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  Creature with the Blue Hand A double dose of Klaus Kinski
Year: 1967
Director: Alfred Vohrer
Stars: Harald Leipnitz, Klaus Kinski, Carl Lange, Ilse Steppat, Hermann Lenschau, Diana Körner, Gudrun Genest, Albert Bessler, Richard Haller, Ilse Pagé, Fred Haltiner, Peter Parten, Thomas Danneberg, Heinz Spitzner, Siegfried Schürenberg
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: As the court finds young British aristocrat Dave Emerson (Klaus Kinski) guilty of murder, he furiously protests his innocence. His family watch sadly as police drag him away. Almost everyone including family matriarch Lady Emerson (Ilse Steppat), cousins Robert (Peter Parten) and Charles (Thomas Danneberg) and Dave's identical twin brother Richard (Klaus Kinski again) believe his history of psychotic behaviour left his fate inevitable. Yet his pretty cousin Myrna (Diana Körner) still believes he is innocent. Imprisoned in an insane asylum run by the shifty Dr. Mangrove (Carl Lange), Dave manages an absurdly easy escape after someone shoves a key under the door to his cell. Thereafter a sinister hooded figure with a bladed blue glove murders a nurse then graduates to offing members of the Emerson household. Is Dave out for revenge?

By 1967 future art-house superstar Klaus Kinski was a cult figure among cinephiles. Film buffs came to relish his bug-eyed cameos in various spaghetti westerns, Eurospy thrillers and, of course, the Edgar Wallace crime-horror hybrids that were a huge draw in Kinski's native West Germany. Der Blue Hand (re-christened Creature with the Blue Hand for its American release) gave fans two Kinskis for their buck. Our boy Klaus got to play both his customary ranting loon and the, dare one say, dashing but wronged hero on the run. Ah, but which was which? Adapted, very loosely as one would imagine, from Wallace's short story 'The Beast', the wildly convoluted plot does not stand up to close scrutiny. Lacking a clear focal point it pulls in many directions. Yet no matter how illogical the story grows, seasoned genre pro Alfred Vohrer keeps things rattling along nicely so that the film functions on a fever dream level, set-piece by set-piece. Vohrer (who also appears as an actor in a significant role) stages scenes that function alternately as camp or disarming pulp poetry (e.g. a character dies while playing his own requiem on an organ). Drawing equally from Britain's Hammer horror films, Mario Bava and lurid pulp fiction the colourful visuals conjured by D.P. Ernst W. Kalinke weave a groovy gothic ambience. Like the best of Bava's films the Edgar Wallace krimis are horror comic books brought vividly to life. The scene where the hooded villain with the metal claw menaces a scantily-clad Myrna in her bedroom could have sprung straight off the pages of an Italian horror fumetti.

While tortured Dave Emerson is arguably the chief protagonist, the actual detective work falls to Edgar Wallace series staples Inspector Craig (Harald Leipnitz) and Sir John (Siegfried Schürenberg). The latter as always bemoans the lax morals of 'today's youth' while hypocritically lusting after his pert young secretary Mabel (Ilse Pagé). These semi-comic characters are the series most distinctive element, providing a cosy comic counterpoint to an otherwise lurid and pulpy affair filled with, what were for the time, graphic murders, sex, nudity (a running gag at Dr. Mangrove's asylum has Sir John repeatedly peep on female inmate who is a compulsive stripper) and kinky plot twists. The krimi films relish the Britishness of Edgar Wallace's pulp world. They juxtapose the quaint world of the quasi-Victorian murder mystery with its haunted aristocrats, ancestral curses, shifty man-servants and chases through fog-shrouded streets with the mod fashion and permissive attitudes of Swinging London (sexy Diana Körner lounges photogenically to beguiling effect).

Harald Leipnitz is the weakest of the actors that portrayed the stock role of the detective, lacking the authority of older stars like Horst Tappert in particular. He is easily outshone by a brooding and charismatic Kinski and Siegfried Schürenberg's buffoon act although it is worth noting his Sir John is far shrewder and more capable in this particular outing. The one up side to the lack of a focal point is the film allows a myriad of characters to shoulder the mystery. Diana Körner as the resilient Myrna and Gudrun Genest as a brave but doomed nurse acquit themselves very well in this regard and the film keeps the viewer guessing as to whether they will survive. Körner later made a brief but notable appearance in Stanley Kubrick's period epic Barry Lyndon (1975). Her veteran co-star Ilse Steppat, who is equally strong, passed away in 1969 sadly a few months after what would prove to be her most famous role, that of murderous SPECTRE henchwoman Irma Bunt in the James Bond classic On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

On the downside the film's depiction of people with mental health issues is both dated and offensive. Still it is worth noting the brief, almost blink and you'll miss it scene, where Myrna is rescued from a mob of asylum inmates by a clearly rational, compassionate women evidently imprisoned because of her sexual orientation. Also even at this early stage the series was guilty of lazily recycling motifs. The plot serves up yet another hulking, bald, half-blind henchman. Even so Vohrer compensates for the odd deficiency with lively scenes including a climax with the heroine trapped in a dungeon filled with snakes and rats. He also manages to keep viewers guessing as to the identity of the mystery mastermind right up till the end.

For fans of grindhouse cinema the story behind Creature with the Blue Hand's release in the United States is perhaps as fascinating as the film itself. Trash movie mogul Samuel M. Sherman, the producer behind many of Al Adamson's films, acquired the American distribution rights whereupon he sold the film to Roger Corman's New World. Corman, savvy as always as to what would play for the American market, added the word 'creature' to the title then released the film on a double-bill with Eddie Romero's Filippino-American horror Beast of the Yellow Night (1971). Then in the late Eighties, Sherman prepared a new version for release on home video under the new title: The Bloody Dead with added gore and extra footage. Shot twenty years later in New Jersey of all places the new scenes involved a nurse played by Australian actress Denise Coward, make-up artist Ed French and a couple of obese cannibal inmates. Sherman also beefed up the glove murders with gory inserts and moved the opening sequence with Klaus Kinski in the courtroom to later on. Interestingly the proposed video release in the late Eighties was cancelled because a Mafia-owned VHS bootlegger released the title at the same time! Sherman's version of The Bloody Dead eventually made it onto DVD complete with enlightening audio commentary from the veteran producer-distributor himself.


Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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