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Die Bande des Schreckens (1960)

Like many German Edgar Wallace pictures, Die Bande des Schreckens begins by dwelling on capital punishment. Clay Shelton (Otto Collin), a Mabuse-look criminal patriarch, strolls into a bank to execute a brutal stick-up which misfires. Condemned to hang, his last wish is that various people involved in thwarting the robbery and trying him for the murder of a guard visit his cell just before the execution, whereupon he swears to reach from beyond the grave – clutching the air with his signature 'gallows hand' – to kill them all. Naturally, bodies start to fall – literally, in the case of a judge whose huge staircase collapses under him – and exhumation reveals that Shelton's coffin is empty save for some rocks and a list of his prospective victims. At the head of the list is Chiefinspektor Long (Joachim Fuchsberger), a high-born Scotland Yard operative (with a reputation for gambling which doesn't otherwise figure in the plot – though Wallace was a well-known turf man) who was about to go along with the wishes of his snobby father (Fritz Rasp) and quit the force for a more gentlemanly occupation but determines to stay on duty for this case. Whenever there's a murder, an apparent Shelton is glimpsed waving his gallows hand, but the body count plotting takes a detour as it turns out that quite a few of the apparent victims were actually Shelton's criminal confederates (two are his sons) and that they are still working on crooked business, mostly in connection with a large old house being turned into a hotel (an excuse to have a big hole in all the floors where the lift is supposed to go, so people can fall down it).

The horror elements are played up though the ghost is another master crook in a creepy death-mask – it's Mrs Revelstoke (Elisabeth Flickenschildt), an apparent witness who turns out to be the hanged man's widow and also sometime wife of the hero's father! Among the murder gimmicks is a hotel phone with a gun in the receiver that fires when the victim picks up and presses the talk button. After all the grotesque slayings, things get settled with serial-style fistfights. Karin Dor (Mrs director Harald Reinl) is again an imperiled and abducted heroine, Ulrich Bieger is another bogus respectable crook, Karl-Georg Saebisch switches from his Scotland Yard man of Der Rote Kreis to play twin murder victims, Ernst Fritz Furbringer returns as top copper 'Sir Archibald' and series regular Eddi Arent notches up another German idea of British comedy relief – a bowler-hatted photographer who has switched from wild life to police work but faints whenever he sees a corpse. Again, a British locale is conveyed by footage of London buses in Piccadilly Circus and lots of German lakes and villas, while all these English people drink unmilky tea.
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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