Two scientists in a creepy castle invent the perfect poison which one of them promptly uses to kill his colleague. Upon delivering the poison gas to his employer in fog-shrouded graveyard our mad scientist is strangled to death by a red-hooded, whip-wielding monk. Meanwhile, prison inmate Frank Keeney (Siegfried Rauch) accepts a lucrative offer to carry out a secret mission. Corrupt guards sneak Frank out of prison whereupon a sinister chauffeur (Günther Meisner, later the equally sinister Slugworth in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)) brings him to another creepy mansion. Here, Frank's mysterious employer, who keeps his face hidden, tasks him with using a poison gas-laden bible to murder sweet innocent college girl Pam Walsbury (Ewa Strömberg, future star of Vampyros Lesbos (1970)!) in church right in front of her horrified friends.
Pompous police commissioner Sir John (Siegfried Schürenberg) and his more competent colleague Inspector Higgins (Joachim Fuchsberger) of Scotland Yard set out to catch the killer. They uncover sordid goings on at the college campus where nice girl Ann Portland (Uschi Glas) claims Pam and her friends Betty (Grit Boettcher) and Mary (Suzanne Roquette) liked to party with schoolteacher Mark Denver (Harry Riebauer). Shifty headmistress Harriet Foster (Tilly Lauenstein) hides a few secrets of her own while sleazy teacher Mr. Keystone seems overly interested in Betty. Bodies pile up and while Sir John seems more interested in psychoanalyzing the college girls or canoodling with his flirty secretary (Ilse Pagé), Inspector Higgins is stuck with a suspect already behind bars and whip-cracking, crimson-cowled mad monk on the loose.
From the Fifties to the early Seventies West German film company Rialto cranked out a string of horror-thrillers known as 'krimis' adapted from the stories of British crime writer Edgar Wallace. Wallace provided the template but the seminal crime films of German film giant Fritz Lang were also an influence as were the James Bond films (here the evil mastermind lives in a death-trap laden mansion with a lair full of crocodiles and has a weird fetish for fish!) and the Italian horror craze led by Mario Bava. Indeed the image of the red-hooded monk chasing one college girl in a yellow coat through the blue-tinted, fog-shrouded woods is a pulp horror image worthy of Bava at his most delirious. At the same time no Edgar Wallace krimi more closely resembles an episode of Scooby-Doo than Der Mönch mit er Peitsche or College Girl Murders as it was retitled for American drive-in theatres. This one has it all: teen girls in peril, a masked villain, mad scientists, spooky graveyards, more red herrings than a fish market and a truly Hanna-Barbera-esque finale where the surprise villain delivers a strange monologue about why he loves fish more than people.
Krimi veteran Alfred Vohrer assembles a fragmented but well thought out narrative that invites the viewer to piece the murder mystery plot together much like the detective heroes. Admittedly once revealed the ridiculously elaborate scheme does not really add up yet the film remains compelling, consistently lively and plain loopy fun. A fast-paced horror comic book with a playfully knowing sense of its own absurdity. Some horror fans take issue with the strong comedic component in these krimi films which might be an acquired taste. Yet the quirky characters arguably lend this a warmth lacking in other horror films. Charming Uschi Glass went on to star in family favourite Black Beauty (1971) as well as Umberto Lenzi's considerably less restrained giallo Seven Bloodstained Orchids (1972). Interestingly the premise anticipates the later craze for schoolgirls in peril in the Italian giallo genre, e.g. Naked You Die (1968) and What Have You Done to Solange? (1971) which was actually a Edgar Wallace adaptation co-produced by Rialto. However, despite the subject matter Vohrer avoids bloodshed and nudity preferring to imply something sordid is afoot by means of suggestive looks and Martin Böttcher's groovy jazz score. In fact for a horror film with a whip-wielding killer monk and illicit liaisons between college girls and middle aged teachers the tone is almost wholesome.