Thursday, August 26, 2021

Die blaue Hand/Creature with the Blue Hand (1967)

Despite appearing, with sixteen performances, in every second Rialto Wallace (plus a number of related appearances in other similar German crime dramas of the period), Klaus Kinski rarely ever got the chance to star in one of those movies. 

 Creature with the Blue Hand/Die blaue Hand (1967), directed by Alfred Vohrer, is one of the few exceptions. 

 And we don’t just get Kinski once but (at least for a short period) twice as he plays a pair of twins, Dave and Richard Emerson. 

 Dave is being convicted for the murder of a gardener at his family’s estate, considered insane and subsequently incarcerated in a mental institution. In order to convince the judge that he is totally compos mentis, Dave jumps towards the bench and does a spewing and foaming Kinski, declaring his innocence.

 And strangely enough for a production that for a large part deals with all matters of insanity, this is pretty much the only time we see the actor letting loose. For large parts, Kinski here gives a very subdued but nevertheless mesmerising performance. 

One night Dave manages to escape from the asylum with the help of a mysterious stranger and he legs it to his family castle, conveniently located just a short distance away from the institution. Alas, while on the run a nurse and a warden get killed and suspicion falls yet again on Dave. 

After arriving at the castle his brother Richard happens to vanish and Dave decides to slip into his twin brother’s clothes and impersonate him, a ruse that only the resident Scotland Yard detective (Harald Leipnitz, also in Der unheimliche Mönch/The Sinister Monk and Die Gruft mit dem Rätselschloß/The Curse of the Hidden Vault) sees through fast and yet despite dealing with a convicted killer, suspected of two further murders and officially declared insane, he and his boss Sir John (Siegfried Schürenberg) allow Dave to continue the charade in order to help with the investigation and flush out the real killer. 

Creature with the Blue Hand is one of those productions that, if you were brave enough to attempt an in depth plot analysis, would lead to an utterly byzantine labyrinth of incomprehensible madness.

 Nothing and no-one is as they seem. Twists are thrown at the audience in regular intervals. And everybody seems to have secrets, dual personas and hidden agendas abound. 

Yet, it’s such a well executed, good looking, fast moving and most of all fun piece of 1960s Krimi exploitation that few people would ever dare question the logic behind the plot. (And those that do, just need to chill.) 

Though nominally based on Edgar Wallace novel The Blue Hand (1925), the film contains practically nothing from its source and instead features a completely new plot. Rialto had previously already commissioned two vastly different scripts also very loosely based on the novel. For the film version a third script by Herbert Reinecker (aka Alex Berg in the credits) was finally used. 

In the novel (and somewhat similarly in the previous two scripts) the “blue hand” refers to blue hand prints left behind as mysterious symbols. In the film, however, the blue hand is now the murder tool. The killer is a hooded henchman who kills with the aid of switch blades hidden in a blue gauntlet taken from a knight’s armour belonging to a legendary French ancestor of the Emerson family. 

Though mansions and castles often feature prominently in the Edgar Wallace films, they are usually placed in urban areas (courtesy of stock footage of London). Creature with the Blue Hand is devoid of that and for the most part plays in two locations: the spooky castle of the Emersons and Dr Mangrove’s mental institution. 

As a result of that there is an even stronger focus on Gothic tinged horror in a modern setting than normal at the expense of the familiar crime thriller aspect. 

The castle set allows Vohrer to go all out with Bavaesque colour schemes and his trademark unusual angles (e.g. faces filmed and distorted when shot through a wine glass). 

As can be expected in a Wallace film, there seem to be more secret doors and alleys in that residence than regular walk ways. And let’s not forget the bizarre assortment of creaking knight’s armours, skeletons, cobwebs and… mannequins hanging from nooses or seemingly knifed by Dave as an indicator of his madness. (Of course given that the entire film’s premise is all about exonerating Dave, one wonders why a sane Dave would have spent his time staging tableaus of murders and suicides for kicks.) 

The ultimate pièce de résistance, however, is Dr Mangrove’s asylum straight out of bedlam. 

Is it exploitative? In questionable taste? No longer acceptable for modern-day attitudes toward mental illness? 

Yes, yes and yes again. 

But it is also a hell of a lot of fun to watch and, pardon the pun, utterly insane. 

Dr Mangrove is played by Carl Lange (also in Der Frosch mit der Maske/Fellowship of the Frog and Der Hexer/The Ringer) and the monocle he is wearing would have deserved a separate credit. 

The inmates run the whole gamut of stereotypes par for films of that nature and also include a professional stripper with a compulsion to take her clothes off nonstop, much to the delight of Siegfried Schürenberg’s pervy, grand-fatherly Sir John who in his introductory scene in Scotland Yard raves against contemporary youth culture until his young female and mini-skirt wearing assistant (Ilse Pagé, soon to be a series regular in the very same role) drops in, causing him to be all charming and overly attentive again. 

 On top of this curious assortment of characters, the asylum also features locked rooms straight out of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here into which rats and snakes are dropped through hidden doors in front of a terrified inmate. 

Despite having the privilege of Kinski in the lead, the film is actually not dominated by him. In actual fact, he is absent for larger parts of it when the focus is on anyone of a dozen characters crucial to the story. 

 The humour is toned down significantly in comparison to earlier entries and mainly comes courtesy of Sir John. Martin Böttcher reliably as ever provides the swinging film score. And Albert Bessler’s butler breaks down the 4th wall in the final scene when he announces that the next Wallace production would be Der Mönch mit der Peitsche/The College Girl Murders

This film was Diana Körner’s film debut. She plays Dave’s sister who during the course of the production gets incarcerated against her will by Dr Mangrove with the attempt to drive her mad. Körner over the years would become a very popular TV actress and is still active today in her mid-70s. 

Also worthy of note is the pretentiously named “Le Petit Maxim”, a deserted rural nightclub that appears to have been filmed on a farm. 

 All in all, Creature with the Blue Hand is one of the best examples of the second half of the Rialto series. Fast moving action, combined with creepy Gothic horror and an assortment of eccentric characters result in a memorable production. 

 Quentin Tarantino has referenced Creature with the Blue Hand as one of his favourite movies. A strong vote in favour that is only softened by the fact that he also appears to lay an identical claim for seemingly another 10.000 other flicks as well.

 There also appears to be a US version of the movie released in 1987 under the title The Bloody Dead by Sam Sherman containing newly filmed inserted gore scenes. 


Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Case of the Krimi (Severin Feature)

 A chat with another fellow Krimi Fan reminded me that Severin Films had produced a Krimi feature by Marcus Stiglegger for one of their releases which is available on YouTube. 

Unfortunately playback of the video has been disabled by the owner for other websites so I can't embed it here, so instead just go directly to the relevant link on YouTube

Now if only they could make those films available in English friendly versions as well....

Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Phantom of Soho (German Film Program)

 Neues Film Program 3475

4-page film program for atmospheric Bryan Edgar Wallace Krimi Das Phantom von Soho/The Phantom of Soho (1964) from a time when Soho wasn't yet gentrified and getting an overpriced Frappuccino was the last reason you had for going there.

The Phantom of Soho, film program, Bryan Edgar Wallace

The Phantom of Soho, film program, Bryan Edgar Wallace

The Phantom of Soho, film program, Bryan Edgar Wallace

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Unnaturals (1969)

The Unnaturals, Schreie in der Nacht, Poster, Joachim Fuchsberger, Marianne Koch
A group of travellers during a violent storm gets stranded in a creepy mansion just to interrupt a séance conducted by a haggard old mother and her weirdo son who were on the verge of contacting the ghost of someone well known to the group and threatening to reveal some secrets that would better be left buried. Chaos ensues. 

 That kind of story is a quintessential Gothic Horror trope and the kind of plot that director Antonio Margheriti was well known for at the beginning of his career (e.g. Castle of Blood, Long Hair of Death).

 What caught my interest when I came across The Unnaturals aka Schreie in der Nacht aka Contranatura by pure chance after having never before heard of it, was the fact that this Italian production was partially financed by Atze’s Brauner’s CCC Film (who were also responsible for the 1960s Dr Mabuse movies as well as a plethora of other productions). 

 Those invested D-Marks ensured that the movie had a sizeable German cast including Joachim Fuchsberger (star of many a Rialto Krimi), Marianne Koch (best known internationally for A Fistful of Dollars but a popular German movie star at the time who also appeared in Coast of Skeletons/Sanders und das Schiff des Todes, an adventure film based on Edgar Wallace, and Das Ungeheuer von London City/The Monster of London City, a Bryan Edgar Wallace Krimi) and Helga Anders (Jerry Cotton: Murderclub Of Brooklyn). 

Needless to say, my interest was piqued. 

And needless to say as well that the film just couldn’t live up to that pique of my interest. 

There is usually a good reason when classic movies have been forgotten about. 

On the plus side, this production is pulling out all the stops for the scenes of the séance. Though filmed in colour the atmosphere is suitably creepy in those moments, all stuffed animals filmed at Dutch angles, spiders moving around in their web and zoom shots to the eyes that would have made a Lucio Fulci proud. Those scenes are also carried by “Alan Collins” aka Luciano “The Italian Peter Lorre” Pigozzi as the weird son and Marianne Leibl as the genuinely freaky mother. Leibl appears to have had mainly uncredited bit parts in a handful of movies but based on this performance alone I’d have loved to have seen her in much more. Of all the films I have seen with Pigozzi this is likely the one in which he had the biggest and most important role. 

The problem is that those scenes at the mansion are constantly interrupted by flashbacks that are filmed flat and without any sense of mystery and intrigue. Based on the costumes and cars used the plot seems to take place in the 1920s so this could have made for some stunning mise-en-scène, alas it is all just pretty dull and uninvolving and that - unfortunately - also includes the moments where Marianne Koch’s character for no particular reason turns into a raving sexoholic lesbian which frankly sounds more interesting than it is as Koch’s mumsy kind of beauty and charm just doesn’t carry the kind of eroticism required for this type of role which was highly atypical for her. 

The Unnaturals would prove to be her final movie before she studied medicine and became a popular TV Host, panelist and TV Doctor. 

Ironically the Italian trailer totally ignores the main Gothic aspects of this movie and entirely focuses on the lesbian affairs and gives an absolutely erroneous feel for what the movie is about. On the other hand it does seem to hint at the reason why it was called The Unnaturals or Contranatura. The German title Schreie in der Nacht [Screams in the Night] is generic but much more appropriate. 

There is a final twist reveal which feels very forced and just when you think it’s all over we get some surprise Deus-Ex-Machina style miniature work. 

Remember kids, if it’s Margheriti, it’s gotta have miniature work (whether it makes sense or not). 

 You wanna know more about Antonio Margheriti, check out Adrian Smith’s Antonio Margheriti Blog.

 Here in Ireland (and from what I can tell also in the UK at least), the film can be streamed on Prime in a less than glamorous print but beggars can’t be choosers. 

In Germany there was a DVD release but I won’t even honour it with a link as the DVD is out of print and is currently listed under some laughable prices. Let’s just say, the movie does NOT warrant spending €150, especially given that based on the reviews the print seems to be similar or identical to the washed out Prime version.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Avenger (German Film Program)

Neues Film Program #1967 

 This 4-page film program, in contrast to many others, is not particularly photo heavy and only displays images of scenes from Der Rächer/The Avenger (1960) on its front and back pages. 

This movie was the first non-Rialto Edgar Wallace movie of the 1960s and came very early on in the Wallace craze, following hot on the heels of Der Frosch mit der Maske/Fellowship of the Frog (1959) and Der rote Kreis/The Red Circle (1960). 

Produced by Kurt Ulrich Filmproduktion and directed by Karl Anton, both minor league in comparison to the behemoth that was Rialto and its talent, had a number of remarkable firsts as it featured the Wallace debuts of Klaus Kinski, Heinz Drache and Siegfried Schürenberg, who would all become major players for the main series. It also starred Ingrid van Bergen who would shoot one Rialto Wallace, Das Geheimnis der gelben Narzissen/The Devil’s Daffodil (1961). 

Unfortunately, that is where the interests ends as - instrumental as it may have been in its choice of acting talent - with regards to entertainment value, this is a terribly wasted opportunity and a fairly dull production.

Edgar Wallace, The Avenger, Heinz Drache, Klaus Kinski

Edgar Wallace, The Avenger, Heinz Drache, Klaus Kinski

Edgar Wallace, The Avenger, Heinz Drache, Klaus Kinski

Edgar Wallace, The Avenger, Heinz Drache, Klaus Kinski

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Interview with Ansel Faraj

After posting my recent link to Ansel Faraj’s Rondo Awarding winning short film The Thousand and One Lives of Doctor Mabuse (2020), I revisited an old interview I did with him in 2013 covering his first two Mabuse related movies. 

 It was initially meant to accompany an article I had written for VAN HELSING’S JOURNAL about the series of six German Dr Mabuse movies from the 1960s. 

Alas, that magazine folded before those two pieces could be published. 

Last year I finally published that article as The Many Masks of Dr. Mabuse: Mabuse in the 1960s in eBook format, however, as Ansel’s movies were outside the actual scope of that booklet I had not included the interview. 

Time to make amends and finally have if officially made available for this blog. 

Make sure to visit the website of Hollinsworth Productions for the availability of those two films and Ansel’s other projects since that interview. 

Ansel Faraj
 I finished my piece about the 1960s Mabuse series with a reminder that “Mabuse will always be with us”. And just before going to press we learned about the existence of two new Mabuse movies, Doctor Mabuse (2013) and Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar (2014) and got in touch with Ansel Faraj, the director, for an exclusive interview. 

 Ansel, thanks for doing the interview. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your previous work? 

 I was born in Los Angeles, and grew up here - and LA is very much an industry town, you can't drive two blocks without seeing some film crew or signs directing you to a set, and movies always interested me - anything is possible in the movies. So when I was 6 years old, I made up my mind that I was going to be a film director. And now I am 21 years old, and I guess you could say I now am a film director. I started with an old VHS camera and action figures, and then friends from school, and just kept filming and making movies, and as I got older, the movies got better. 

 Do you have an elevator speech about the two new Mabuse movies that you wrote and directed? 

 They are apocalyptic fables of evil and corruption - the manipulation and dehumanization of society. Of course that sounds very heavy and philosophic and analytical - so here's my summer popcorn pitch: they are dark comic book stories about the ultimate mastermind - Dr. Mabuse - and his drive for survival in a world that is changing. How can Dr. Mabuse try to keep control? He decides to start his own world that lives by a doctrine which he wrote. 

 How did you get involved with the Mabuse project? 

 I saw Fritz Lang's THE GAMBLER when I was about 15, and just liked the character of Mabuse. I wanted to do something with him, and a story fell into my head. I wrote the story when I was 16 and then developed it into a full original screenplay. It's my own interpretation of the character, not a remake or sequel or adaptation or anything like that. It's my own project. 

 How familiar are you with the various incarnations? Have you read the original novels? Are you aware of the German series of 1960s movies? 

 I did a lot of research, I read David Kalat's fantastic study THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. MABUSE, I had seen TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (Lang's version, not the remake) after I saw THE GAMBLER, but when I was writing my story, I did not watch any of the other films, and that continued into the production of the film a couple of years after. I did not want to be influenced by anything that came before. I do have the box set of the 60's films - but I've still to watch them. 

 What do you find fascinating about the character of Dr Mabuse? 

 I find his methods fascinating. He's a master of disguise, a master of hypnosis, an illusionist, and he uses these techniques to get what he wants. He's a super-genius, and the first I feel, true super villain in literature. His goal is to rule the ashes, to be last man standing - and he'd do it just because he can. That is very interesting and disturbing to me. We do something different in our films, instead of him just wanting to 'rule the ashes', he wants to rule his own world, which is a bit more of the classic Lex Luthor style-villain, but it's really so he can retain control of his power. The world is changing and there's an element of magic to the character of Mabuse. If this dark magic in the world is dying - let's say - and this "magic" is what keeps him going, then he'd do everything in his power to make sure he still exists no matter what - he still wants to be last man standing. That's what we explore, how far will he go to survive. 

 Is Doctor Mabuse primarily based on the original books or the cinematic adaptations or is that more a riff on the concepts? 

 No it's completely my own. I took the character, tore him apart, took what I liked about him, added some of my own insanity to him, and built him back up again into my own version. There are some nods to his origins of Norbert Jacques and Fritz Lang, but the rest is all me. 

 I noticed that you carried some of the original character names over and even managed to slot in a Madame Von Harbau? Is the film set in Germany? 

 No, it's set in a netherworld really. I wanted it to have the feel of a Universal Monster movie, the movies I was brought up on. You're never quite sure if its turn of the century or if it's 1940, if you're in America or England or Germany.... its off in its own never-never land, and I think that is the best setting for a character like Dr. Mabuse, because then it allows you to work in metaphor. 

 You can make statements about the world today without having to directly connect to the present. As far as the character names, yeah, they're sort of inspired by characters from the past, but not necessarily based on exact people. Like the City General Oscar Lang, his namesake is Fritz Lang and Madame Von Harbau's namesake is Thea Von Harbau. I'm a bit of a geek. 

 In previous reviews the film has been described as having a Noir feel. Do you feel that’s an appropriate description? What mood were you aiming at? 

 Yes, definitely with Doctor Mabuse I set out to make a noir. Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly was a huge influence on the film. Noir lends itself well to the material because of its archetypes. You can rely on those to help build the story and to navigate it. You have the tormented detective, the femme fatale, the big bad guy, the wormy Elisha Cook Jr. henchman, the dark foggy streets and all of that great nihilism that classic noirs have, and it's such a rich world to set a movie like Doctor Mabuse in. With the second film, we veer away from noir and go more into.... a type of neo-medieval fantasy. It's like an Arthurian-Macbeth feel in slightly modern dress and design. 

 For the movie you managed to work with Jerry Lacy, Kathryn Leigh Scott, and Lara Parker, from Dark Shadows. How did that come about? 

 The whole time I was writing the script, I kept thinking 'Wouldn't Jerry Lacy be diabolical as Mabuse?' I kept hearing his voice saying Mabuse's lines as I would write them, but I never thought I'd ever get him – it was just a pipe dream. There was just no way I thought he would do a movie that was being directed by a 19 year old kid. The same thing happened with Madame Carrozza and Madame Von Harbau. As I was writing, I kept imagining Lara and Kathryn in the roles. So you can imagine my excitement when they all agreed to play these parts. It was luck, really. 

 Do you have any anecdotes from filming with those three cult actors? 

 Well the one that sticks out most in my mind was when we were doing a scene between Jerry and Lara, Madame Carrozza is reading Mabuse's fate with Tarot cards, and we were getting ready to shoot the scene, and Lara said to Jerry: "Doesn't this bring back memories?" and that got me all giddy inside, because it's been 47 years since they acted onscreen together in Dark Shadows, and now I had them reunited on screen doing something very Dark Shadows like. It made me happy . 

 I notice that for the second movie Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar you referenced the fictional nation Eitopomar that Norbert Jacques’ Mabuse was attempting to create in South America. This part of Mabuse’s motivation was mainly left out in previous cinematic incarnations. How important is that for your character? 

 That's true, Etiopomar is something they never did in any of the Mabuse movies, which is why it was attractive to me to use it in mine. In my "Mabuse mythology", Etiopomar is the name of his new world, and it means 'City of Ashes'. It's what Mabuse is working towards, rather than build a new utopian society in the jungles of South America, he's going to just manipulate his way into taking control of this unnamed city (where the film takes place), and rename it Etiopomar, and it will be the capital city in his new world. 

 Are the movies considered a 2-parter or can they be viewed independently? 

 No, they each stand very much on their own. It's not a situation like how THE GAMBLER has Part One/Part Two, but together make up one complete film. In MABUSE and ETIOPOMAR, there are a couple of threads that tie them together into - I guess you could say a double feature, but they are so different in style and tone that I consider them each their own film.  

I notice that the second film also features a character called Rotwang. Is that just another Langian reference or really the character from Metropolis? 

 Yes, Rotwang is in there. He and Maria the Robot. They're both very different in my film, they are inspired by the Metropolis characters, but there's a few things about this Rotwang that make him decidedly different. He's a younger character, and he may not be entirely human. They've both been reinvented for my Mabuse-world. 

 What are your future projects? 

 This December I have a sci-fi road movie/unconventional superhero mash up called The Rising Light coming out. It's going to be released online and it stars Mabuse alumni Nathan Wilson, Kathryn Leigh Scott, and Linden Chiles; and next year I hope to start filming another dream project of mine, a cyberpunk mystery-comedy. I've got quite a bit coming up. 

 Finally: Where can the films be seen and is there a DVD release due shortly? 

 Doctor Mabuse is being released on DVD this November, you'll be able to purchase it online; and its follow up Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar will be premiering in Los Angeles in April 2014 with a limited theatrical run in LA immediately following, and then a few screenings in New York in the summer - and then of course a DVD next fall.


Monday, June 28, 2021

The Thousand and One Lives of Doctor Mabuse (2020)

Been meaning to post a link to The Thousand and One Lives of Doctor Mabuse for ages. 

It won this year’s Rondo Awards in the BEST SHORT FILM category and is director Ansel Faraj’s third Mabuse related movie

The Thousand and One Lives of Doctor Mabuse is not exactly a standalone film but anyone with a passing knowledge of previous Mabuse movies or the novels by Norbert Jacques should have no problem getting into it. I have yet to see his first two entries but what I like about this production is that it manages to create a unique world within the Mabuse myth that may of course contain some references to previous incarnations but otherwise goes its very own way. 

Just goes to show that low budget should never stop you from fulfilling your visions. 

Also impressive to see that within that trilogy Ansel incorporated elements of Etiopomar, the fictitious country Mabuse was planning to set up and rule in the original novels, an element of the plot that was never much highlighted in earlier adaptations.