Every Saturday in August, Brennan Klein will be subbing in for Summer of Blood by exploring a German krimi film from the 1960's.

Now that we've skipped straight from the krimi subgenre's inception to the middle of the boom, let's stop and smell the roses for a while in 1964. This weekend we're taking a look at one of the most well-known entries of the month, if any of these movies could reasonably be considered "well-known" in 2019. It's Das Phantom von Soho (The Phantom of Soho), from director F.J. Gottlieb (whose other krimi include The Black Abbot and The Curse of the Yellow Snake, though he also directed the fabulously titled Die Slowly, You'll Enjoy It More)

This particular krimi is not based on an Edgar Wallace novel, but rather a work by his son Bryan Edgar Wallace. His books weren't used quite as frequently, but they had already been adapted into German films several times including The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle (a 1963 picture by the ever-prolific Harald Reinl, who directed our two previous krimis) and Scotland Yard vs. Doctor Mabuse (also from 1963, a film which grafts an iconic German franchise villain onto the skeleton of his novel).

So The Phantom of Soho is breaking our chain in two ways. We're exploring a work from a different author and a different director, though admittedly both were clearly imitating the work of their predecessors. I think the immediately apparent result of this difference is that for the first time this month, the film in question is immediately recognizable as a slasher. The film is still concerned with the comings and goings of the criminal element of London and their interactions with the Scotland Yard, but the serial killer whodunit is front and center, forming the backbone of the entire plot.

The killings in question take place around a seedy Soho den of ill repute known as the Sansibar, run by the wheelchair-bound crime boss Joanna Filiati (Elisabeth Flickenschildt). Somebody in sparkly golden Michael Jackson gloves is running around in the shadows stabbing people in the heart, something Joanna is trying to keep quiet, so as not to draw attention to her ring of prostitution, insurance scams, and other plain and sundry dirty dealings. Unfortunately for her, Scotland Yard is on the case, specifically Chief Inspector Hugh Patton (Dieter Borsche). Even more unfortunately for her, crime novelist Clarinda Smith (Barbara Rütting) is dogging him to let her tag along on the case, and the more he refuses, the more she seeks to prove herself an even better investigator than he is.

Along comes a twisting tale of red herrings, double crossings, long-buried secrets, and your general murder mystery claptrap. It's actually amusingly similar to the plot of Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, when it all comes down to it. This is probably because Phantom of Soho is flavored by noir concentrate, with its look and themes much more beholden to those American crime pictures than the other krimi I've seen. This movie drowns itself in high key black-and-white atmosphere, with cigarette embers lighting dark corners of the grimy street, and pale white disembodied faces peering around corners in harsh contrast with the dim London fog (the looming silhouettes on the wall are pure Germany, at least).

In general Gottlieb seems to have a lot more to prove as a director than Reinl, who usually just steps back and lets the story take center stage. Phantom of Soho has very muscular direction that desperately wants to shove in your face how cinematic it all is, and this usually works. There are shots from odd angles (including from inside a phone cabinet) peppered throughout and the killer's POV is almost kabuki-like (the killer's hands are always seen in frame approaching the victim, one holding an impossibly shiny knife, the other contorted into a sparkly golden claw).

Notice I say "muscular" and not "competent." There is certainly some valuable material in Soho (especially a scene involving a knife-thrower where the camera spins with the woman on the wheel to create almost unbearable tension), but for the most part it seems like a ploy to distract you from how terrifically dull the goings-on of the crime plot are. There aren't any particularly interesting characters to get a foothold in this time (Joanna has the potential to be a memorable vamp, but she isn't given enough room to ramp up to full scenery-chewing glory; the only other character worth watching is the gargantuan beehive hairdo teetering atop one of the dancer's heads), and the high body count necessitates a large ensemble to nibble away at the time we get to spend with everybody else. It's not Friday the 13th: A New Beginning levels of diluted, but it doesn't waste valuable seconds with mundane stuff like giving characters a personality.

Unfortunately, given the cinematic scruples of the time, the kills aren't outré enough to spice up the proceedings either. There's not a drop of blood in any of the six stabbings we see, and they're all staged in the exact same brutally repetitive way. That way being dangerously reminiscent of the worst kill from Friday the 13th Part 2, where Lauren-Marie Taylor quivers and cowers and refuses to run as a stunt man slooooowly approaches her with a knife waggling in front of the camera.

That's two Friday the 13th references in two paragraphs, though. Maybe that's just the way my brain works (guilty as charged), but maybe that's because Phantom of Soho is as pure a slasher film as these krimi were ever likely to get. That's nothing to shake a stick at. The fact that this movie from the depths of international cinema a good decade and a half before Jason graced the silver screen could be this similar to a formula that hadn't even been invented yet proves that slasher historians like me have a lot more to work with than you could ever believe.

And I suppose I shouldn't close out this review without a quick glance in the direction of the killer's reveal. This was the first one I out-and-out guessed from Act 1 (mind you, I still have no idea which white guy was the killer in Fellowship of the Frog), which reduces the impact of the mystery plot even further. And the killer's motive is of such a grim, depressing origin that it hardly feels worth it to explore that avenue. But at least I can rest comfortably in the satisfaction of being right, which is really the big reason to watch whodunit movies in the first place, isn't it?

Body Count: 8; 6 by being stabbed in the heart, one by hanging, and one by cyanide pill

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 that he produces for the Blumhouse Podcast Network.