Directed by: D. Harald Reinl
Written by: Ladislas Fodor and Gustav Kampendonk
Starring: Karin Dor, Harry Riebauer, and Rudolf Fernau
Reviewed by: Wes R.
“I shall make your life a hell on earth, until you give me what is rightfully mine.”
Before the giallo made its grand debut to movie audiences in Italy, a little-known sub-genre that preceded it was that of the German “krimi”. Krimis, much like giallos, were based on pulp crime novels, only from Germany instead of Italy. There weren’t quite as many krimis made into films, but the few that were made stand out as early precursors (some dating back to the 1930s) showing traits of what would later evolve into the giallo and eventually the modern slasher film. One of the standouts from this nearly-forgotten early stalk-and-slash sub-genre is The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle.
We open on a dinner party at the lavish Blackmoor Castle in which host Lucious Clark announces his soon-to-be knighthood. Soon after, a man is strangled in the courtyard by a gloved and masked madman. After the party, the masked stranger finds his way into the house and threatens Lucious Clark. The killer angrily tells Clark that if he does not give up a rare set of diamonds that are owed to him, that he will make things a “living hell” at the castle. When the groundskeeper’s body is found the next morning, the letter “M” has been written on the victim’s forehead. Subsequent deaths plague those associated with the castle, and each also has an “M” drawn on their forehead. Who is the strangler of Blackmoor Castle? What is the significance of the letter “M”? Is more than one person involved? Why are the diamonds so important to the killer?
The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle is an especially unique film. It sometimes plays like a cross between a film noir and a slasher film. To me, this is a very interesting combination. The killer in the film is especially devious. Despite the title, he has at his disposal such weapons as a diamond drill, a knife, and a gun. For a film made in the early 1960s, it has a fairly large body count and a surprising number of decapitations. In fact, one of the most over-the-top and slasher movie-esque moments of the film comes when someone is decapitated while riding a motorcycle. The killer had strung a wire across a bridge, catching the victim’s neck as he went speeding through. The death scenes are pretty bloodless, however (even the decapitations). Though the killings were somewhat edgy for their time, keep in mind this was still the early 60s. More extreme bloodshed in horror movies was just barely around the corner (Blood Feast, also released in 1963).
What really sets the strangler character apart from killers in other horror films is that he is essentially a blackmailer. One would assume that, if the diamonds were given to the killer as he requests, he would perhaps cease his murderous actions. Of course, giving up thousands of dollars in diamonds isn’t quite as easy as the killer would want. True to its krimi roots, the film also works great as a mystery. There are plenty of clues to ponder, plenty of suspects to mull over, and plenty of interesting one-by-one deaths to wade through. With plenty of clues and suspects, there are also many twists and turns involving secret loves, past crimes, and of course, stolen diamonds. By the end of the film, as with most gialli and slashers, there emerges a much different motivation for the killings than previously claimed by the strangler (and it just might have something to do with good old fashioned revenge).
Blackmoor Castle is such a great location for a horror movie. Old stone walls, creepy antique furnishings, secret passageways; One would think it’d make a great dwelling for a vampire and/or mad scientist, so it’s particularly interesting that it provides such a great backdrop for a mysterious masked killer to loom about. The audience is also treated to spooky graveyards, swamps, and underground catacombs. The cast does well with the material. I was especially impressed by the performances of Harry Riebauer (Inspector Mitchell) and Dieter Eppler (Clark’s eerie butler). At first, I thought all the male leads looked and sounded too much alike, but remembering that this is a mystery, this allowed for more potential suspects. Pretty much any of the male leads could have been the strangler. The frantic musical score by Oskar Sala is unique. It is rich in wild 60s synth sounds that range from goofy to foreboding. For the most part, the bizarre 60s synth worked, especially during the scenes with the strangler. As with many krimi films, The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle was based on a novel by King Kong author, Edgar Wallace.
The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle is an important and accomplished film in the history of the giallo and slasher films. Looking at it, it’s hard to believe the formula for the type of films we know and love was already firmly set in place years before, but it’s true. The killer is effectively creepy, the music sets a great, disturbing mood, and the film has enough gothic set pieces to keep audiences enthralled. It’s the type of fun black and white film that really gives you faith in the power that many older films still have, even today. So many older films, though we love them, don’t age all that well with time. Having seen The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle for the first time in 2008, I can say that with forty years under its belt, it stands the test of time. If you’re a rabid slasher or giallo fanatic and want to spend an evening discovering a truly effective rarity from the 60s, track down The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle. For the under ten bucks price that the DVD goes for in most places, it’s a highly recommended automatic purchase. Turn down the lights, hold a loved one tight, and prepare to enter the corridors of Blackmoor Castle. Just be sure to hide your diamonds first. Rent it!
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