This class will explore the German krimi film, or Kriminalfilm, a genre of West German crime thrillers inspired by the novels of British mystery writer and King Kong creator Edgar Wallace. Began in the late ‘50s with Der Frosch mit der Mask (The Fellowship of the Frog, 1959), made in partnership between Danish production company Rialto Films and West German distributor Constantin Film, krimi films somewhat made up for the lack of a robust postwar national horror cinema in Germany. Though the krimi are not strictly horror films, they feature a madcap blend of genres: horror, crime, mystery, and police procedural, with elements of fantasy and science fiction, resulting in an often surreal mashup of genre tropes.
The popularity of these films led to dozens being produced throughout the ‘60s, with 32 films in the official Rialto series and more spin offs from other production companies. In general, these films follow a simple format inspired by the crime serial of silent filmmakers like Louis Feuillade: a detective, generally from Scotland Yard, is hot on the trail of a criminal mastermind and must wade through an outlandish sea of potential suspects. Often, the antagonists are masked or costumed members of a criminal conspiracy whose motivations are sex, drugs, blackmail, or cold hard cash; sometimes the krimi plots take on a more gothic cast and feature revenge, dark family secrets, and madness. Red herrings and fake identities abound, and many of these films borrow from literary “locked room” mysteries, where the crime committed seems physically impossible, or follow a similar format as future slasher films, where characters in a fixed location are killed off one by one.
With their lurid violence and macabre humor, and shadowy, fog-drenched sets in an imaginary London or in spooky castles replete with secret passageways, the Kriminalfilm is an important but relatively unexplored subgenre. Perhaps this neglect is due to the death of home video releases for English language audiences, but the krimi represent a vital stepping-stone: they are effectively the bridge between German Expressionism and film noir, and later horror subgenres like the Italian giallo film and Eurohorror of the ‘70s. This class will explore the importance of the krimi as a stepping-stone, while also examining the evolution of the series and its relationship to and influence on the horror genre. Though they retained common themes and shared stock characters—often embodied by beloved cult actors like Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski—krimi plots would become increasingly lurid and pulpy as the series wound to a close in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, directly influencing the Eurohorror of the ‘70s.