6WH: Week 2 – The German Krimi Film

One of the more obscure sub-genres of film is the German Krimi, which translates to “crime” or “mystery thriller”. Interestingly, these movies all had their origin in the crime novels of ridiculously prolific British author Edgar Wallace (dude wrote somewhere on the order of 175 books). I had never heard of these movies before, but J.A. Kerswell devoted a short chapter to this movement in his Slasher Movie Book.

…the krimi was at its height of popularity from the end of the 1950s to the mid-1960s (although it was still being made into the early 1970s). Mostly filmed in Germany, the krimi films fetishized England and presented a decidedly Germanic idea of Englishness, which produced an otherworldly, alternative reality. …These krimis are typically peopled by dastardly villains in outlandish costumes – featuring everything from a green skeleton in a cape to a whip-grasping monk in a red habit and pointy hat.

Increasingly flirting with the horror genre, the krimi satisfied the conventions of the crime caper as well as Teutonic farce.

By today’s standards, these are pretty tame films, and as the description above might imply, they’re not out-and-out horror, though they have leanings in that direction. There are some key horror conventions on display here though, including POV shots, macabre mad scientists, masked killers, and, strangely, a lot of throwing knives. I’m glad I tracked these down, but the overwhelming reaction I had to all of these movies was that they had some interesting ideas that weren’t quite fully developed. This was perhaps due to the time they were made, but hey, if you’re looking to remake movies, these seem like great candidates to me. Anywho, let’s get this party started:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Murder (short)
  • Night of the Lepus (trailer)
  • Frogs (trailer)
  • Fellowship of the Frog (aka Face of the Frog) – Adaptations of Edgar Wallace novels were produced as early as the 1920s, but the heydey of the krimi began in 1959 with the release of this film about a mysterious criminal mastermind known only as “the Frog”, who peppers his daring heists and robberies with the occasional murder. Hot on the Frog’s tail is Scotland yard, with an assist from an amateur American detective (and his British butler). The Frog’s costume, featuring a mask with gigantic glass eyes (lending the impression of a frog), is actually somewhat effective, if a little on the outlandish side.

    The Frog

    The Frog

    His dastardly scheme winds up being pretty silly though, and I’m not quite sure I really understood what he was getting at with his plan. Basically, he wants to win the affection of a pretty lady… by terrorizing her brother and father? There’s a nice Scooby-villain unmasking at the end of the movie too. There’s a lot of neat elements here, but nothing to really pull it together into a great film. I actually really enjoyed the amateur American detective guy, he’s kinda like Batman without the costume: embarrassingly wealthy, fights crime in his spare time, has a British butler, fancy car, and wacky gadgets. And the Frog has the makings of a great villain. He leaves a neat little calling card after each heist, and he brands his loyal minions with a little frog symbol too. Cool elements, but alas, the film settles for something less than satisfactory. I’m glad I watched it, but it’s not a particularly accomplished film. **

  • Final Destination 2 (trailer)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XIV: Reaper Madness
  • The Life of Death by Clive Barker (short story from Cabal)
  • The Mad Executioners – This film was made a few years later, while the krimi was enjoying great popularity, and the story here fares much better than Frog, though there are still some odd components (which we’ll get to in a bit). The story begins with a mysterious hooded society passing judgement on a criminal who thought they had gotten away with their crime. We later find out that there’s been a series of executions by this society, each victim a criminal who was “beyond the reach of the law” (shades of Dexter here, perhaps this movie was an influence?) Each body is found with a file detailing all the evidence, and the victims are hanged with an infamous hangman’s rope, stolen from a museum. Soon, we see copycat societies taking up the cause, and a mysterious rash of gruesome beheadings has claimed the sister of our heroic Scotland Yard detective.

    The Frog

    A Mad Scientist

    This movie is an improvement over Frog, but some of these elements don’t quite fit together. In particular, the side-story about the mad scientist experimenting on decapitated heads seems kinda tacked on, like it was from another movie or something. On the other hand, there’s a lot of red herrings, which always kept me guessing, and while the tale may be a bit disjointed, both of the main threads are intriguing enough on their own… It all comes together in the end, and I found it a reasonably enjoyable experience, but again, it feels like these ideas could be more fully developed. **1/2

  • Stephen King’s It (trailer)
  • The X-Files: “Humbug” (tv show)
  • Tales from the Crypt: “Dig That Cat…He’s Real Gone” (tv show)
  • Circus of Fear (aka Psycho-Circus) – This film was made as the krimi was winding down, but it’s also probably the best of the films covered in this post. The movie opens with an extremely well filmed heist. I particularly enjoyed the way director John Llewellyn Moxey cut between the various groups of criminals by employing imagery of watches and clocks. Anywho, the heist doesn’t go quite as well as planned, and a guard gets shot. This leads the crooks to split up, one of whom heads towards a creepy circus, where he quickly runs into the business end of a throwing knife.

    POV Shot

    POV Shot

    Other crooks become suspicious and start looking for the body and money he was carrying. The film is actually populated by well-respected actors of the likes of Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski, and some nice dynamics at the circus keep things interesting. Of course, Scotland Yard is also on the case and as the bodies start to pile up, the suspects seem to be piling up. There’s lots of fun to be had here, including a masked lion tamer and a scheming little person. Once again, I don’t know that the movie fully delivers on its various ideas, but I found it to be the most enjoyable of the three, and the most visually interesting as well. **1/2

Apparently latter krimi pictures were coproduced in Italy and released as giallos there… Italian Giallo films had emerged and evolved alongside the krimi, but quickly overtook the German sub-genre in terms of visual style, violence, and mayhem. I found this to be an interesting exercise, but I’m a much bigger fan of Giallos and quite frankly, these aren’t really horror films. There are some horror elements, but for the most part, they’re probably, at best, thrillers.