Kinski Watch XX: Neues vom Hexer (1965, Alfred Vohrer)

Neues vow Hexer  is certainly one of the better Edgar Wallace krimis. All things considered, and a few drinks in, it is even a rather entertaining affair, with an early death from Klaus Kinski's character, a bearded and relatively tame Eddi Arendt, some ridiculous (and in one case, cringe worthy racist) high-jinks with the Hexer duping the police by wearing masks, and enthusiastic direction by Wallace veteran Alfred Vohrer. It is pure camp, it is oftentimes silly but Neues vom Hexer has a lot going for itself.

For those (most) of you who don't know, the Hexer (literally "sorcerer" in English) was a clever murderer in Der Hexer, a previous hugely popular Edgar Wallace krimi. He escaped to Australia at the end of the film. In this sequel, the wealthy Lord Curtain is murdered by his nephew and his butler (Kinski). They use the Hexer's modus operandi and leave his business card at the crime scene. Which brings back to mind that before there were omnipresent surveillance cameras, DNA traces and "mentalists" who can unmask killers by simple mind games, there used to be a time when criminals in movies would leave a card at the crime scene to brand their mischief. I remember distinctly several films from the 1950's and 60's I watched with my mother, who loves krimis, as a young kid where this was the case. It obviously left a strong impression on me because this simple detail brought back a lot of film watching memories from my childhood. In Neues vow Hexer, the titular character decides to fly back to London with his wife and Butler in order to prove his innocence.

What ensues are Edgar Wallace histrionics at their best. Heinz Drache plays his Inspector Wesby with all the arrogance, phony wittiness and misogyny he can possibly muster and Rene Deltgen as the Hexer is asked to make a fool of himself repeatedly but does so with a gleeful insouciance. Vohrer, who's oftentimes childish visuals have already been the highlight of many previous Wallace entries, does his job well and gives us several striking shots that mystify but ultimately stay with us (a room filled with men sleeping with a newspaper unfolded over their faces anyone?). During shooting, the director fell ill and had to be replaced by Will Temper who apparently quickly lost interest and was ousted by assistant director Eva Ebner and cinematographer Karl Loeb. As far as I could tell, the film didn't suffer from it significantly. I kept trying to spot sequences that seemed less lively than Vohrer's signature style but couldn't make out any.

Kinski, donning scruffy facial hair for this film, phones in his performance and is done with it by the halftime mark, when he is shot to death by Inspector Wesby. But we get one fabulously ludicrous scene at the very beginning, when the camera slowly pushes in on a coffin that magically opens to reveal Kinski lying in it. A man approaches him and Kinski sits up, smiles and utters: "It fits!" It's quintessential Edgar Wallace: it goes for the shock factor that grabs one instantly, it doesn't make any sense, it's vaguely poetic, and it never figures into the final denouement. Edgar Wallace krimis are a lot like American Horror Story at the moment: it's a collection of attention grabbing moments without a core. But in both cases, that can be enough for an entertaining viewing experience.


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