had been made.
So, with a reassured heart, we can travel back to Germany. The later in the 1960s you get the more odd his movies were. A lot of the earlier wFuchsberger checks if the victim is really deadork was already tame: there were crime movies (the Germans call them “Krimi”) alright, but you wouldn’t think twice before showing them to a kid (who’d then probably complain Pokemon is far more exciting).In Banne des Unheimichen was made in 1968, by this time the films weren’t too shy to include a bit of violence, nudity and even colour. And what would happen if you’d use those combinations even more? Don’t know? Which quite classic film would be dubbed Das Geheimnis des Grünen Stecknadel in German, do you think? Yes, it’s the classic giallo, What Have You Done to Solange? (with Fuchsberger once again as inspector). Another film based on a book by Edgar Wallace. (It’s not the only Wallace giallo by the way: Riccardo Freda made A doppia faccia with Klaus Kinski, Duccio Tessari directed The Bloodstained Butterfly and Umberto Lenzi directed Seven Bloodstained Orchids. That’s a lot of blood stains…)

Choosing one Wallace movie for this review wasn’t easy: despite the recurring casts, it’s not easy to find a movie with Kinski, Arent and Fuchsberger, which was directed by Vohrer or Reinl. I finally chose Im Banne des Unheimlichen because it was a later Wallace film. The ghostly culprit provides a little extra and it paved the way for the final chapter in the Wallace filmography, the gialli.

In The Zombie Walks, a serial killer, who calls himself “The Laughing Corpse”, dresses up in a skeleton costume, only to kill his victims with a poison-filled scorpion-shaped ring. The The killer (as you'd probably guessed)killer does look a bit like criminal masterminds so very popular around that era, like Kilink and Kriminal (which was directed by Lenzi, director of Seven Blood-stained Roses, allowing us to go full circle once more). I’m not very sure whether Vohrer tried to give the killer a supernatural touch, but I guess he didn’t (or he failed). Which isn’t too bad: it’s a Krimi and it doesn’t have to be supernatural. (By this time, that other Wallace director, Reinl, was also walking on similar territory, with Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel, another cult classic better known as Castle of the Walking Dead).

Im Banne des Unheimlichen loves using colours, which makes the film seem vibrant. It doesn’t Startled by the killersucceed in the scenes where one man is suffering from a rare disease, which makes his face look green. It’s the sort of green failure we’ve only seen in Zombie Lake. (Click here if you want to judge for yourself.) On the plus side, there’s enough mystery to keep the film moving on and Siw Mattson is great as the mysterious and feisty Peggy Ward. Mattson is a Swedish girl, who only appeared in three movies, the other two being Swedish coming of age films (with titles as Eva, the half virgin). I don’t know why she didn’t act more: maybe the other directors didn’t give her the good direction Vohrer gave her, or maybe she was fed up with cinema after her two Swedish films.

The killer’s suit may look a bit silly on the screens, but Vohrer managed to make it seem more menacing during the film. Typical for Wallace is the addition of several subplots to confuse the reader or viewer, but this film manages to do without that. This is also not a film that desperately wanted to show the action took place in Great Britain, like some of the older Wallace movies, which often included a lot of establishment shots from London. And there is also a lack of levity, which is a good thing in my opinion. A lot of the earlier Wallace films contained a slapstick sort of humour (often acted out by Eddi Arent), which I found highly annoying and distracting. The later films, paving a way for the gialli, managed to exclude the comedy bits and were therefore a lot more effective.

If you paid close attention to the introduction of this article, you’ll have figured out how I’d rated this film. If not, I’ve given it 7/10. Most of the Wallace films are out on dvd in Germany, with subtitles, there is even a full dvd box containing no less than 33 films. Pay close attention though: some Krimi movies by Vohrer have a similar dvd sleeve, but if you read carefully, you’ll see it actually says “made by the Edgar Wallace director Alfred Vohrer” on the sleeve. And another thing to watch out for, Wallace had a son, Bryan Edgar Wallace, who also wrote crime novels, some of which were also turned into films. We recommend The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle, by Harald Reinl of course.

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One thought on “German week: Im Banne des Unheimlichen

  1. Deeopey July 22, 2010 / 17:29

    Nice retrospective, I’d never previously heard of this guy.

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