The opening minutes of this 1972 krimi gave me a strong sense of deja vu: Hadn’t I seen it before?
I hadn’t, with my impression being down to the fact that the film uses the same Bryan Edgar Wallace source as the first of producer Artur Brauner's CCC krimis, The Mystery of the Black Suitcases some ten years earlier.
The mystery of the that title is somewhat clarified by this film’s own title, the corpse of the English and Spanish titles title referring to the fact that several people have been murdered by the knife-throwing death-avenger of the German title.
The walls are closing in
But while the hotel’s Soho location is familiar, the way director Jess Franco presents it is not. He doesn’t bother giving us stock location footage and Big Ben’s chimes in a vain attempt to convince us that this really is London we’re seeing, not Spain.
Making the camera operator work for his money
Although Scotland Yard are soon introduced, in the form of Inspector Rupert Redford (Fred Williams), the film as a whole continues to do things very much its own way:
While krimi regulars Siegfried Schurenberg and Horst Tappert are among those present, they’re both cast against type. Schurenberg plays a drug smuggler rather than a Scotland Yard higher-up, Tappert a decidedly enigmatic and ambiguous figure.
Nor is there a romantic subplot between the Scotland Yard man and the ingénue in danger that ends in their inevitable marriage. And while the final confrontation does take place in dungeon-cum-laboratory there’s a conspicuous lack of dozens of armed regular uniform police.
All this is perhaps to be expected given that this is a Franco film. While undoubtedly familiar with the krimi universe (the name of his most famous character, Dr Orloff, derives from the 1939 version of Dark Eyes of London, remade by Rialto as Dead Eyes of London in 1960) the director has always tended to approach the business of adaptation very much on his own terms.
Into the void
The thing that makes the film interesting as a Franco film, meanwhile, is its visual style. There isn’t a great deal of zooming. But there are numerous striking images and some stunning compositions - a Welles-inspired shot of two characters in an infinity of mirrors, a Bava or Argento style staircase spiralling into the void, a studied use of colour and its selective absence - all beautifully captured by cinematographer Manuel Merino.
A definite curio.