‘These pieces are anatomical. I get them from the hospital to carry out my experiments.’
A small town by the Rhine in Germany becomes the scene of a series of horrific murders. Fearing for their charges, the headmistress of a local finishing school for girls hires a hunter to kill the wild beast that everyone believes is responsible. However, he’s happier spending time with the strange, green-eyed woman who he meets down by the lake…
Rather messy, unsatisfying Euro-Horror from Spanish director Amando De Ossorio, who enjoyed his greatest success as creator of the ‘Blind Dead’ series. Those stylish horrors featured the murderous exploits of a band of Knight Templars coming back from beyond the grave in glorious slow motion. Here, he takes a crack at the myth of the Lorelei (spellings vary), a female beast who tore the hearts out of sailors and bossed a crew of sirens on the banks of the Rhine. Sadly, despite popular belief, the tale isn’t really a myth at all, having its origins in a ballad composed by Clemens Brentano as recently as 1801 and popularised by a Heinrich Heine poem just over twenty years later. So the character actually has no origin in folklore at all but that didn’t stop De Ossorio trying to tie it in with the epic tale of Siegfried, the legendary dragon-slayer.
At first, things develop along fairly predictable lines. A young bride-to-be is slaughtered when a strange creature smashes its way into her bedroom the night before the wedding. The killing is pretty gory as the victim has her heart torn out, and De Ossorio doesn’t skimp on the claret. As a result, hunter Tony Kendall gets the gig of guarding the local girl’s school, an appointment that doesn’t meet with the approval of uptight teacher Sylvia Tortosa. Just for once it would be nice to see a film where the roguish charmer and the stunning ice-maiden don’t end up making goo-goo eyes at each other before the final credits roll but, predictably enough, this isn’t it.
The course of true love doesn’t run smooth, though, as Kendall starts a thing with the mysterious Helga Liné, who favours a skimpy dark-green bikini with tassels and hanging around in damp places. Although we suspect this relationship is not going to end in a church wedding and Sunday morning trips to the garden centre. De Ossorio’s script also throws in a scientist researching cellular mutation, a torch bearing mob who give up after a couple of minutes, a blind violinist who seems to know more than he’s telling (he doesn’t), and the Lorelei getting all gnarly and eating hearts during a cycle of seven full moons (is she a werewolf then?)
In puzzling developments, Kendall is the reincarnation of Siegfried (I think!) and a trio of sirens wrestle for his affections. The mayor admits they should ‘probably start an investigation’ after his town suffers the fourth brutal murder in as many days. Where are the police? I have no idea. Still, we can leave it all to Kendall who rocks a white suit, rifle and motorbike combo, following up with a bare chest and blue & white striped flared trousers that he stole from a fairground.
The girls at the school show some skin at the swimming pool, fawn over Kendall, and form an orderly queue to be the next victim while poor Liné freezes her bits off attempting to exhibit grace and poise gallivanting about half naked and barefoot on a muddy lakeshore. Toward the climax, the Lorelei (Loreley?) talks about spending eternity with Kendall in Valhalla (perish the thought!) but, hang on, isn’t that Norse mythology anyway? Finally, everything comes to a rather soggy and abrupt conclusion, courtesy of everyone wanting to get back inside in a hurry where it’s nice and warm.
It’s fair to say that De Ossorio’s strengths were in his visual style, rather than his scripts, but even that seems to have deserted him here. There are a few good shot compositions (particularly the landscape down by the lake) but, most of the film betrays little of his talent in that regard. Together with the hopelessly muddled storyline, there’s more than a little flavour of a project hurried into production before everything was ready. The tale had been tackled on the big screen before (a 1927 German silent) and it has potential, but sadly this is little more than a mash-up of old horror tropes and half-formed ideas.
De Ossorio returned to his ‘Blind Dead’ series, the second of which ‘Return of the Evil Dead’ (1973) also starred Kendall in the lead. In fact, several of the cast appear in both films and, as locations in and around Madrid are another common factor, it’s quite possible that the two projects were shot back to back. If so, it’s pretty obvious where De Ossorio’s heart lay (and even the attentions of the Lorelei couldn’t change his mind!)
Arguably, Kendall and Liné both left their best days behind them in the previous decade; Kendall as James Bond wannabe ‘Kommissar X’ and Liné in other Eurospy projects and two films featuring supervillain ‘Kriminal’. Having said that, the German-born actress remained very active in Spanish film and television until 2006. Although less regularly employed, it’s pleasing to report that Tortosa is still working, and is currently attached to a forthcoming project starring Alexander Siddig; familiar to ‘Star Trek’ fans for his regular role on ‘Deep Space Nine.’ And who can forget that she took a ride on the stylish ‘Horror Express’ (1972) with Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and a wildly overacting Telly Savalas?
Not a terrible film by any means, but one that squanders a potentially interesting idea and delivers instead an occasionally entertaining but rather generic experience.