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This was another last-minute inclusion in the ongoing Halloween Horror challenge, and one which also proved among the most rewarding viewings so far. I first knew of it from Leonard Maltin's *** capsule review in his esteemed "Film Guide", where the piece's TV origins ("Black Cloak" was actually the working title) and "one-of-a-kind" nature are mentioned. I was surprised to find it a period piece, but the end result still elicits a definite "Twilight Zone" feel while anticipating, in concept and abrasive hero (ideally cast Leslie Nielsen and, who, incidentally, has a midget for valet/assistant!), the "Kolchak" series from the early 1970s. Despite the obvious low budget at the director's disposal, the film evokes a flawless Gothic atmosphere throughout. The fascinating plot involves a "House Of Wax"-type disfigured 'monster' given an appropriately creepy make-up and played, of all people, by an unrecognizable Werner Klemperer of "Hogan's Heroes" fame! causing havoc in fog-bound San Francisco (the attacks are quite vicious for a film of this kind), whose dual identity is gradually disclosed. There is, however, a method to his madness: a calling-card is left at the murder sites in the form of a mystical spoke-wheel; the period between each killing gets proportionally smaller; while the victims are eventually revealed to have been involved in his back-story. The level of suspense (and action) is considerable especially in view of the film's very brief duration, a mere 59 minutes! notably Nielsen's own numerous brushes with the monster (including one in which the hero spells out his suspicions to the Police Chief after yet another murder unaware that the villain is still present in the room with them!). The final twist, then, is the icing on the cake with the tale having already reached a satisfactory conclusion, the script is seen to have one more ace up its sleeve. As can be expected, given the film's rarity, the print utilized could do with a restoration but, really, this is no more than a minor quibble, when all the various components had come perfectly together to produce a classy (and memorable) show.
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