The second krimi to be made for Rialto by director Harald Reinl, Die Bande des Schrekens / The Terrible People begins much where his first, The Fellowship of the Frog, had ended, as the mysterious master criminal Shelton who has hitherto run rings around the police is captured at last.
In case anyone doubts that we're really in London, England
Gunning down a policeman in a desperate bid to escape Shelton is sentenced to death by hanging. Facing the executioner in prison, Shelton seems remarkably calm, indicating that he will have his revenge on those present and the others he holds responsible for his death.
The hanged man's revenge?
Believing Shelton's warnings to be nothing more than an idle threat, Inspector Long (Joachim Fuchsberger) is about to resign from the force and take up a job in his father's Lord Long's bank.
Two things put paid to this plan.
The first is the Inspector's promotion to Chief Inspector, received on account of his bringing Shelton to justice. The second – far more important – is the question of whether Shelton, who apparently took his own life with poison to cheat the hangman, is in fact dead as a series of apparitions and accidents ensue.
Not believing in ghosts, Long orders the exhumation of Shelton's body, revealing a coffin filled with bricks and a hit list of targets, some already effectively crossed off and the remainder including himself and beautiful young bank worker Nora Sanders (Karin Dor, Reinl's wife at the time).
Though things get somewhat bogged down at this point with a confusing number of characters and subplots and a locked room mystery as another victim is somehow shot in the head in his hotel room – the various individuals having been gathered there to better allow Long to protect them whilst contuining the investigation – they pick up for the third act with a suspenseful game of cat and mouse between hero and villain(s) in the latter's trap-laden hideout.
Shelton's appearances and disappearances are well executed
If there is perhaps already a sense of deja vu about some of the characters and situations, the more Mabuse-like figure of Shelton provides Reinl more scope to play Langian games than the Frog did, pointing the way towards his actual Mabuse films, whilst the introduction of Eddi Arent's soon to be patented comic relief figure – here a police photographer who habitually faints at the sight of blood or a corpse – points the way forward for the Rialto series as a whole. (Arent had appeared in Der Racher, but it was not a Rialto production and proved to be a one-off from Kurt Ulrich Studios.)
Visually the film presents an advance on its predecessor, with some pronounced expressionist touches around the phantom Shelton's brief appearances in the shadows and / or fog, various chiaroscuro effects and some attention-grabbing but nevertheless restrained compositions alongside the elegant dolly work.
The good-humoured Long responds to the phantom's note by correcting his rank to Chief Inspector
There are also some repeated visual motifs such as the frequent Langian clocks – Reinl tellingly overlaying the first with his credit and cutting away from it at the exact moment of Shelton's intended execution – and the sudden appearance of a noose before the hangman in an ironic reprise of the noose he had placed before Shelton. (Reinl's way of introducing the nooses into the frame is also somewhat reminiscent of Leone's in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly)
The process shots, featuring racing cars and speedboats, are less satisfactory unless we work on the possible but unlikely seeming premise that this was intentional on Reinl's part, as a way of giving the film more of a 1920s or 30s feel, or of further drawing attention to its filmic nature beyond Arent's character. (Here it's worth remembering, however, that some of critics who would likely have taken Reinl to task here may well have been more sympathetic to the equally obvious process work in Hitchcock's Marnie, indicating the difficulty of drawing a clear distinction between bad filmmaking and Brechtian distanciation.)
Shelton as Mabuse
Heinz Funk's score is more experimental than its immediate crime-jazz predecessors, featuring some suitably disquietingly weird timbres and effects alongside the more usual suspense cues.
There is no ende gag yet, nor any Hier Spricht Edgar Wallace, though the Goldmann's novel is specified – nummer 11 in the series.