Fans of the 1960s German krimi (short for kriminalfilm—“crime film”) cycle will be pleased that Retromedia has released another volume in their Edgar Wallace Collection series. Volume 3 includes THE TERRIBLE PEOPLE double-billed with INN ON THE RIVER, both based on books by the prolific English novelist, playwright, poet, screenwriter, and creator of the original King Kong. For the uninitiated, krimis are not really horror films, but rather crime- or murder-based mystery/thrillers, though many feature gruesome and horrific elements, and were often promoted as horror films when released outside Europe. While not necessarily the best known or highest ranked in the Wallace series—virtually all produced by Danish/German Rialto Film—the two titles in this set make for a very satisfying release nonetheless.
THE TERRIBLE PEOPLE [Die Bande des Schreckens—“THE TERROR GANG”]
Convicted serial bank robber Clay Shelton (Otto Collin, THE FORGER OF LONDON), still unremorseful on the eve of his execution by hanging, swears revenge on the seven people he holds responsible for his capture, including Inspector Long (Joachim Fuchsberger, THE FACE OF FU MANCHU, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?), Nora Sanders (Karin Dor, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, ASSIGNMENT: TERROR), and bank employee Crayley (Dieter Eppler, SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES), cursing them with the “gallows hand.” After an unsuccessful attempt on Inspector Long’s life, the queen’s counsel is found dead in an auto wreck, and police photographer Edwards (Eddie Arent, THE GREEN ARCHER, THE DOOR WITH SEVEN LOCKS) thinks he sees the presumably dead Shelton nearby the crash scene. Shelton’s grave is exhumed, but instead of a body, a list of the seven intended victims is found in his casket, and a list of seven dates is later found in the hand of another victim, laying out Shelton’s timetable for revenge. (In an amusing bit, the newly promoted Long annotates the list to add “Chief” in front of “Inspector Long.”)
The second victim falls through a booby-trapped flight of stairs, and Shelton’s hangman is strangled with a noose while drunk in his bed, even as Long and Sergeant Rouch (Günter Hauer, THE CRIMSON CIRCLE) stake out their houses, attempting to protect them. Chief Inspector Long then visits Nora’s employer Mrs. Revelstoke (Elisabeth Flickenschildt, THE PHANTOM OF SOHO, DOG EAT DOG!), who is keeping Nora in the dark concerning the curse and subsequent murders. Long and Nora then deliver an ornamental clock to banker Monkford via motorboat, making stops to visit one of Shelton’s hideouts and question Crayley, and Long is shot by a sniper, emerging unscathed thanks to the bulletproof vest under his suit. Long romances Nora (“call me ‘Blackie’”), and Monkford decides to make sweet, gentle Nora beneficiary of his will. Monkford’s identical twin brother is accidentally offed by the unseen killer, and Long receives a mocking phone call ostensibly from Shelton. Monkford grabs the receiver and dares Shelton to come after him at a function at his golf club, where Alice Cravel (Karin Kernke, THE HEAD), who is harboring her own dark secret, works the front desk.
The remainder of the named victims gather at the club, where Mrs. Revelstoke tries to hook Nora up with slimy, unattractive Mr. Henry (Ulrich Beiger, TEENAGE SEX REPORT). Alice comes on to Inspector Long, who’s not interested, Henry makes a play for Nora, who freaks, and Monkford is murdered in his room. Henry then tries to force Nora to sign over managerial control of Monkford’s estate, but she refuses, and Mrs. Revelstoke backs her decision. Nora is later kidnapped, drugged, and held at a dingy, run-down waterfront hideout, Mrs. Revelstoke and Henry are killed in another auto accident, and Crayley is murdered, apparently by the avenging Shelton. Alice Cravel attempts to assassinate Chief Inspector Long, then has a change of sympathies and is violently dispatched by Shelton (finally seen in the flesh, wearing an eerie generic face mask) for helping Nora attempt to escape. There is a neat twist at the climax, though if you’ve seen a number of krimis or gialli, you might see it coming, as it was recycled quite a few times.
INN ON THE RIVER [DAS GASTHAUS AN DER THEMSE—“THE INN ON THE RIVER THAMES”]
A scuba diver in a black rubber wet suit, nicknamed “The Shark,” is assassinating petty criminals with a speargun and making his escape through the public sewers near Nelly Oaks’s riverfront Mekka dive bar and inn on the Thames. Gregor Gubanow (Klaus Kinski, THE BLACK ABBOT, DEAD EYES OF LONDON), a seedy-looking resident of the inn, spies on Nelly (Elisabeth Flickenschildt again), discovering that she’s actually working for the Shark, who’s the mastermind behind a local jewelry smuggling ring. Scotland Yard Inspector Wade (Joachim Fuchsberger again), investigating the murders, questions orphan Leila Smith (Brigitte Grothum, TEENAGE WOLFPACK), Nelly’s barmaid niece, while Nelly and Gregor eavesdrop from separate vantage points. Leila’s guardian Mr. Broen (Heinz Engelmann, who dubbed George Nader in several of his Jerry Cotton movies), the captain of a mysterious freighter, shows up, and Inspector Wade, disguised as a butler, steals a bracelet bearing a cryptic symbol off his arm, which is retrieved from Wade at speargun-point by the Shark.
Under Inspector Wade’s questioning, Nelly admits that Leila’s mother is still alive, and he accuses her of prostituting the girl. Barnaby (Eddi Arent again), an aspiring Oxford rower, is suspected of being the Shark, and Roger Lane (Jan Hendriks, THE DEVIL’S DAFFODIL), one of the Shark’s henchmen, attempts to assassinate Wade. It turns out that Nelly and Broen are double-crossing the Shark, running their own separate criminal enterprise smuggling whiskey. Nelly is tipped by a mysterious phone caller that the Shark is suspicious of Gregor, and while searching his room she finds a trunk with a speargun and wet suit inside. Wade is then told by Dr. Collins (Richard Münch, THE YOUNG GO WILD) that years earlier two young girls whose parents died in a fire might have been switched, and he believes that Leila may actually be the Pattersons’ daughter Delia, who is in line to inherit her wealthy parents’ fortune.
The Pattersons’ attorneys refuse to turn over any documents to Wade, so he tracks down Leila’s alleged mother, wigmaker Anna Smith—whose lifelike wig stands provide a bit of disturbing ambience—and finds that she’s living with Big Willy, the bouncer at the Mekka. Willy then tips off Nelly that Anna’s about to sing to the cops, and the Shark reappears and offs Anna with his speargun. Gregor’s subsequent arrest by Wade at the inn is celebrated by Nelly, Lane, and Broen, who believe he’s the Shark and are happy to be rid of him. The police monitor the lawyers’ office, and arrest Lane, whom they assume is the Shark, as he attempts to gain access to the papers. Finally, the Shark shows up at the Mekka to murder Broen as the police arrive to raid the inn, then absconds with Leila, with Wade and the cops in hot pursuit through the catacombs beneath.
THE TERRIBLE PEOPLE, re-released as HAND OF THE GALLOWS, is my favorite of the two titles in this set. Reinl (billed as “Dr. Harald Reinl” in the opening credits)—who directed five krimis, a couple of Mabuses, and also several of the Winnetou/Shatterhand series with Lex Barker and Pierre Brice, not to mention the outrageous SNAKEPIT AND THE PENDULUM—keeps the pace snappy and the camera moving, generally avoiding dry expository dialogue scenes. Mrs. Revelstoke’s deaf-mute maid adds a bit of a sinister edge, and the waterfront hideout has a wonderfully dark, atmospheric German-expressionist feel. Though most of the murders occur offscreen, Alice’s execution (tied to a chair and dragged by ropes into an open pit in the floor of the hideout) is easily the most horrific scene in the movie. A James Bond–like shooting telephone figures into the climax, and Heinz Funk’s score is subtly effective, almost electronic-sounding at times. Most impressively, THE TERRIBLE PEOPLE shifts gears several times, starting out as a basic body-count movie, morphing into a police procedural, and then, somewhat out of left field, ramping up the bizarro factor for the third act, leaving the viewer satisfied that they got their Deutsche mark’s worth.
Both films are set in London but—aside from some stock footage of Big Ben and environs—were shot in Germany and look it, for the most part. Most of the major cast members appeared in one or more other krimis—and/or Dr. Mabuse movies—including Fuchsberger, who starred in more than a half dozen, Karin Dor, female lead in a handful early in her career, and comedian Eddi Arent, who provides mild comedy relief in both TERRIBLE PEOPLE and INN ON THE RIVER. INN ON THE RIVER, helmed by Alfred Vohrer, who directed more krimis than anyone else, contains fewer explicitly horrific elements than TERRIBLE PEOPLE, perhaps giving the latter a slight edge for genre fans, but both are engrossing, well-made films that are worthy of space on any Edgar Wallace enthusiast’s shelf. INN ON THE RIVER is a little less intricate than TERRIBLE PEOPLE, so I was able to guess the real killer, and I’m generally not that swift with complicated mystery stories. Pair INN ON THE RIVER with THE EMBALMER some time for a nice “black wet suit, speargun-wielding scuba assassin” double feature.
Both films are presented here in their International versions, with English-language titles and credits, in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, the standard European aspect ratio. Tonal values are very good, with strong blacks, solid grayscale, and clean, white highlights. Both titles have been newly remastered in HD from lightly to moderately worn 16mm elements. TERRIBLE PEOPLE exhibits fairly constant light to moderate speckling and spotting, and some occasional light lining, while INN ON THE RIVER appears quite a bit cleaner, with much less speckling and spotting and lighter and far less frequent lining. Sharpness and detail are above average for 16mm, no doubt due to the HD mastering, rivaling many 35mm DVD transfers I’ve seen over the years. The soundtracks are clear and clean, with little to no noise, popping, or hum, and it appears that many of the actors are speaking their lines in English, with a few noticeable exceptions, so the dubbing is not problematic, though a few lines of provocative dialogue in the hospital in THE TERRIBLE PEOPLE seem to be edited out, and the dub track is ever so slightly out of sync for the first 20 minutes or so of INN ON THE RIVER. Overall, both films are very watchable, and bring back fond memories of seeing THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE, my first exposure to this type of film, on Svengoolie (Jerry G. Bishop era) back in the early 1970s.
THE TERRIBLE PEOPLE and INN ON THE RIVER have previously been available on burned DVD-Rs in the States from Sinister Cinema, and can also be found separately in out-of-print and fairly expensive R2 PAL DVD releases. Both are also available in separate volumes of Tobis/UFA’s numbered (nine at last count) R2 Edgar Wallace Edition boxed sets (numbers 1 and 3, respectively) featuring higher-quality transfers, most (but not all) with English language and/or subtitle options, and running approximately $35.00 to $40.00 and up for each set. This pressed DVD Retromedia release strikes a nice balance between price and quality (easily found at retail for about $10), especially for Edgar Wallace beginners or casual fans. Hardcore Wallace enthusiasts would spend around $80.00 to get these two films via the boxed sets, so this is a great way to add them both to your collection for much less. If you’re reading this review, you know you want this set—go for it! (Thanks to David Steigman, who wrote the liner notes on the back of the DVD, for some of the information included in this review.) (Paul Tabili)
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