Like a lot of folks who are reading this, I grew up on "Scooby Doo" reruns and a large portion of my personal aesthetic is informed by the spooky, acid-colored grooviness of these cartoons. I'm inclined to think that my fondness for thrillers where deliberate weirdness outweighs internal logic comes from early and frequent exposure to the world of Shaggy and company.
"The College Girl Murders" (the German title of which is *way* superior, translating to "The Monk with the Whip") brought great glee to my black little heart by hearkening back to the days of eating sugary (and, ideally, monster-themed) cereal in front of Hanna Barbera mysteries. Set in contemporary-at-the-time-of-filming England, the plot revolves around a pair of detectives tracking down a mysterious murderer who is using poison gas to knock off pretty young students at an all-girls' college. At the same time that these murders are occuring, a spectral monk in a peaked red hood is roaming the moors, snapping the necks of hapless victims with a long bullwhip. You're feeling the cozy bliss of pure genre convention goodness here already, but I'll sweeten the pot by telling you that alligator pits, murderous lechers, and circus performers figure in the plot as well.
The film is part of the German krimi cycle based on the novels of Edgar Wallace. Characterized by an English setting, outrageous plot devices and traditional motives (revenge, money, greed, inheritance, etc.), the movies tread territory that is familiar to audiences of serial mystery stories. There is a strong sense of the Gothic in these tales, with castles, fog, suspected supernatural influence and women in distress present throughout. There are surface similarities with gialli, but the mood and tone are lighter and the film techniques far more conventional. Also, what sexuality exists is superficial at most--there are bikini-clad college students and allusions to parties with drink, dancing and perhaps necking, but the steamy and kinky aspects that define a giallo are absent.
Director Alfred Vohrer creates a creepy atmosphere throughout, employing strong shadows and saturated colors in a manner that evokes Mario Bava. Nighttime and dramatic scenes are lit strongly with blocked-out shadows, and the lair of the mysterious mind behind the crimes is a world of monster-green foreboding.
Performances are creditable if stylized--but within a logical universe where the above-described elements come into play, a touch of stylization is more than permissable! The detectives running the investigation, Joachim Fuchsberger's Inspector Higgins and Siegfried Schurenberg's Sir John, have an entertaining on-screen chemistry with not-insignificant humor derived in the conflict between Higgins' logical approach and Sir John's "psychological" one.
The UFA PAL print is gorgeously presented, with saturated colors and a wonderful crispness. I can't testify to the quality of the NTSC print available from Dark Sky that is Netflix'able, but the movie is a ton of fun and highly recommended for Euro-thriller fans.