Based on the works of British crime novelist Edgar Wallace, the Danish/German cinematic movement known as “Krimi” is a group of highly-stylized, incredibly psychedelic “whodunit’s” that were unquestionably the forbearers to the much lauded Italian Giallo. Probably due to the fact that the genre is sadly overlooked in the US, I haven’t experienced a Krimi until now. If Alfred Vohrer’s The Zombie Walks is any indication of the movement as a whole, I have a hell of a lot of catching up to do!
At a funeral for the wealthy Sir Oliver, a shocking uncertainty is uncovered: he may not be dead. As the pallbearers begin to carry the coffin out of the church, a maniacal laughter rings out, and there’s no doubt among Sir Oliver’s friends and family that it’s his laugh. Sir Oliver was a well respected person in his community, happily donating money to the local church and hospital, and as such a reporter named Peggy Ward is at the funeral service. When she reports on the occurrences, a scandal sweeps the town as everyone becomes paranoid about “The Laughing Corpse”.
Sir Oliver’s brother and heir to his estate, Sir Cecil, believes his brother is indeed alive and out to get him. His fears are realized when his lawyer turns up dead, slain by a man dressed in black wearing a skeleton mask. His weapon of choice is a ring in the shape of a scorpion, which holds a potent amount of venom that is untraceable. Scotland Yard is quickly called into action to investigate, led by Inspector Higgins. He has a tough job ahead of him, with countless colorful characters to interrogate, a reporter that can’t seem to keep her nose out of his business, and a rising body count that shows no indication of slowing down. Who is “The Walking Zombie”?
The Zombie Walks, simply put, drips with style. Taking the core elements that we’ve come to associate with the Italian Giallo, the gothic aesthetic of Spanish horror, and the panache of psychotronic cinema like Mario Bava’s Diabolik, any fan of cult film-making will have an absolute ball with this. There’s also bizarre, albeit quite interesting choices made throughout the film that have little to do with the overall plot, but are striking nonetheless. One in particular is a restaurant where neither the staff nor the customers seem to care that doves and pigeons freely fly around the establishment; a bird even chooses a waitresses head as a perch and she doesn’t miss a beat! There’s also one character that is painted green…why? Well, you’ll find out at the tail end of the film, but for 80 minutes you’re just expected to accept it as just another quirk of the weird fantasy world the filmmaker has transported us to.
All of the action pops off the screen thanks to the vibrant, drug-induced color design used in every square inch of the frame, from the characters clothes, the sets, and the amazing lighting; even the outdoor scenes covered in fog have a dazzling bluish-purple glow to them. The lighting is phenomenal, making even drab, gray crypts enchanting to look at. The film moves at a breakneck pace, with some sort of action, may it be another murder or the uncovering of a clue, seemingly occurring every few minutes. This helps the film constantly feel fresh, avoiding the pitfalls of some movies of this nature that draw things out in the name of suspense or mystery (and generally failing). This is one film where you’ll never find yourself looking at your watch.
The mysterious killer, decked out in a glow-in-the-dark skull mask, a sweet bolero hat, and a scorpion ring tipped with poison is a hoot, and an extremely compelling villain. Fans of the Turkish comic book hero Kilink (or Umberto Lenzi’s seemingly forgotten Kriminal) will likely instantaneously draw parallels between the look of the skull-faced menace. It’s all a little hokey, but the coolness of the character can’t be denied, especially watching him as he slinks around in the shadows and fog, as well as the cool blinking-red lighting cues that indicate his impending presence. The nature with which the mouth moves on the skull mask, as well as the accompanying sound of raspy breath is particularly effective.
So I’ve established that The Zombie Walks is a wonder to look at, but what about the plot? Well, it’s involved to say the least. There are more than 10 characters to keep track of, and doing so quickly spirals out of control. Being a whodunit, the film throws a ton of players at you in rapid succession, attempting to throw you off the scent of the true killer. Outside of a handful of these characters (like the bumbling chief of investigations), none of them are very distinctive, and it’s easy to forget who did what and why. It doesn’t help matters that some of their names are similar, like Dr. Brand and Professor Bound. It’s all quite messy, and I envy anyone that can make total sense out of the proceedings. Luckily though, the sensory overload that’s being delivered to your brain will probably have you too hypnotized to care.
The Zombie Walks is the epitome of “style over substance”, and while that’s not always a good thing, it works here marvelously. While I rarely found myself fully grasping the convoluted plot, I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen and the incredible visuals lulled away any frustration I may have had otherwise. If you dig Italian Giallo, gothic-themed Spanish horror, or any type of cinema that exudes über-style, The Zombie Walks is exactly what the doctor ordered. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more Krimi’s to watch!
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