I am a Krimi virgin no more! ZIMMER 13 has popped my cherry. Krimi (which simply translates from German as, unsurprisingly, crime or crime thriller) were the forerunner to the Italian giallo and, in turn, the American slasher movie. They were the wildly popular (in Germany at least) adaptations of the crime novels by British writer Edgar Wallace. His books – invariably set around Scotland Yard, smog filled London or the English countryside (looking suspiciously like the Rhineland here) – fetishished England whilst satisfying the conventions of the crime caper as well as German farce.
If you thought Scooby Doo had invented the secret passageway or the dastardly villain, think again! The grounds around Marney Castle (looking every inch Teutonic and not in the least like it is situated in dear old Blighty) is rocked by the razor killing of a woman as a train screams past her in the countryside nearby. Robert Marney (Walter Rilla) – the owner of the castle and a respected MP in the Houses of Parliament – is puzzled that his razor (engraved with his monogram) has gone missing. He is even more perturbed that he is visited by the ner-do-well Joe Legge (Richard Häussler) – a criminal type he knew twenty years ago when his wife shockingly committed suicide. Legge insists that it is imperative that Marney meets him at the 'world renowned' Highlow nightclub in Soho – in room 13.
Fearing the worst, Marney hires the skills of the best private detective in London: Johnny Gray (Joachim Fuchsberger). The dapper playboy Gray visits him, and almost mistakenly shoots dead Marney's beautiful daughter, Denise (Karin Dor) – who, judging by the portraits liberally sprinkled around the castle, is the spitting image of her dead mother.
In a cavalier mood (a mood which prevails), Gray decides to go undercover and takes Denise to the Highlow club. However, whilst they are there one of the strippers has her throat cut by an unseen assailant with a cut throat razor as she leaves the stage. Meanwhile, Legge is up to no good in a secret room hidden behind room 13; planning the country's largest ever train heist ...
As with all proto-slashers, if you expect the film to follow what we now acknowledge are the conventions of the slasher movie you will be disappointed. In reality, ZIMMER 13 spends more time on the conventional crime caper than it does on the the psychodrama. However, especially given its vintage, there are a couple of jolting moments: including the murder of the stripper; not only does she briefly flash her nipples, but also her airborne arterial spray is far more graphic than you would expect in a film from this time.
The thriller elements are solid, if a little hokey: all secret passageways and arch looks. However, the gas chamber trap in a car must have raised a few eye brows with the end of World War 2 not being that distant a memory! The identity of the killer (which is strung out until the end like all good thrillers) is a cinch to work out – especially as they have their own kooky musical cue whenever they are alone.
The broader, more clichéd, aspects are accentuated even more by the fact that it is all artifice. Not only are the locations patently not in England, the fact that this is Germany's idea of what England was like at the time adds to the fantastical feel. Add to this the exaggerated nature of the crimes and the dastardliness of the villains and it becomes even more so.
Of course, part of the touted charm of the Krimi is that its tongue is always planted firmly in cheek. And it is the comic relief (and I use the word advisedly) that'll either have you smirking or scowling. Only one character – here the forensics officer Mr Higgins (Eddi Arent) – is really played for laughs (being more Jerry Lewis than CSI). Whether he's declaring undying love for his blonde mannequin, Emily, or accidentally studying the fishnetted toe of a showgirl with a magnifying glass, his pratfalls lessen the tension. However, if truth be told, it never becomes too farcical – although the scene where they realise a murdered stripper is an undercover agent because she's wearing official Scotland yard knickers comes close!
Whilst never particularly thrilling, ZIMMER 13 is a fun way to spend 85 minutes – and a good introduction to the slightly dog-eared charms of the Krimi.
female:4 / male:7
1) Female slashed to death
2) Female has throat cut with razor
3) Female killed (method unseen)
4) Male shot dead
5) Male shot dead
6) Male shot dead
7) Male shot dead
8) Male shot dead
9) Male shot dead
10) Male shot dead
11) Female slashes throat