feat

Creature with the Blue Hand

I learned two important things from this psychotronic adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s novel, Die Blaue Hand. First, you can’t casually watch one of these Edgar Wallace movies from Danish film studio Rialto. Turn away for five seconds, and when you turn back to the television, you will be completely lost. They are so fast moving, and so insanely convoluted, that you have to concentrate on them with an intensity usually reserved for deriving the Unified Field Theory. The second thing I learned is that while quantity doesn’t equate to quality, featuring double the Klaus Kinski in your film is a sure thing. He shows up here as twin brothers, and unfortunately, that lead to the aforementioned distraction as I started daydreaming about what Crawlspace would have been like if Klaus Kinski was slinking around, peeping on…Klaus Kinski!

Creature with the Blue Hand is an excellent, although not the best, example of the later era krimi, fantastical films based on the writing of English mystery author Edgar Wallace. We ran down the gist of his history in a review of a film based on the imitative works of his son, Bryan Edgar Wallace, so for a little background, you might cruise on over to Phantom of Soho and have a read. The short of it (which will end up being longer that “the short of it” probably covers) is that Wallace was a mystery writer who took the time tested parlor room mystery and infused it with a dose of the strange by also adding in pulp fiction style supervillains in outlandish masks. Wallace’s blend of secret passages, family secrets, sinister shadows, and freakish criminal masterminds in frog masks hit a chord with readers and became wildly popular.

Wallace’s books were also wildly popular in Weimar Republic era Germany, and German film makers were early adopters of adapting them into movies. The first German Edgar Wallace film came out in 1927, an adaptation of the novel The Unknown. In 1929, German cinema goers were treated to Der rote Kreis (The Crimson Circle). But then the Weimar experiment collapsed, ending an era of sexy cabaret dancers and paving the way for the ascension of the Nazis. under the Third Reich, the reading of Wallace’s novels was verboten, let alone further production of film adaptations. Wallace passed away in 1932, and German production of films based on his books ceased. However, just as the Germans ended production, British companies (and a couple American) started. Many of Wallace’s works were adapted into films in his native Britain, resulting in solid little thrillers like The Terror and The Gaunt Stranger. Really good mystery films, but the more phantasmagorical aspects of Wallace’s stories were toned down, and they were much more straightforward mysteries. Well, straight-forward relatively speaking.

Time passed, and Edgar Wallace passed out of the public consciousness until 1959, when Danish movie studio Rialto decided to dust off the works of Edgar Wallace with an eye toward marketing the film to German audiences. It turned out to be the perfect time for such an experiment, and The Fellowship of the Frog became a huge hit. Unlike the British films of the 1930s, Rialto held little back, allowing its film makers to revel in the sex, violence, and weirdness of Edgar Wallace’s stories. With that success, Rialto began aggressively buying up the rights to Wallace’s books and kicked off what would become a thirty-two entry “series” of films that became known as krimi. Other studios got in on the Edgar Wallace action as well, and those that got shut out in the race to acquire the rights compensated by either adapting the works of Edgar Wallace’s son, Bryan, or by just making movies that were very similar.

Krimi were a heady blend of mystery, horror, old pulp serial, and after the release of the first James Bond film, Dr. No, swinging Eurospy movies — all set to finger-snapping lounge jazz, much of it conducted by Peter Thomas and his Sound Orchestra. Four films into the unconnected series, the Rialto productions came under the artistic guidance of Horst Wendlandt and would be directed by either Alfred Vohrer or Harald Reinl, lending them an artistic and cast/crew unity that helped Rialto define a distinct style for the films. Even if the plots were not connected in any way, the common tone and style — as well as much of the same cast — let you easily believe that all these films were happening in the same bonkers universe.

Many of the films also featured young, up-and-coming cuddly psychopath Klaus Kinski, who’s stardom was cemented by his appearance in wildly popular krimi. Even when he was only a supporting player, it was obvious that there was something different about Kinski; just how different he would end up being, however, is probably something no one expected. When the films made the switch from black and white color, Horst Wendlandt really indulged, creating candy-colored, ultra-saturated masterpieces of psychedelic wonder. It helped that several of Wallace’s stories keyed in on a particular color — the red robe of the whip-wielding monk in The College Girl Murders, or in the case of Creature With the Blue Hand, the bright metallic blue spiked gauntlet of a hooded killer.

The movie begins with a frantic Dave Emerson (Klaus Kinski) being convicted of murder despite frantically pleading his own innocence. He is committed to a sanitarium run by the slightly shady Dr. Mangrove (Carl Lange) while his family — including twin brother Richard (also Kinski) bemoans the sorry state to which Dave has fallen. But all is not as it seems, which becomes evident when Dave escapes — with suspicious ease — and suddenly people are finding themselves ont he deadly end of the blue metal claw. Is Richard really Dave, or is Dave Richard? Is Dave pretending to be Richard pretending to be Dave? Man, as if krimi weren’t convoluted enough, this one goes and throws twin Kinskis — Twinskis, if you will — into the mix.

Trying to unravel the mystery is dogged Scotland Yard inspector Craig (Harald Leipnitz), but unraveling an Edgar Wallace movie mystery is a near hopeless task. Dave insists that he was framed, that it was his twin brother Richard who is responsible for the murders — but is Dave even Dave? The mansion in which most of the action takes place is, naturally, peppered with secret chambers and hidden corridors draped with cobwebs and lined with superfluous medieval accouterments. Pretty much everyone who lives there is a suspect. Well, except for the ones who start turning up dead, mauled by the deadly blue gauntlet.

For all his faults as a professional and a person, Quentin Tarantino did the world a great service when he name dropped Creature with the Blue Hand as one of his favorite movies, even using his programming clout one year to get it aired on…I think it was Turner Classic Movies, as part of a cult movie night he was curating. It not only gave a lot of us a chance to see this film for the first time, but since companies jump whenever Tarantino tells them to, it wasn’t long before long-forgotten krimi were being plucked from obscurity and released on DVD. Creature with the Blue Hand was among them, paired on a disc with The Bloody Dead — which is just Creature with the Blue Hand with some additional gore spliced into it that was shot decades after the fact. Shortly after it came out on budget DVD in the United States, it — and in fact the entirety of Rialto’s Edgar Wallace output — got the treatment they deserved when a series of remastered box sets were released in Germany.

Creature with the Blue Hand is not the best of Rialto’s krimi, nor is it the weirdest. Despite the presence of Klaus Kinski in a dual role — 200% more Kinski than is safe to handle — Creature with the Blue Hand is a tad more subdued, slower paced, than some of the other color krimi. The setting is almost Gothic, affording few opportunities for the eye-popping visuals and mini-skirted mod girls of other entries. That said, there’s still more delirium here than in a normal film, and the end result of trying to follow the plot is like spinning around and around as fast as you can then trying to give someone a tattoo. Kinski does get to do some patented sweaty-faced ranting, and the killer, cloaked in a billowing black robe and brandishing that bright blue instrument of death, is classically cool pulp serial design.

The central mystery is populated by enough suspects and red herrings to keep you guessing — so much so that you may even stop caring about the mystery actually getting solved. The eventual revelation of the killer always seems to be an afterthought in these movies, something that is there simply because mysteries need such a thing. But it’s really not the point of the movie. Even a more tame krimi such as this will dazzle you with its many trappings, getting you caught up in the spirit of things rather than making you care about the case being solved. There’s just too much mad fun and people pulling down candelabras that open bookshelves to care about whether the mystery makes any logical sort of sense. That said, Creature does have one of the better constructed mysteries in the series.

There’s enough sinister goings-on to make Creature with the Blue Hand a pretty entertaining slice of krimi craziness. If you feel like the movie is impossible to follow, that’s only because it is. With this, as with many of Rialto’s Edgar Wallace films, you can’t really sweat the details. It’ll all come together in the end, or at least, it will get resolved in the end. Klaus Kinski isn’t Klausin’ it up the way you might hope, but any Kinski is good Kinski, and twice the Kinski is four times as good. That’s called algebra, son. Look it up. If I was Quentin Tarantino — and I’d rather not be, except maybe for that part of his life where he had Selma Hayek’s foot in his face — I wouldn’t pick this as my favorite krimi. For me, that honor goes to Fellowship of the Frog, The College Girl Murders, or Hand of Power. But those are lofty bars, and it’s no negative relfection on Creature with the Blue Hand if it can’t quite attain those rarefied airs.

Release Year: 1967 | Country: Germany | Starring: Harald Leipnitz, Klaus Kinski, Carl Lange, Ilse Steppat, Hermann Lenschau, Diana Korner, Gudrun Genest, Albert Bessler, Richard Haller, Ilse Page, Fred Haltiner, Peter Parten, Thomas Danneberg, Heinz Spitzner, Siegfried Schurenberg | Screenplay: Herbert Reinecker | Director: Alfred Vohrer | Cinematography: Ernst W. Kalinke | Music: Martin Bottcher | Producer: Horst Wendlandt