Every Saturday in August, Brennan Klein will be subbing in for Summer of Blood by exploring a German krimi film from the 1960's.
Well, here we are. It's the final week of our Summer of Krimi and we've reached the end of the line. The subgenre that started that fateful day in 1959 when the Germans first adapted Edgar Wallace with Fellowship of the Frog spanned about ten years and over 70 titles. 1968's Der Gorilla von Soho (AKA Gorilla Gang) wasn't the last krimi, but it may as well have been. The rapid rate of the cycle slowed to a trickle in 1969, and after a few last gasps (including a couple Italian-German co-productions like What Have You Done to Solange? and Seven Bloodstained Orchids, both in 1972), the krimi gave way completely to the Italian giallo films.
Before we begin our wake for the krimi genre, I want to take note of a company that has been present in the background of this entire month. Rialto Film kicked off the boom with Fellowship and went on to lead the krimi charge, pumping out 32 Edgar Wallace pictures across the 60's. Their presence so dominated the marketplace, in fact, that of the five films we covered this month, only one (The Phantom of Soho) was not produced by Rialto.
But even the best can get tired, and even though Rialto was behind it, reateaming with Creature with the Blue Hand director Alfred Vohrer, Gorilla Gang is... lacking. Although an element that has always been present in the krimi is their B-movie charm, this one really tests the limits of suspension of disbelief, presenting a killer dressed in a full gorilla suit wandering the streets of Soho.
This gorilla is a costume worn by the leader of the Gorilla Band, a group of gangsters that has been dormant since he suffered severe Freddy Krueger facial burns. But now they seem to be back in action, and isn't it just the mightiest coincidence that all the people they're killing are millionaires who have all left their life's savings to the same charity? Inspector Perkins (Horst Tappert) of the Scotland Yard is on the case, along with his lazy comic relief sidekick Sgt. Pepper (Uwe Friedrichsen). And if you couldn't figure out how he got that name, there is a poster for The Beatles prominently displayed during a key scene. They are joined by African languages expert Susan McPherson (Uschi Glas) to decipher writing on a baby doll that was shoved into one of the victims' pockets.
The trio's investigation leads them to the spurious charity owner Mr. Parker (Albert Lieven), a prostitute at a local den of iniquity/nude photography studio named Cora (Beate Hasenau), and a nunnery/baby doll manufacturer run by Mother Superior (Inge Langen) and her brick scheiße-house of a right-hand woman Sister Elizabeth (Hilde Sessak). Needless to say, it all gets a little convoluted. And I haven't even mentioned the scene where the men investigate a mask-maker who turns out to be Susan's mother, but isn't the one who made the Gorilla suit so it's unclear why they showed up here in the first place. I don't even know, things just start happening in this movie. I'm but one man, it's a lot to keep track of.
I'll just come right out and say it. Even though Gorilla Gang has a lot of individual elements I admire very much, it's just not worth the time. As you can see the plot is rife with incident but impenetrable, and there's not even an exciting reveal because we know who the killer is from square one and there's never the slightest doubt toward his identity, only his motive. On top of that, the characters are smooth and featureless. They might as well have cast the water probe from The Abyss in every role for all that these milquetoasts are giving us. The only interesting characters are the comic relief, and that's only if your definition of "interesting" includes "atomically noxious." There are two "jokes" given to certain characters that are repeated ad nauseum in the exact same rhythm and the movie sees fit to end with both of them in a chilling duet.
First, Sgt. Pepper really doesn't like to work. He's constantly trying to sneak off at 5PM or take a two hour lunch, but he gets caught by Inspector Perkins moments before he's free. It's the height of hilarity, I know, but just you wait. It gets better. Sir Arthur (Hubert von Meyerinck), their boss at the Scotland Yard, is in an affair with a prostitute who has the voice of Minnie Mouse, and she keeps barging into his office asking if he's ready for their date yet. The exact same line, twice per scene, in at least three scenes. The laffs just keep on coming, don't they?
Usually these movies are divided into two parts: the plot bits and the murder bits. The plot bits are obviously exhausting, and the murder bits (while varied and numerous) don't really pick up the slack. The gorilla costume is a delectable, silly image that is mildly delightful, but there's no energy to any of his murders. Their slack and anti-climactic staging betray that maybe - just maybe - director Alfred Vohrer was running out of ideas in his FIFTEENTH krimi.
There are only a couple shots that reveal we are in fact watching a film from the same director as the wonderful Blue Hand. A shot from below a man hanging in an elevator shaft as his fingers are being burned with a cigarette provides a punch to the only murder sequence that could be considered "brutal," and I genuinely love the cheesy final shot, where an elevator dial spins to a floor number that reads "Ende" (the German equivalent of ending a film with "Fin"). It's cheeky and fun in a way the rest of the movie utterly fails to be.
In the interest of providing a textbook example of "damning with faint praise," if you're interested in any part of this movie whatsoever, I recommend you check out the opening credits. The colorful title cards dance across rippling water to jazzy 60's music, practically clambering over one another in their eagerness to be read. It's a frenetic sugar rush of a credits sequence, the best of a month of films with pretty consistently fun openings.
So, there's that. Now it's time to bid you adieu and thank Tim once again for trusting me to take up the mantle of his Summer of Blood while he recuperates from having actual grown-up things to do. I hope you've all enjoyed this as much as I have, and thanks for reading!
Body Count:10; 2 strangled, 1 by elevator shaft, 2 more by falling, 1 by hit-and-run, 2 by gunshot, and 2 unclear
Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. You can find his other work on his Dread Central column applying film school theory to silly horror movies, and his blog Popcorn Culture where among other movie reviews, he is running through every slasher film of the 1980’s. Also check out his podcasts, Scream 101, where he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror franchises, and Attack of the Queerwolf!, an LGBTQ discussion of horror classics.