Peggy Ward (Siw Mattson) is a reporter for the London Star. Her assignment is to take pictures at the funeral for Sir Oliver Ramsey. Among the attendees are his brother, Sir Cecil (Wolfgang Kieling), Mr. Merryl (Otto Stern), the family lawyer, Dr. Brand (Siegfried Rauch), the head of the cottage hospital and Adela Pim (Claude Farell), the hospital head nurse. Presiding over the funeral is the minister, Mr. Potter (Hans Krull). His wife (Renate Grosser) plays the organ. The proceedings are interrupted when a maniacal laughter comes from the casket. After everyone regains their composure the funeral proceeds and Sir Oliver is laid to rest in the family crypt.
It doesn’t take long for rumors to start circulating. Perhaps Sir Oliver isn’t really dead. A few even say he’s a zombie. His brother Sir Cecil, whose health and mental stability is rather delicate, begins to think he is being haunted by Oliver’s ghost. Oliver was reportedly killed in a plane crash. His watch was found but not the scorpion ring he wore. Later that night Mr. Merryl is killed by someone wearing a skeleton costume and sporting Oliver’s poison scorpion ring. Peggy finds his body and calls Inspector Higgins (Joachim Fuchsberger) at Scotland Yard. Higgins begins his investigation but Merryl is only the first in a long line of victims that are being killed by a skeleton masked man who is being called the Laughing Corpse.
Next to be killed is Sabrina (Lillemor Lindfors), a singer at a nightclub. Sabrina was blackmailing first Oliver and then Cecil. Meanwhile Higgins finds that the two victims were killed by a blood clot from an unusual Aztec poison. The only book on it was taken out by Peggy the reporter. Before Higgins gets to her apartment she is attacked by the zombie and the book is stolen. Higgins and Peggy end up working both together and at odds investigating the murders but they are running out of suspects.
“The Zombie Walks” AKA “Im Banne des Unheimlichen” AKA “The Hand of Power” was released in 1968 and was directed by Alfred Vohrer. It is a German crime film, also known as a krimi and was based on the novel “The Hand of Power” by Edgar Wallace.
Although it is a murder mystery there is quite a bit of black comedy threaded throughout the film. Between that and the rather uplifting sixties music the film seems less serious and a little bit like a romp. That’s good because the plot is a twisted pretzel with tons of suspects and a succession of murders that happen at a dizzying rate. But such is the world of Edgar Wallace. The more of his stories you’re exposed to the more his style is revealed.
Krimis themselves were usually not as dark as noir or as sex riddled as gialli. The detectives in them weren’t exactly hardboiled and they weren’t always the sharpest tool in the shed either. All of that can make for a rather entertaining film. Krimis, like any other subgenre, sometimes are an acquired taste. I find them mostly enjoyable and something a little different than Italian or American crime stories.
One of the delightful things about this film is the killer. Wearing a black ulster coat and top hat he is dressed in a skeleton outfit with a mask where the hinged jaw actually opens. Looking like a cross between Jack the Ripper and Lon Chaney in “London After Midnight” 1927 it is actually a cool looking killer. He’s also sporting a large ring with the raised outline of a scorpion on it. With the flick of a hidden switch the tail flips up and the needle sharp tail is full of mysterious Aztec poison. He’s really one of the best mysterious serial killers I’ve seen in a long time.
Throw in a green Creole, a ballet dancing Chief Inspector and a musical interlude and you begin to wonder if this is really a murder mystery or a variety show. The voice of the Laughing Zombie was done by director Vohrer.