THE STRANGLER OF
BLACKMOOR CASTLE
West Germany | 1963
Directed by D. Harald Rienl
Starring
Harry Riebauer
Karin Dor
Dieter Eppler
B&W
| 87 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD(R0 - NTSC)
Alpha Video
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7
    4   10 = Highest Rating  
Film Review by Troy Howarth DVD Review by Brian Lindsey
A mysterious strangler stalks the mist-laden grounds of Blackmoor Castle, and it's up to an intrepid inspector (Harry Riebauer) to unmask the culprit...
   
In 1959, the release of Rialto Films' Edgar Wallace adaptation The Fellowship of the Frog let loose a flood of Wallace adaptations. Collectively known as krimis, the films form an important link to the development of the Italian giallo film (important early titles like Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace and Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage were co-financed with West German funds, and the latter was even marketed as a full-blown krimi in the German press), and like those wonderfully lurid thrillers they have developed a passionate fanbase of their own. By the early '60s, however, competing companies lured away some of Rialto's staff (including Frog director Harald Reinl and stars like Klaus Kinski) to make Wallace pictures of their own, before branching off to adapt some stories by the writer's prolific son, Bryan Edgar Wallace. (A note or two about the Wallaces, with acknowledgment to Wikipedia, before we proceed: While he is best remembered today as one of the writers of the original '33 King Kong, Edgar Wallace was, in his day, a best selling scribe on the level of Stephen King. His murder mysteries were immensely popular, and adaptations were soon mounted on stage before inevitably hitting the silver screen. Far and away the most noteworthy of the early film adaptations is the popular Bela Lugosi vehicle The Dark Eyes of London [aka, The Human Monster, 1939], itself later remade by Rialto in 1962. Wallace passed away in 1932, leaving his son, Bryan Edgar, to carry on his legacy into the 1970s. Bryan Edgar dabbled in screenwriting, as well, and his name would carry enough weight among mystery buffs to ensure a series of films adapted from his stories, too.)
    The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle (1963) is one of the last in a brief series of Bryan Edgar Wallace adaptations produced by Artur Brauner for his CCC Film Corporation. These films are, on the whole, more grim and downbeat than the sometimes tongue-in-cheek Rialto Wallace pictures, but they clearly didn't find as much popularity with audiences. While the Rialto films have a sense of stylistic continuity, the CCC films are more random and variable. They also lack the consistent use of character actors which give the Rialto films the feeling of a stock company of players while competently cast and performed, those familiar with the Rialto movies will likely find themselves missing the likes of Kinski (as the fishiest of red herrings) or Eddi Arent (Teutonic comic relief, usually cast as doddering Englishmen). Even so, Strangler emerges as one of the best in the series and a film worthy of inclusion among the best of the Rialto Wallaces.
    In the hands of director Reinl (the heir apparent to the great Fritz Lang, at least in the eyes of Brauner, who would entrust him with the continuation of the auteur's Dr. Mabuse series), the film moves at a good pace and has plenty of style and atmosphere. Reinl can generally be described as derivative be it of Lang or of Mario Bava, as in his Eurohorror pastiche, The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967) but that's not to say that his films lack appeal. They don't pretend to aspire towards being Great Art, but they do function as Solid Entertainment. Strangler shows him in very good form, and he attacks the material with rather more ferocity than he would in his sometimes tepid Rialto krimis. The absence of overt comic relief certainly helps, and it also deserves to be noted that he knows how to milk the most out of the various suspense sequences. There are a few surprisingly gruesome touches along the line, too, and if the final reveal feels a bit trite, the journey to it is more than engaging enough.
    Production values are quite slick, with Ernest W. Kalinke's black and white cinematography offering some memorable imagery. Oskar Skala's electronic soundtrack isn't as insanely imaginative as that of Peter Thomas for the Rialto krimis, but it functions well enough in context. The cast performs gamely, as well, with the lovely Karin Dor (You Only Live Twice) making for an attractive femme fatale and Harry Riebauer doing well enough as the square-jawed hero. All told, the film is well made enough to appeal to the uninitiated while offering enough Gothic atmosphere to win over the jaded krimiphile - T.H.

In Region 1 Land we're stuck with the Alpha Video edition of Strangler. Known for their eye-catching cover art and crappy A/V quality, Alpha at least does a better job than usual here and the disc's only 8 bucks. The transfer is mastered from a moderately worn, fullframe 16mm print; since the film's original AR is 1:66, compositions aren't unduly compromised. All in all, despite the generally soft, sometimes slightly fuzzy visuals, it's fairly watchable. (The blown-out opening credits look the worst.) A faint humming is occasionally present in the flat, muffled audio track, although the English-dubbed dialog is always clear enough. This title could really use a decent R1 release, preferably one offering a German language track with subs. - B.L. 12/13/08
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