In London arch-fiend Kriminal (Glenn Saxson) is led to the gallows as Inspector Milton (Andrea Bosic) of Scotland Yard toasts the demise of this notorious globe-hopping thief and murderer. Whereupon a phone-call informs Milton of Kriminal's miraculous escape (the film does not bother to explain how). After eluding the police skeleton-costumed Kriminal moves onto his next daring caper. This involves seducing his soon-to-be-remarried ex-wife Margie Swan (Maria Luisa Rispoli) as a means of infiltrating an elaborate insurance scam concocted by wealthy jeweler Lady Gold (Esmeralda Ruspoli). He discovers the latter entrusted a valuable necklace and its fake decoy to identical twin sisters Inge and Trude (both played by gorgeous Euro-horror star Helga Liné). With a vengeful Inspector Milton in hot pursuit, Kriminal beds then murders multiple women unfortunate enough to cross his path before flying to Istanbul. There he clashes with scheming nightclub owner Alex Lafont (Ivano Staccioli) whilst attempting to relieve lovely Inge of the necklace. Which proves easy because, according to this movie, all women are stupid and deserve to die.
Trust Umberto Lenzi to deliver a comic book adaptation not only episodic, uninvolving and dull but seeped in misogyny. In Lenzi's defense Lucciano Secchi's Kriminal was not the comic book he originally wanted to adapt for the screen. He settled for Kriminal only after Italian mega-producer Dino DeLaurentiis bought the rights to Diabolik and Lenzi's second choice Satanik proved similarly unavailable. Nevertheless the surprise box-office success of Lenzi's film paved the way for a whole cycle of fumetti-based films including Mister X (1967), Danger: Diabolik (1968), Satanik (1968) and Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamun (1968) as well as a slew of Turkish rip-offs. At that time in Italy Secchi's controversial creation stood at the forefront of a regrettable vogue for comic books where costumed criminals seduced, tortured and murdered sexy women in increasingly nasty and gruesome ways. Much has been said by cultural commentators about the Italian disdain for the supposed 'fascistic undertones' in American superhero comics and movies, yet there is something unsettling about how easily they embraced home-bred ultra-violent antiheroes by comparison, only two decades after the collapse of fascism.
Lenzi, while no paragon of good taste as anyone who has seen Cannibal Ferox (1981) can tell you, claims to have balked at the character's excesses. Indeed he clashed with Secchi over supposedly 'softening' Kriminal away from the crypto-fascist thug depicted in the comic into a 'lovable' rogue. Yet such deviations from the source are not apparent in the movie. As portrayed by walking plank Glenn Saxson (screen name for Dutch actor Roel Bos), Kriminal is amoral, alarmingly callous and exhibits no qualms about taking innocent lives. Compare with Mario Bava's screen adaptation of Diabolik which tempers the excesses of its source material by drawing its super-criminal as a playful anti-establishment type. Bava's suave antihero is more taken with the thrill of the chase than senselessly maiming innocent bystanders. One's enjoyment of Kriminal depends largely on how invested you are in watching a loathsome, self-serving shit-bag slap women silly before they melt into his arms. Unintentionally or not, Lenzi ends up reinforcing the casual misogyny inherent in the source material, drawing his female characters as either venal older women or sulky young nitwits. All easily outwitted by our blandly handsome antihero. While Kriminal skeleton costume is an indelible image, Saxson/Bos lacks the charisma to leave much of an impression without his mask.
As a stylist Lenzi naturally pales by comparison with Bava. Or even Jess Franco in the underrated Lucky the Inscrutable (1967). He does not even try to evoke much of a comic book sensibility beyond kitschy pop art opening-and-end titles. For the most part the film relies on location footage of Swinging London, Madrid and Istanbul to provide whatever meager atmosphere it has. Surprisingly low on action, Kriminal plods through a succession of talky travelogue scenes. Lenzi seems to think he is making a Tom Ripley movie by way of James Bond as a tuxedo-clad Saxson saunters through various hotel resorts and casinos to dull effect. Just when things seem to be heading towards a fittingly ironic comeuppance the film cops out with a jokey comic book coda. By the third act most viewers will be itching to see Inspector Milton put a bullet in Kriminal's smug face but, well, there was a sequel: The Mark of Kriminal (1968).
Prolific, workmanlike Italian director and writer who dabbled in most genres throughout his 40 year career. Started work as a film critic before making his directing debut in 1961 with the sea-faring adventure flick Queen of the Seas. The two decades years saw Lenzi churn out westerns, historical dramas, Bond-esquespy yarns and giallo thrillers among others.
It was his 1972 proto-cannibal film Deep River Savages that led to the best known phase of his career, with notorious gore-epics Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive and zombie shlocker Nightmare City quickly becoming favourites amongst fans of spaghetti splatter. Continued to plug away in the horror genre before retiring in 1996.