While much has been made of the stylistic ingenuity, excessive sexuality, and violence of the Italian Gialli, too often is that sensationalistic hybrid's debt to the earlier cinematic carnage of the Krimi either ignored or misrepresented. Adapting the plot conventions of the British mystery novel -- which itself often depended on the accumulation of seemingly disparate facts by methods of detection to discover the identities of violent criminals - with a more honest emphasis on murder, madness, and the ethereal thrills of properly evoked gothic/noir atmosphere, the German Krimi evoked a sense of raw naturalism in its approach to, and filming of, violence; it also exhibited a more profound interest in deviant psycho-sexual states that were often interwoven in disturbing nightmares of greed, butchery, and suspense. Focusing on suitably ominous settings whose decrepit states mirrored the fragmented minds of their villains, the Krimi is also notable for emphasizing the physical and psychological atmospheres of its characters.

Influenced, like the traditional cinematic/literary incarnations of the Giallo, on the re-printed mystery writings of such authors as Agatha Christie, Cornell Woolrich, and Arthur Conan Doyle, the cinematic Krimi is even more closely related to the plot-driven intricacies and somewhat restrained attitude of the British tradition than its more infamous cousin. Not afraid to slash blood, Krimis are more interested in evoking mood, provoking emotion, and staying fixed on stories whose exploitative yet tastefully managed thrills are supported by thematically mature sub-text. A popular success in Germany, the Krimi in its horrific heyday was as deeply entrenched in the psychological roots of the mind as its imagery embodied the subversive pleasures of violence and mystery. Often based on the sensationalistic, workmanlike crime novels of Edgar Lee Wallace (and later his son), the Krimi focuses on the motivation, enactment, and solution of ghastly crime. The major difference between the Krimi and Gialli are found in the presentation of their stories more than on the texts themselves. Whereas the Gialli focuses on bloodshed and deviancy, leering at violence and startling surface action - choosing, in fact, to emphasize the lewd in as graphic a manner as possible - the Krimi is often more concerned with story, deduction, and character than in sheer exploitation.

While there is certainly much overlap between the genres, both sharing and contradicting major thematic and stylistic elements of the other, perhaps the greatest commonality between the Gialli and Krimi is in its emphasis on the role of the individual, or more accurately, the place of perception in witnessing not simply crime but in helping entangle the mystery of the world and our place in it (amidst bloodshed and the macabre). In the Krimi, as in the Gialli, the focus is often on a character who by chance witnesses (or experiences) an atrocious crime which implicates him (or her) in a tangled web of deceit and terror. Focusing on style and plot more often than subtle nuances of characterization, the Krimi has courted both controversy and admiration for deviant characters and alternative POV. Specializing in convoluted plots, psycho-sexual imagery, offbeat characters whose shifting perceptions hold deadly secrets, and stylish excess, The College Girl Murders evokes the physical horror of physical death while celebrating it in wonderfully photographed color; at the same time, it evokes emotional terrors of betrayal, the modern world's sense of alienation, and the threat of loss.

Directing equal attention to carnage and reflection, this hybrid of various storytelling conventions offers disquieting style and atmosphere. Its convoluted plot and rash of red herrings lend believability and emotional energy to a clever, dark if unintentionally humorous plot. Focusing as much on the look and feel of the picture as the undeniably intriguing story, this fright film's voyeuristic tendencies neither glorify or condemn characters - they simply make love to the lush settings and outrageousness of the exploitable actions. As with much fine German cinema, a greater attention to place and emotional resonance appears to enliven the frame, with quasi-Gothic trappings contradicting with, yet lending greater effect to, the more contemporary attention paid to the study of the mind. There is a friction, a tension established and maintained between the gothic, decadent evils/aura of ancient history and the shockingly modern, which, despite its present-day external optimism, is violent, savage, and dreadful in a more deceiving, inward manner. The emotional game played between surface appearance and internal substance is furthered in the plot.

Director Alfred Vohrer works morbid magic with this Krimi based on a story by the aforementioned Wallace's novel. Known also by the more revealing title The Monk and the Whip, this peon to perversity features Sir John and Inspector Higgins, Scotland Yard inspectors embroiled in the mysterious deaths of luscious young lasses gassed at their college. When a comically 'mad' scientist creates a hairdo (yup, you heard me!) that murders its subjects, he tests his product out on his comely lab assistant before journeying to a cemetery to sell his product, where he is himself dispatched by a hooded monk decked out in psychedelic crimson, the later of which pops out to kill him. This fast-moving plot is hardly the most serious or dramatically rich but it is consistently entertaining as a thief hired by an unknown master escapes his prison for occasional killing sprees of local pretties. Hard and apathetic, he cares for nothing past the money he's paid for his services. This is just as disturbing as more sensational menaces, being more believable. College Girl Murders shares with Italian thrillers a love of the creative kill, employing such nifty devices as gas from opened bibles (who said religion was good for you?!), a laughably unrealistic looking futuristic zap-gun, and other moronic marvels.

Of course several red herrings and seedy characters (with obligatory hidden motivations) share the stage with the killer(s), including sexually rampant handymen and professors, the aforementioned Monk, and, perhaps the most notable character of all, his cracking whip! As much an unintentional comedy as an early precursor to the 'body count' movie, this feature focuses on the look of the action more than its plot-points. Less sensational than many of its counterparts, the story at least attempts (if often unsuccessfully) to wage deadpan attacks against social negligence, political corruption, and gender. Wile undeniably gimmicky, this Krimi-version of a James Bond programmer is hard to take seriously, but just as hard not to enjoy.

Presented with a surprisingly fine picture, the image is full frame, and while suffering from occasional scratches and grain, such problems are minor. Colors are pleasing and bold, capturing the atmospheric settings and characters in proper hues. Audio in mono includes an English dub, and while some scratching is noticeable, just imagine you're in a drive-in and you'll feel fine! Extras are light but enjoyable, including a photo gallery of stills and poster art from the German release. Dark Sky Films offers in this convoluted story of camp, carnage, and gadgets a psychedelic descent into delightful depravity and deadpan!

Review by William P Simmons

Released by Dark Sky Films
Region 1 NTSC
Not Rated
Extras : see main review