‘The killer strangled his victim with quite ferocious might!’
A notorious criminal who has terrorised London for years finally meets his maker at the end of the hangman’s rope. However, when his body goes missing, and a woman is killed in a village nearby, people start to believe that state justice hasn’t been so effective after all…
Curious, black and white borderline Giallo from the early days of the genre, which only goes to demonstrate how unformed its conventions were in the early 1960s. Yes, we have an unidentified killer stalking the streets and a mystery to solve, but it’s all wrapped up in endless romantic intrigues and an unconvincing splash of pseudo-science thrown in at the climax.
The time: 1883. The place: London (or some still pictures of it, to be more precise). Super crook Martin Bauer is executed, and the populace breathes a collective sigh of relief. He’d been the scourge of the city for years. However, in a taste of things to come, the film doesn’t elaborate on his various crimes. All we find out was that he was known as ‘The Hyena of London’. A rather bizarre nickname, to be sure. The audience does get a kind of ‘Jack the Ripper’ type vibe about him though, so I guess that’ll have to do.
Despite the title of the film, we relocate to the neighbouring village of Bradford (in reality, some 200 miles from the capital!) It is much cheaper to film in rural locations, after all. No need to do any period set dressing in a wood. However, the action (such as it is) begins in the darkened streets of the village. A woman is stalked and killed by an unseen assassin. Her drunken husband, John Reed (Robert Burton, real name Mario Milita) is accused of the crime by local plod, Inspector O’Connor (Thomas Walton, real name Gino Rossi). Medical examiner Dr Edward Dalton (Bernard Price, real name Giotto Tempestini) is less convinced of the man’s guilt, but it’s his household that eventually provides the solution to the mystery.
His main headache is beautiful daughter, Muriel (Diana Martin) who’s in love with poor boy Henry (Tony Kendall, real name Luciano Stella). He’s been away for a while, although we never find out why he left or where he’s been. The two lovebirds are meeting secretly in the woods, actions mirrored by Tempestini’s dodgy assistant, Dr Finney (James Harrison, real name Angelo Dessy). He’s having some kind of clandestine affair with rich city girl Elizabeth (Claude Dantes), but he’s much more interested in heroine Martin. When an unidentified corpse turns up in the woods, it seems there’s a serial killer on the loose. Could it be that the Hyena of London has returned from the grave, or is the killer someone much closer to home…?
Despite its heroic efforts to appear as an American (or possibly English!) production, this historical thriller manages little more than to lull its audience gently to sleep with its slow and tedious story development. Proceedings are assembled in a flat, lifeless package by writer-director Henry Wilson (real name, Gino Mangini). Most of the time, the notion of a supernatural killer is almost entirely irrelevant, and the emphasis is placed instead on the less than riveting romantic entanglements of the main characters. The fact that Kendall gets banged up for trespassing on Tempestini’s property is a curious way to place him in the crosshairs of Inspector Rossi and only serves as an excuse to bring him into the frame as the possible killer. In the end, things are tied up in a hasty and incredibly lame conclusion that hasn’t been foreshadowed in any way and completely fails to convince.
The young Kendall went onto become quite the stalwart of European Cult Cinema over the following couple of decades. He’d already played the thankless ‘handsome hero’ role in Mario Bava’s creepy, gothic horror ‘The Whip and the Body’ (1963) and was only two years away from his first appearance as agent Joe Walker in the ‘Kommissar X’ series of Eurospy films. He also took time out to appear as one of ‘The Three Fantastic Supermen’ (1967) and as Western gunman Django in ‘Django Defies Sartana’ (1970). Further roles followed for Spanish director Amando de Ossorio in ‘The Loreley’s Grasp’ (1972) and ‘Blind Dead’ sequel ‘Return of the Evil Dead/El ataque de los muertos sin ojos’ (1972). There was also cheap and cheerful ‘King Kong’ knock-off ‘Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century’ (1977).
Elsewhere in the cast, there’s a welcome appearance by Luciano Pigozzi, playing a servant, and well on his way to assembling a credit list of Cult Cinema titles unrivalled by almost everyone in the business. Dantes also turned up in a supporting role in Mario Bava’s seminal ‘Blood and Black Lace’ (1964). Although she and Martin seem to be the only members of the cast not hiding behind Anglicised pseudonyms, the two actresses managed less than a dozen screen credits between them and, with no biographical information available, it’s quite probable that both of them were Italian as well.
It’s is hard to stir up much enthusiasm for a film where so little happens and, by the time the film limps to its weak conclusion, most of the audience are likely to have checked out.