Director: Franz Josef Gottlieb
Retromedia Entertainment

While probably best known to film fans for his contributions in developing the story and script that would become the landmark classic KING KONG (1933), Edgar Wallace’s effect on cinema, especially crime cinema, may reach farther than you realize. Authoring close to two hundred novels and plays, many of Wallace’s literary works have been adapted for the silver screen, mostly in Germany, with several finding an audience stateside thanks to late night 1970s television. THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA, THE COLLEGE GIRL MURDERS and THE CREATURE WITH THE BLUE HAND are but a few familiar cult titles which draw their plot from the writings of Wallace. Continuing with their EDGAR WALLACE COLLECTION, Retromedia has unleashed a double bill that showcases the fruits of both Wallace’s pen and that of his son Bryan.

Whomever processes the sacred yellow snake, a small statue adored with gems, on the day of the dragon (November 17th) shall defeat his enemies in any battle begun on said day. So goes the tale of the yellow snake, an artifact recently discovered by Cliff (Joachim Fuchsberger) while fending off thieves attempting to pilfer the object from his home in Hong Kong. Traveling to London with the snake, Clifford drops in on Samuel Carter (Eddi Arent), an antique collector and old acquaintance, after first paying a visit to Joan Bray (Brigitte Grothum) a complete stranger whom he is to marry if he is to retain his half of his fathers’ inheritance. To Cliff's surprise, his half brother Fing-Su (Pinkas Braun in yellowface) has been waiting at Mr. Carter's to welcome him to London and congratulate him on his pending nuptials. The two, suspicious of each other, barely have time to catch up before a dagger is thrown at Clif'fs back in an attempted assignation from the cult of the Fighting Hand. Bent on world domination, the small Chinese cult is unrelenting in their quest to obtain the snake and with the day of the dragon less than a week away, Cliff will have to think on his feet if he is to stay alive long enough to keep the relic from falling into the wrong hands.

CURSE OF THE YELLOW SNAKE (Der Fluch der gelben Schlange) was shot in Germany during a height in popularity for a unique subgenre of crime film based solely around the works and style of Wallace, known as Krimis. Akin and certainly influential to many Giallo films, Krimis or Krimi are less shocking than their Italian cousins, featuring less blood and nudity, but maintain the familiar thriller trappings common to the period.

Discernibly talky, CURSE OF THE YELLOW SNAKE features some impressive cinematography, courtesy of Siegfried Hold, that raises the proceedings from drab to watchable, albeit with very little repeat viewing value. The majority of the cast is sufficient, but with no real likeable characters to attach to, your attention may find itself wandering. Joachim Fuchsberger plays the rugged Cliff well enough but he never quite finds the tempo or attitude that allows for his character to make the jump from likeable asshole to antihero, which could have greatly benefited the film. Pinkas Braun, whose yellowface makeup leaves much to be desired, would find himself in a number of Wallace adaptations throughout the 1960s including Der Bucklige von Soho (THE HUNCHBACK OF SOHO) and Im Banne des Unheimlichen (THE ZOMBIE WALKS). Likewise Eddie Arent would find no shortage of Wallace inspired roles to fill, appearing along side Christopher Lee in CIRCUS OF FEAR and Klaus Kinski in Das Gasthaus an der Themse (THE INN ON THE RIVER). His role as Samuel, the talkative and effeminate antique dealer, is mainly played for comedic relief, but the joke wears thin quickly and you begin to wonder just how many cracks to the skull does it take before Samuel will learn to keep his mouth shut.

A golden gloved killer stalks the streets of Soho, stabbing its victims through the heart with a dagger, leaving the bodies behind where they lay. When Scotland Yard is called in to uncover the killer’s identity and motive, Sir Phillip (Hans Söhnker) knows just the man to track down such an elusive killer. Inspector Patton (Dieter Borsche, DEAD EYES OF LONDON), whose knowledge of the deceased allows him a special interest in the case, focuses his investigation around a burlesque club called the Sansibar, as all of the victims appear to have been patrons. The club's wheelchair bound owner (Elisabeth Flickenschildt) has little desire to deal with the police bothering her regulars and questioning her employees but as more bodies turn up, particularly those of her performers, she dare not protest for fear of implicating herself. As the bodies stack up, Inspector Patton will have to track down disappearing call girls and enlist the aid of pulp writer Clarinda Smith (Barbara Rütting) if he is to stop the phantom from killing again.

After a successful succession of films based on the thrillers of Edgar Wallace, German film producers did not need to look far from the tree to find a steady source of likeminded material. THE PHANTOM OF SOHO (Das Phantom von Soho) is based on a story by Bryan Edgar Wallace, Edgar Wallace’s son, whose stories were often rooted in the Krimis style that his father would become synonymous with. With a slight more bloodletting then SNAKE and a flash of nudity, THE PHANTOM OF SOHO has a touch of sleaze that leaves a diet giallo aftertaste. With numerous POV shots of a gloved killer staking strip club and stabbing its clientele and staff in the heart, PHANTOM certainly fits the bill for a giallo; however its London setting, a staple of Wallace’s work, is shot in a way that is more comparable to film noir. Soho’s seedy streets are principally moody, as shadows and fog conceal and reveal sordid characters and clues that guide the inspector closer to capturing the killer, whose identity won’t come as a shock to anyone, but the end result is agreeable.

Volume two in Retromedia’s Edgar Wallace collection is presented on a single sided dual layered disc with both features enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Both CURSE OF THE YELLOW SNAKE, presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and THE PHANTOM OF SOHO, on hand in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, are littered with blemishes and persistent running vertical lines. The beautiful black and white cinematography is strong, with blacks deep on both features, but the prints have seen better days, with PHANTOM in particular suffering from a number of quick edits and sudden jumps. Dolby Digital mono audio is sufficient and generally clear save for a few pops and clicks, with both the dubbed English dialogue and original scores satisfactory for their respective features. Martin Böttcher's jazzy score for THE PHANTOM OF SOHO is actually rather impressive and a standout in comparison to that of CURSE OF THE YELLOW SNAKE’s, whose score sounds like someone tripping over a synthesizer, as far more appropriate to the material. Bare bones, no extra features are present for Retromedia’s latest, bar an advertisement for their website. (Jason McElreath)