The Strangler Of Blackmoor Castle directed by Harald Reinl
It was back in mid-June 1967 when I — and millions of other baby-boomer boys, I have a feeling — first developed a crush on beautiful, redheaded Karin Dor. With the opening of the fifth James Bond blowout, You Only Live Twice, Dor, already a long-established actress in her native Germany (although few of us realized it at the time), was revealed to an international audience … one that could scarcely fail to be impressed by her turn as Helga Brandt, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agent No. 11, whose demise in Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s piranha pool is one of the series’ most memorable moments. Over the intervening 47 (!) years, this viewer has endeavored to see a lot more of Dor, but with only scant success. Her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz (1969), playing the brunette widow of a Cuban revolutionary, was easy enough to see, but other than that, I had to wait many years before finally seeing her in anything else.
Thanks to the DVD revolution, I was fortunate enough to catch Karin in the 1967 German film Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel (The Snake Pit and the Pendulum), released here in the U.S. as Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism, which costarred her opposite Christopher Lee in an exceptionally well-done and exciting thriller. And now, oh happy day, we have Karin in a much earlier role, appearing in the 1963 German thriller entitled Der Wurger von Schloss Blackmoor (The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle). This film comes to us today via those notorious underachievers at Alpha Video, but for a change, the DVD picture quality of this B&W affair is pretty darn good, although the dubbing is abysmally lame.
In the film, 25-year-old Karin plays a young reporter with the unlikely name of Claridge Dorsett, who lives with her Uncle Lucius (Rudolf Fernau) in the titular abode that they rent from its goofy, bird-watching, Scotch landlord. Though Lucius is about to become a peer, he is sorely troubled, as a masked, nine-fingered intruder has begun to enter the castle grounds, demanding a cache of diamonds that he claims Lucius once purloined from his parents. This masked intruder also has the nasty habit of strangling anyone who gets in his way and scrawling the letter “M” on their foreheads (an allusion to Peter Lorre in a classic German film of 1931, perhaps?).
It is soon revealed that Lucius does indeed have a hoard of diamonds hidden behind a blazing furnace in the castle dungeon, and that he is trying to sell them to the seedy owners of the Old Scavenger Inn strip club. But with the body count constantly going up, Lucius may be hard pressed to make his sale. Meanwhile, Inspector Mitchell of Scotland Yard (portrayed by Harry Riebauer, who looks like a cross between Mike Connors and ABC’s Charlie Gibson) surely does have his hands full, trying to catch the murderer and stop the killings…
Unlike the only other “krimi” that I have ever seen, 1961’s Dead Eyes of London, which had been based on a novel by the remarkably prolific English author Edgar Wallace, The Strangler Of Blackmoor Castle was based on a novel by Wallace’s son, Bryan Edgar Wallace. Though perhaps a tad less stylish than Dead Eyes, and lacking the distinctive presences of that film’s Klaus Kinski and grotesque Ady Berber, the 1963 picture still has much to offer. Director Harald Reinl (who was Karin’s husband from 1954 – ’68, and who later directed her in Torture Chamber) does a nice job of keeping the atmosphere moody and suspenseful, while the ultra-strange electronic score of Oskar Sala only adds to the creepy feel of the proceedings.
The story itself is a complex one that fortunately hangs together nicely, providing the viewer with many plausible suspects and red herrings, all of whom — the strip club owner, Lucius’ butler, Claridge’s fellow reporter, a crooked lawyer, that inane Scotsman, a blonde bar floozy — could conceivably be the killer. The film has a bare minimum of goofy humor, happily — Dead Eyes of London had sported quite a bit, mainly in the person of the sweater-knitting police inspector played by Eddi Arent — and boasts some well-done bits of nasty gruesomeness and spurts of action. In perhaps the most memorable of these, a wire strung across a country road decapitates Lucius’ motorcycle messenger (in a scene that was seemingly copied in the worst film of 2013, Ridley Scott’s The Counselor), after which our killer mails the head back to Blackmoor Castle in a box! The picture also dishes out an exciting indoor dukeout between Mitchell and the killer, an explosive sequence in which the killer uses a trail of burning gasoline to attack Mitchell’s squad car, and a nighttime chase through the swamps around Blackmoor, nicely shot by DOP Ernst W. Kalinke.
And as for our Karin? Well, she looks just fine (although her gorgeous red tresses cannot be appreciated in B&W, of course) and acts even better, although her character is a bit too much of a namby-pamby for this viewer’s tastes, essentially coming off as a helpless damsel in distress. (Granted, Claridge IS threatened in one sequence by a diamond-cutting tool held to her eye and in another is held at knifepoint … either of which is preferable to a dunking in a piranha pool, I suppose.)
Still, as I said of the Torture Chamber film, seeing Karin Dor in one of her difficult-to-see screen appearances was, for me, worth the price of admission alone. Now, if I can only track down a print of her following picture, 1963’s The Secret of the Black Widow, I will be an even happier man…