“This is ridiculous! First he’s crazy, then he’s not crazy! Can’t you people decide once and for all?”
The Scoop: 1967 Unrated (as best I can tell, anyway), directed by Alfred Vohrer and starring Klaus Kinski, Harald Leipnitz, Diana Korner, Carl Lange, Albert Bessler, and Ilse Steppat.
Tagline: Fear will grip you by the throat when the evil hand KILLS… KILLS… KILLS…
Summary Capsule: A guy wearing a seriously nifty glove stalks around a moldering old mansion killing people. In other news, one out of every two Klaus Kinskis may or may not be nuts.
Deneb’s Review: I dig German genre cinema. I seriously do. There is just a disproportionate amount of the stuff that is really, really good. From the legendary likes of Nosferatu and Metropolis to hidden gems like the Dr. Mabuse series or The Adventures of Prince Achmed, there has just been a steady torrent of excellent fantasy, sci-fi and horror/thriller films gushing out of the country since the very earliest days of the artform. Mind you, they’ve slowed down a bit in recent years, but they’ve still got enough of a shining track record to make me go ‘hmm, that’s worth a look’ when I see German names on a movie. So far, they’ve rarely disappointed me.
One of the lesser-known innovations of German films (that is to say, lesser-known outside Germany itself, of course) is the subgenre known as Krimi. (I’m not sure exactly how this is pronounced – I’m guessing it’s either ‘kreamy’ or ‘krimmy’. I personally lean towards the former.) Krimi are distinctly German movies, with no non-German examples that I know of – and this is interesting, because the genesis of them came from Britain. In fact, one might call them some of the most British films ever made outside of Britain (and, for that matter, the English language).
The roots of Krimi, you see, lie in the works of one Edgar Wallace, a turn-of-the-century British writer. He was quite a prolific fellow, and a good chunk of his output consisted of mystery/thriller novels. These typically involved some variety of costumed villain or antihero, whose nefarious actions kick off labyrinthine plots that generally involve much running around London and pacing back and forth in Scotland Yard.
Now, for whatever reason, Wallace found a huge audience in Germany, and it was inevitable that the country’s film industry would want to exploit this. WW2 kind of put a halt to these plans, but by the late ‘50’s things were stable again, the books were still popular, and filmmakers had a chance to take the ball and run with it – and boy howdy, did they ever. For a good two decades, Wallace adaptations were being pumped out like nobody’s business. This sputtered out after the early ‘70’s, but the Wallace boom lasted long enough to create its own cinematic language and clichés – generally including a jazzy soundtrack that was vaguely in the same room as appropriate, a hard-bitten take-no-crap investigator from the Yard, and at least one highly distracting supporting character with an odd sense of humor who steals the scene whenever they pop up. From this heady stew, Krimi was born.
So with all that out of the way, what are we reviewing today? Why gracious me, it’s a Krimi! Are you surprised? I’m flabbergasted.
Anyway. Creature with the Blue Hand starts off in a courtroom, where Dave Emerson (Klaus Kinski) has just been declared guilty of murder. He’s also just been declared insane, so despite Dave’s frantic protestations, the judge orders him sent to the local loony bin, run by the sinister Dr. Mangrove (Carl Lange). (You can tell he’s sinister – he wears a monocle.)
He’s not there long, though, before someone basically hands him the key to escape on a silver platter. Who? Why? Heck if Dave knows – he’s just glad to get out of there. And thankfully Greystone Hall, the family mansion, is only a few miles away, so he knows where to go.
Naturally, the family as a whole are none too happy with him – that whole ‘insane murderer’ thing tends to stick in the craw, don’tcha know – but Dave thinks he can count on at least some help from his identical twin brother, Richard (also played by Kinski). When he gets to the Hall, though, Richard is nowhere to be found. We know he’s there somewhere – we just saw him – but when Dave looks for him, no dice.
Meanwhile, while he’s been looking, the plot has been thickening. He’s only been back in the house for a few minutes before another murder is committed – in this case, the asylum guard who’d been following him. Did he do it? We don’t know – we didn’t see the murderer’s face. All we did see is the murder weapon, a blue metal gauntlet with retractable knives for fingers.
This weapon, it turns out, is something called the Blue Hand, a weapon which used to belong to one of the Emersons’ medieval ancestors, evidently a rather fearsome type. (I’m guessing this is explained a bit better in the original novel; it’s all a tad murky here.) It just so happens that the Hand was something that Dave had been doing some research on before he’d been put away. And now that it’s resurfaced, it seems its new owner intends to put it to good (or bad) use, as the Emersons start dropping like flies at the hands of the killer. Dave swears up and down that it’s not him, but as he’s taken to masquerading as Richard in order not to be recaptured, we don’t know how far we can trust him. For that matter, is he masquerading as Richard, or is he, in fact, Richard masquerading as Dave? (Or , for that matter, could it be Richard masquerading as Dave masquerading as Richard – or, just to blow your minds, vice versa?) After all, we only ever saw Richard the once, as far as we know, and Dave does look exactly like him… Paranoia attack! Duck!
Before everything’s wrapped up, the Blue Hand will have killed multiple times, Dave will have confused us mightily with whether or not he is Dave, Dr. Mangrove will have proved himself just as shifty as his evil monocle suggests, Scotland Yard will prove to us all that they can solve a case regardless of whether their superiors are nitwits, and a good time will be had by all. (Well, except for the people who get killed, of course. That tends to be a bit of a buzzkill.)
All right, to start with, attempting to keep track of Creature with the Blue Hand’s plot is a quick trip along the path of folly. Not to say that it doesn’t have a coherent plot, but there are enough twists and turns and red herrings scattered about that one is liable to get terribly confused if one focuses too hard on it. My advice is to just sit back and wait for the inevitable “yes, it was him all along! Or her! Or possibly it!” denouement to clear all that up for ya.
Really, though, no one watches a Krimi for the plot. That’s not where their strengths lie – they lie instead in tone and imagery, and while Creature may not have these in quite as great profusion as some other examples of the genre, it nonetheless certainly delivers in that regard. Sure, the musty old mansion and creepy asylum and so forth are pretty atmospheric and cool-lookin’, but to my mind, nothing beats just one thing – the titular Hand. Ye gods and li’l kittens, that thing is cool! Mind you, it makes little to no sense as an actual medieval weapon, but trust me, you won’t care – it’s just such a wonderfully odd design. The rest of the killer’s outfit is pretty neat, too (a robe and cowl with a single small aperture through which one eye peers), but seriously, the Hand just rules. I want one! I want one! I’d never do anything with it, but I want one nonetheless!
Character-wise, it’s a little difficult to pick out good performances and such because CwtBH is only available dubbed, and it’s not a great dub, either. Mind you, such things were often standard with European films of the period (it aided with international distribution), but they were generally a bit more skilled at it than this.
That being said, it’s still pretty evident that Klaus Kinski is giving a much more subdued performance in the lead role than he normally delivers, which is really a little weird. I mean, this is Klaus Kinski – if you’ve heard of him at all, you’ve probably heard that the guy was a complete maniac whose roles were typically filled with ferocious energy – and he’s playing twins here, one or both of which may or may not be nuts. The possibilities for over-the-top rant-fests were epic. Instead, Kinski goes for more of a tense, controlled feel here, making Dave in particular (if it is him) a rather grim, bitter individual who is bound and determined to clear his name. Don’t get me wrong, it works, and I certainly have no problem with his portrayal of the character – I’m just not really sure why you’d hire a guy like Kinski for a role that didn’t require his particular brand of theatrics. (Actually, he does get off one nice bit of screaming at the very beginning, but that’s pretty much it.)
Kinski aside, though, the rest of the cast give a good enough account of themselves, even if most of them are just there to be killed off by the Hand. Carl Lange makes for a nicely slimy secondary villain as Mangrove, and while they don’t ultimately do much, Diana Korner and Ilse Steppat do at least leave impressions as Carl’s sister Myrna and his somewhat haughty mother, respectively. Additionally, Harald Leipnitz does a passable job as Inspector Craig of Scotland Yard, who keeps pretending he’s the movie’s protagonist (even if we all know it’s really Dave/Richard). The one who really stands out, though, is Albert Bessler as Anthony, the Emersons’ butler. He’s one of those “highly distracting supporting characters” I mentioned above – throughout the whole movie you’re never really sure whose side he’s on, and he meets virtually every situation with either a dry witticism or a masterful understatement. He’s a lot of fun. I like him.
So is this movie for everyone? Welllll, when you put it like that, no. As in several other films of its era that I’ve reviewed, the pacing is somewhat unhurried, and if you’re expecting a proto-slasher flick where people get offed every two minutes or so, forget it – the Blue Hand believes in quality, not quantity. Also, that mediocre dub really is pretty distracting until you get used to it, and while the characters aren’t exactly one-note, they do tend to pick a single character trait and stick with it.
Despite all that, would I recommend it? Yes, I certainly would. If you’ve got a bit of patience and are in the mood for a good old-fashioned melodrama, Creature with the Blue Hand can be a jolly good time. It’s not the best Krimi out there, or the most representative of the genre, but that’s a matter for the purists. It’s got a wisecracking butler and a killer with a thoroughly awesome weapon, and sometimes that’s really all you want, y’know?
(Oh, and if no airline has ever played a Krimi as an in-flight movie while en route from England to Germany, they totally should. I mean, how thematically appropriate would that be? Pretty. Darn. Appropriate.)
- Quentin Tarantino has listed this movie amongst his favorites.
- Creature was re-released in 1987 with added footage as The Bloody Dead. The new stuff largely consists of gratuitous gore scenes and filler, which are generally held to add precisely nothing of any interest to the movie unless you’ve just gotta get your fix of sub-par gore. For some reason, it was the Bloody Dead that got a DVD release – however, the original movie is also on the disk as an extra, so you can watch it as it was originally intended.
- Oh no – rats! Completely harmless and adorable pet white rats! Eek!
- When it was originally released, the twelve gunshots heard at the beginning of the opening credits produced twelve ‘bloodstains’ on the screen, which then produced letters that spelled out ‘Edgar Wallace’. On the DVD, for some reason, this is not the case – the shots and bloodstains are there, but the letters don’t appear. (At any rate, I for one recommend skipping ahead to the main movie at this point, as the credits roll over freeze-frames from the rest of the movie, some of which give a few things away.)
Dave Emerson: I’m not guilty! I’m not guilty! I’m not guilty! I’m not guilty! I’m not guilty! I’m not guilty! I’M-NOT-GUIL-TYYY!
Sir John: Don’t listen to a word he says, Inspector; I authorize you to offend anyone you like.
Anthony: (repeated line) Exceedingly odd, isn’t it, sir?
Asylum inmate: I’m a little mousey looking for a kitty-cat. Are you a kitty-cat?
Inspector Craig: Why didn’t you ever say anything?
Anthony: Because no one ever asked, sir.
Dr. Mangrove: It’s smart to hold on to at least one extra pawn in this kind of game.
Sir John: This is ridiculous! First he’s crazy, then he’s not crazy! Can’t you people decide once and for all?
Lady Emerson: Since when are you so edgy, Anthony?
Anthony: Ever since I came to this house… milady.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Fellowship of the Frog
- Phantom of Soho
- The Testament of Dr. Mabuse