The German trailer:
Also entitled The Zombie Walks for its English-language release, Im Banne des Unheimlichen really has nothing to do with zombies, other than that the murderer of the film is referred to as a zombie in the sensationalist news reports written by one of the characters. An even lesser and weaker link to the traditional Haitian concept of a zombie is the occasional scene in a Caribbean restaurant – complete with waitresses that don't bat an eye or drop their smile when a live dove lands on their head – and another character whose garish green skin is attributed to both some sickness picked up on the islands and to the "fact" that he is Creole. Thus, anyone looking for a gut-munching zombie film is going to be sorely disappointed. But someone looking for an enjoyable tacky German krimi, on the other hand, might enjoy themselves with this little film.
According to the German-language Wikipedia page on Wallace films, Im Banne des Unheimlichen is the 31st of 38 films made in Germany after WWII that were based on Wallace books. It is one of 14 Rialto Wallace productions for which director Alfred Vohrer was to point the camera. The film is "based" – to use the word freely – on the Wallace novel The Hand of Power, though it would perhaps be more truthful to simply say that one of the alternative titles of the English-language release of the film, The Hand of Power, was taken from the Wallace novel. The plot and events of the movie, as supplied by Ladislas Fodor (born 28 March 1898 in Budapest; died 1 September 1978 in La La Land), who also supplied a number of the scripts to the popular German Dr. Mabuse series (including Im Stahlnetz des Dr. Mabuse / The Phantom Menace [1961 / trailer], Die unsichtbaren Krallen des Dr. Mabuse / The Invisible Horror [1962 / trailer], and Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse / The Terror of Dr. Mabuse [1963 / trailer]), as well as few other odd Wallace films, really has about as much to with the original novel as, say, years later the sci-fi James Bond film Moonraker (1979 / trailer) had to do with Ian Fleming's original book – in other words, nadda, other than a few character names.
The plot of Im Banne des Unheimlichen, as to be expected in a German Wallace film, is convoluted and senseless and laden with innumerable suspects, most of whom die one after the other, until the exciting finale when the remaining good guys and gals are barely saved in the nick of time, and the truly unexpected is revealed as the bad guy, the most logical assistant revealed, and all those evil pass onto another realm. In all truth, the action and twists and turns and red herrings fly by so quickly that it is pretty much pointless to even bother to try to solve the case yourself; instead, you should much better just lie back and enjoy some truly fun and crazy ocular events in almost LSD-intense color.
Indeed, the sets and color scheme, as well as general speed of events (or at least the speed in which one laughable scene flies to the next one) are the true joy of the movie, followed by the oddly ridiculous but nonetheless effective costume worn by the killer, the "Lachenden Leiche" (or "Laughing Corpse") – the titular "zombie" of the title The Zombie Walks – as he goes around doing his dirty deeds. Take a look at the office in which Inspector Higgins (the personable Joachim Fuchsberger, familiar from innumerable Wallace films and other fun stuff such as Die weisse Spinne / The White Spider [1963 / indiscriminate scene] and non-fun stuff such as Hotel der toten Gäste ) interviews Professor Bound (Edith Schneider) – isn't the furniture just the stuffed cat's meow? (Professor Bound is one of the negligible suspects on the sidelines, the writer of a book that tells of an untraceable poison, a book of which the only known singular copy [which is on the open shelves of the local library manned by no one other than Ewa Strömberg (of Vampyros Lesbos: Die Erbin des Dracula [1971 / trailer] and Sie tötete in Ekstase [1971 / trailer])] is stolen by the Laughing Corpse from the film's lead heroine – only to be sent to Prof Bond by mail the next day. An ice princess, she is, but not a murderess.)
To claim the sets and color scheme are the true joy of the movie is not, however, a veiled insult. OK, Im Banne des Unheimlichen is not the best of the Wallace films, but it is one of the more enjoyable of the technocolor burlesques of mid-period Rialto productions; the fly in the ointment is in some of the casting – or rather, the casting of the female heroine, Siw Mattson, as the reporter Peggy Ward. Mattson – like the sexy Lillemor "Lill" Lindfors, who not only sings the film's groovy theme song The Space of Today but also plays the singer and murder victim Sabrina – came from Sweden, which in itself is not bad, but regrettably both her acting talents and her character are. She plays the character Peggy less fun and independent than brash and obnoxious, and she quickly begins to annoy whenever she pops up. (I, for one, hoped that the Laughing Corpse would get her when he shows up in her bachelorette pad – but he doesn't.) Still, she does get a few good laughs now and then, particular in relation to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and enough other aspects of the film shine well enough to steal the shadow she casts.
One odd scene that Wallace-newbies or anyone who hasn't seen a lot of the films might find rather long is that at Scotland Yard between the secretary Miss Finley (Ilse Pagé), Inspector Higgins and Sir Arthur (Hubert von Meyerinck) in which they go on and on and on about the retirement of Sir John, but at the time the film was released, the scene was of importance: the popular character of Sir John (played by Siegfried Schürenberg) had been in 12 prior Wallace films, and his sudden departure needed explaining. (The truth was that producer Horst Wendlendt had Schürenberg written out of the franchise instead of giving him his requested raise in salary.) To give credit where credit is due, it was as a stroke of ironic perfection to cast an obvious three dollar bill – he proclaimed it openly, politically, towards the end of his career – as the new elderly skirt-chasing but equally incapable head of Scotland Yard.
Oh, yes, the plot. Let's see, at the funeral of Lord Oliver an unholy laughter suddenly sounds from his coffin which, although promptly dropped by the pallbearers, is nonetheless put in the family crypt unopened. One after another, everyone connected with Lord Oliver – the mortician, the family lawyer (Otto Stern of Der Hund von Blackwood Castle [1968 / trailer]), the blackmailing nightclub singer (Lillemor "Lill" Lindfors), the chauffeur of his brother Sir Cecil, Dr. Brand (Siegfried Rauch of Der Mönch mit der Peitsche [1967 / trailer]) – is being killed by a mysterious person dressed in a black outfit and wearing a death's head. Sir Cecil (Wolfgang Kieling, the former voice of Bert on the German version of Sesame Street) is convinced the killer is his dead brother Lord Oliver, but he won't say why – and indeed, not only does the Laughing Corpse kill his victims by poisoning them with the stinger of Lord Oliver's "missing" scorpion ring, but Lord Oliver's body is no longer in its coffin! Inspector Higgens (Joachim Fuchsberger) from Scotland Yard and the journalist Peggy try to get to the bottom of things even as the bodies drop around them….
All this and a character that has green skin. Groovy – but in no way serious, No matter how straight (almost) everyone plays their role.
To see some groovy lobby cards of the film, go here.
The English trailer: