Monday, June 18, 2012

REVIEW: Der Schwarze Abt

Der Schwarze Abt
Director: Franz Josef Gottlieb
Year 1963

Der Schwarze Abt, AKA The Black Abbot, is a moody Krimi film that relies on its interesting characters and outstandingly spooky locations to set the tone for this exceptionally well done horror/thriller hybrid. The long list of characters that pop up within this narrative make for a wonderful “whodunit” scenario, and the intertwining and backstabbing between the various participants makes for some fun viewing that never loses its luster as the bodies begin to pile up. With its palpable atmosphere and intriguing story line, Der Schwarze Abt is a Krimi entry that rises to the “Kream” of the crop.

The film takes place at a spooky estate which is plagued by a haunting specter called the Black Abbot. This hooded ghoul stalks the grounds of the abbey, looking for people greedy enough to step onto the property and attempt to uncover the mysterious treasure that lies within its underground labyrinth. Even with the presence of this murderous ghost, a long line of guests find themselves drawn to the treasure including the owner of the estate Lord Chelford, who will stop at nothing to keep his inheritance safe. Who is behind this black cowl of death and is the treasure real or is it only a legend? Only the Black Abbot knows… Mwahahahaha!

Joachim Fuchsberger plays the role of Dick Alford, the cousin and caretaker of Lord Harry Chelford’s estate. Plagued by the love of Chelford’s fiancé Leslie Gine and concerned over the diminishing mindset of his cousin’s mental state, Alford is overwhelmed with trying to keep the families estate under control. Joachim does a fantastic job with the character and he does a great job of walking the fine line of whether he is in it for the fortune or for the sake of the family. This is the third Krimi film that I’ve seen that had Joachim playing in a starring role and, like his acting in both Zimmer 13 and Der Hexer; he does an amazing job with the brooding material. His character in Der Schwarze Abt is quite different from those other two films, for in this one he plays the character in a serious vein. While his performance might be toned down from his others, Joachim still is able to project that charm that is so entertaining to watch up on the screen.

The rest of the cast does an equally commendable job in both entertaining with their diversity and engaging with their manipulative efforts. Grit Boettcher plays the role of Leslie Gine, the object of many of the men’s affections in this film, including Lord Harry Chelford played by Dieter Borsche, Fabian Gilder played by Werner Peters, and the already mentioned Dick Alford played by Joachim Fuchsberger. Other stand out performances can be attributed to Charles Regnier who plays Detective Puddler, Eddi Arent who in typecast form takes on the role of Horatio W. Smith the eccentric detective, and Klaus Kinski who plays the sneaky butler named Thomas Fortuna. The cast of Der Schwarze Abt is absolutely wonderful and they’re able to handle the delicate and intertwining connections between each other filled with betrayal, blackmail, and murder.

As with most Krimi films, the thematic overtones of Der Schwarze Abt is a hybrid beast comprising of one part horror, one part thriller, and one part crime drama. Der Schwarze Abt does an amazing job of balancing all of these elements without making them feel like a jumbled mess. The gothic black and white imagery is as beautiful and haunting as they come and the inclusion of the underground labyrinth with its endless catacombs is such a visual treat that just keeps on giving each time we are reacquainted with it. In multiple instances, a character would venture down into the tombs, gifting the audience with another amazing location that hits the mood of the film right on the head. What makes these sequences so enjoyable is that they are filled with secret trap doors and puzzles to solve, making the intricate nature of this treasure and its secrets all the more enthralling as we delve deeper into the mystery.

Just as the underground labyrinth and its tunnels are interesting, the above ground locations of the abbey are as equally captivating as its underworld counterparts. Ancient stone archways jut out across the foggy landscape, while overgrown brush and weeds hide the faces of lurking trespassers as they watch each other scheme and plot under the light of the moon. The location is just perfect for this kind of tale, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more suitable area to shoot this sort of film in. The elaborate estate oozes a history that begs to be discovered and this concept thrives within this narrative, mirroring the obsessed nature of the characters of the film as we watch them embark on their individual quests for glory and unimaginable riches. Der Schwarze Abt is definitely a film that uses its haunting location for all it’s worth, as it chokes its audience under an oppressive veil of gothic delights and atmospheric frights.  

Der Schwarze Abt is an immensely enjoyable Krimi film that relies on its potent atmosphere and opportunistic characters to push the story along. With an abundance of visual style and a particular penchant for gothic detail, the movie knows how to create a mood and it goes all out in its execution. An expansive estate, a slew of haunting vistas, and an endless underground labyrinth can all be seen in this impressive Krimi entry that begs you to plunge into its foreboding world and soak it all up. If ever there were a more perfect location for a movie like this, I’ve never seen it.

What really makes this film enjoyable though is the inclusion of an outstanding cast of characters that really liven up the surroundings with a multitude of back-stabbings, double-crosses, and multiple murders. The legend of the Black Abbot that weighs heavy over the narrative of this film is quite brilliant and the presence of this black hooded specter gives way to some hair raising moments that thrive in that visually interesting way. With its gothic trappings and overwhelming imagery, Der Schwarze Abt is a captivating Krimi film that uses all of the genre’s thematic concepts and turns out a spellbinding whodunit tale where anything goes, including the lives of many of its characters. This film is an…..

My what beautiful eyes you have Black Abbot.

Black Abbot! You back-stabbing bastard!

I've got my eye on you mister.

Check it out! It's the smallest pencil in the world.

You hang up... no you hang up. That Kinski.

I don't like your piggly features.

Hey Abbot!

Hold it right there you sneaky Abbot.

Looks like pig season is in.

Get that towel off your head..... Ass.


Sir, may I take a toke?

This dude is scared out of his mind. Literally.

Looks like the Black Abbot has got a hurtin turd.

My word, I've never seen a turd that big. Marvelous.

Pig-man sad.

The crew was captivated by the discovery of an ancient egyptian hidden porn stash.

Eddie Arent and his wacky antics. Oh Eddie.

You'll never get me gold you bastards!

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