The Dark Guys of London

Der Wixxer

DISCLAIMER: German fans of Der Wixxer tend to insist that non-German speakers can't possibly appreciate the film, because we'll miss the subtlety of the humor. That may be true. Nevertheless, there's a lot of humor in Der Wixxer that doesn't depend on language, or cultural knowledge, or anything specifically German; and judging by the exceedingly juvenile nature of most of that humor, I'm going to bet I'm not missing all that much. And I do appreciate juvenile humor.

I understand that certain things can be missed completely if you don't understand the intricacies of the language. I know I've mentioned this before, but in this case it bears repeating: I remember seeing Monty Python and the Holy Grail dubbed into Hungarian, which is a non-Indo-European language and completely unlike English. The Hungarian word for "it" varies according to the meaning of the sentence, and is essentially the same word for "this", "that" or "a", depending on context (it's also frequently left out of the sentence when its meaning is understood). Thus, in a literal Hungarian translation, the Knights of Ni sequence made no sense at all.

In the case of Der Wixxer, which is set in England and makes fun of a genre that was technically invented in England, Monty Python makes a good comparison. The Pythons frequently made fun of Germans and the German language in their sketches. Germans hearing the pseudo-Deutsch spouted by the comedians in these sketches would know at once that they were speaking nonsense, and it probably wouldn't seem particularly funny to them. I'm thinking in particular of the sketch about the German composer with the improbably long name... or (naturally) the infamous Killer Joke skit ("Wenn ist das Nunnstück git und Slotermeier?"), where proper use of German would have undermined the whole premise of the sketch. The Pythons also frequently made fun of Adolf Hitler — for example in the North Minehead By-Elections sketch, where he appeared disguised as "Mr. Hilter" running for office in rural England. A quarter century after the Second World War, this was still a topic German comedians wouldn't touch. So even though the Pythons themselves made two special episodes specifically for German television, the original Monty Python material would have required a good deal of adaptation to be made comprehensible (or acceptable) to German audiences...

...which makes it all the more ironic that some of the gags in Der Wixxer are Monty Python jokes. In fact, they're taken from the Killer Joke and Mr. Hilter sketches I just mentioned. So before anyone suggests that I'm not culturally qualified to pass judgment on Der Wixxer, keep in mind that the German film-makers have borrowed freely from English-language sources. So there.

Rialto Pictures took a big chance resurrecting Edgar Wallace for a movie series in 1959. It had been about 25 years since the Nazi régime had banned the popular English novelist's works. Germany had changed beyond all recognition since then, and there was no guarantee that anyone would want to be reminded of the writer who'd been so fashionable during the Weimar years.

But Der Frosch mit der Maske (literally "the frog with the mask", based on "The Fellowship of the Frog") turned out to be a surprise hit with the German public. An astonishingly long list of Wallace-inspired films followed over the next 23 years, including Die Bande des Schreckens ("The Terrible People"), Der grüne Bogenschütze ("The Green Archer"), Die seltsame Gräfin ("The Strange Countess"), Der Hexer ("The Wizard", based on Wallace's "The Ringer"), Der schwarze Abt ("The Black Abbot"), und so weiter.

Klaus Kinski pops up in a number of these movies, usually playing either the villain or the villain's henchman. Joachim Fuchsberger usually took the role of the hero, starting with the intrepid journalist of Der Frosch mit der Maske and continuing with an assortment of Scotland Yard detectives, including Inspector Long in Die Bande des Schreckens, Inspector Holt in Die toten Augen von London ("The Dead [Dark] Eyes of London", 1961), Inspector Dorn in Die seltsame Gräfin, and especially the bumbling would-be ladies' man Inspector Higgins ("Higgy") in most of the rest.

By the time the series came to an end in 1972, the movies had long since abandoned any real resemblance to Wallace's novels. Often only the titles, and the voice-over in the opening credits ("Hallo! Hier spricht Edgar Wallace!"), had anything to do with him. Some films, like 1967's Der Mönch mit der Peitsche ("The Monk with the Whip", known in English-speaking countries as The College Girl Murders), were wholly-invented sequels to existing Wallace material (in this case, Der unheimliche Mönch [1965], based on Wallace's "The Terror"); but as the series' popularity waned, and the German studio began to hire out the work to the Italians, the resulting movies bore no resemblance at all either to Wallace's novels or to the earlier films in the series. It really didn't matter. The German krimis were vivid, energetic, and fun, even at their least credible; while the three late Italian entries, helmed by Riccardo Freda, Massimo Dallamano and Umberto Lenzi, took the series into much darker territory than Wallace ever imagined, and bridged the gap between the krimi and the giallo genre.

Still, thirty-some installments is a long run for any series, no matter how entertaining its individual entries may be; and by 1972 the German audience had turned its attention elsewhere. The genre died out... until a quarter century later, when television broadcasts brought the Wallace krimis to a new generation of viewers. The old films generated enough nostalgic interest among TV viewers that Rialto, in collaboration with Radio Television Luxembourg, produced a new Edgar Wallace series specifically for television. The new series was based much more on the krimis than on Wallace's novels, and in fact brought back several actors from the old films as guest stars, including Gisela Uhlen and comedian Eddi Arent. Though the series ran from 1996 to 2002, it wasn't much of a success: the public still preferred the originals, in all their wacky, outdated glory.

So it was that in 2004, nearly fifty years after Der Frosch mit der Maske started the genre, a group of popular German comedians got together and created Der Wixxer ("The Wanker"), an affectionate parody of the whole Edgar Wallace krimi phenomenon.

Now, imagine for a moment if the Zucker/Abrams classic Airplane! had been made not in 1980, but in 2008. Then imagine if the audience at the American premiere had left the theaters less impressed by the zany, rapid-fire humor than by the movie's resemblance to that beloved classic, Zero Hour! (1957). Imagine, in other words, that the U.S. was an entire nation of Lyz Kingsleys. Tragically unlikely? Yes; but that should give you a rough idea of how the runaway success of Der Wixxer looks to a non-German observer. The better you know the original krimis, the better you'll enjoy Der Wixxer. Evidently the German moviegoing public knows their krimis pretty damned well.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if you don't have a healthy knowledge of the older films, all that will be left of Der Wixxer will be the dick jokes. But if you're not a krimi konnoisseur, don't despair! Dick jokes make up about 75% of the movie, so as long as you appreciate juvenile humor, you'll still have plenty to giggle over.

The film begins in black and white, with a shot of a lonely swamp in the night, accompanied by the sound of frogs and crickets (interestingly enough, the first Wallace krimi, Der Frosch mit der Maske, had begun exactly like this). A swarthy hand reaches in from off-screen and twists a sign post, so that the pointer for the Shithole Palace Hotel (ha-ha) now points to Blackwhite Castle.

Just then, down the road come Dieter and Doris Dubinsky, two tourists from East Germany. Here's the first moment when a little awareness of German culture comes in handy: Dieter and Doris are broad caricatures of the West German idea of East Germans. They come from Bitterfeld, one of the most heavily-polluted towns in the former German Democratic Republic, and their hometown is the target of a lot of not-entirely-good-natured ribbing throughout the film. The Easterners are shown as being insular and backward — for example, Dieter's travel map is an old DDR map, in which everything outside of East Germany is mostly blank.

Doris is played by Anke Engelke, the multitalented comedienne who is the German voice of Marge Simpson. She's furious at Dieter (Olli Dittrich, another incredibly versatile German comedian) for having got them lost. "Everybody warned me not to marry you," she says, "Mom, Grandma, Grandpa, the neighbors... the Secret Police...".

Doris's nagging is momentarily interrupted by the sound of vicious growls from the undergrowth. "Der Hund von Blackwhite Castle!" she gasps (a reference to the film Der Hund von Blackwood Castle [1968]). Doris had read all about the monster in the Super Illu, a kind of parochial East German version of People magazine. But the ferocious "beast" soon reveals itself to be a cute little pug puppy with a tape recorder strapped to its body (a lousy joke, but probably a reference to Neues vom Hexer [1965], or possibly Im Banne des Unheimlichen [1968]; a reel-to-reel tape recorder played a significant role in both).

Doris keeps nagging Dieter until they come to what they assume is the Hotel. In fact, it's Blackwhite Castle; and there the East German pair are stopped by a mysterious figure in monk's robes, with a whip in his hand. Dieter, seeing nothing amiss, immediately introduces himself ... but Doris takes him to task. Doesn't he know anything? Clearly this is der schwarze Abt ("The Black Abbot").

The figure shakes his cowled head.

Well then... maybe he's die seltsame Gräfin ("The Strange Countess")? Again, no. Flustered, Dieter starts improvising: is he the Wimple-Wearing Whip Wibbler (or some such untranslatable nonsense)? The monk replies by snapping his whip. Instantly, Dieter's tightly-buttoned polyester shirt is reduced to ribbons, and the words "DER MÖNCH MIT DER PEITSCHE" are torn into his skin ("You really should have thought of that one," gripes Doris).

But before this unheimliche Mönch can do anything more, a speeding truck appears out of nowhere and runs him down. Only his sandals are left behind. While Dieter muses about the danger of not using the zebra crossing, a large bald man dressed in rags emerges from the shadows and carries Doris away1
1. The bald man will turn out to be none other than Blind Jack from Die Toten Augen von London. In this movie, they call him Deaf Jack, ha-ha, even though he's still blind... though in this film, he's not an assassin: he's studying to be a hairdresser.

While Dieter, still unaware that his wife's been abducted, continues to reflect on road safety, we get our first look at the man who's driving the deadly truck. It's a man in a skull mask and top hat — just like the Zombie Killer in Im Banne des Unheimlichen (1968); he even has a scorpion ring with a pop-up stinger, just like the Zombie Killer.


... only much, much cooler.

And so we shift to the opening credits (which mimic the style of the krimi credits, complete with bullet-holes and a sinister voice over... although this time the voice says: "Hallo! Hier spricht Edgar Wallace... sein nachbar!" [Hello! This is Edgar Wallace...'s neighbor speaking," ha-ha]). We see through a series of spinning newspaper and magazine headlines that this skull-masked criminal has been terrorizing London. Of course, the spinning periodicals get more and more ridiculous as the credits go on, moving from the Daily Telegraph and Time to the Bussi Bear children's comic... Outdoor Dog... a softcore men's magazine... and even the Super Illu ("DER WIXXER: why doesn't he come to the East?").

The Wanker on the cover of Cosmopolitan.

For the skull-masked criminal is indeed The Wanker (der Wixxer [Wichser]; his symbol is the 'XX' in the new spelling of his name — Charlie Chaplin's famous Double Cross from The Great Dictator). He's a vigilante loosely based on Der Hexer (Edagr Wallace's "Ringer"), with a new & improved costume taken from Im Banne des Unheimlichen. Scotland Yard has been on his trail for years, yet has never been able to apprehend him. The Wanker's newest mission seems to be to track down and kill all the Edgar Wallace villains in London.

Clearly this is a job for the Yard's best man. No, it's not Inspector Higgins: Joachim Fuchsberger had been invited to participate in the movie, but he'd taken one look at the title and said nein, danke. It's not even Inspector Long. Instead, it's Chief Inspector Even Longer (played by comedian Oliver Kalkofe, who originated Der Wixxer on his radio show).

Even Longer (in color) is summoned to the office of the Chief of Scotland Yard, Sir John (played by krimi veteran Wolfgang Völz as a combination of Siegfried Schürenberg's hapless Sir John and Hubert von Meyerinck's absurd Sir Arthur from the later entries in the series). But Longer is a mess: he's still devastated by the recent killing of his partner, Rather Short (ha-ha). A funny and very Pythonesque flashback shows us that Longer's idea of a "partner" was less "working..." and more "domestic...": firing range target practice ends with Rather Short winning Longer a big stuffed bear, and the two men join hands and go skipping off into the sunset.

Rather Short had been in pursuit of the Wanker; but when Longer was delayed by a shoe-tying accident, the Wanker had shot Rather and trapped him in an exploding building. Now poor Longer is overcome with remorse. He lives in his car, hip-deep in empty liquor bottles, the windshield wiper fluid his only recourse for hygiene.

Fortunately, Sir John has found a new partner for Even Longer: Very Long (played by another of the movie's writers, Bastian Pastrewka, who is perfectly matched with Kalkofe). Very Long is an ingratiating idiot. His main qualification is that he's the winner of this year's Scotland Yard yo-yo championship. Long hopes he'll be the perfect new partner for Even Longer; Even growls that his last partner got killed, so at least that's something for him to look forward to.

(On the subject of language and culture: wouldn't it have been more sensible to have Kalkofe's character be Very Long? The dick joke still works with Rather Short, and it gives two added benefits: first of all, it echoes Joachin Fuchsberger's character in Die Bande des Schreckens; and second, it would have made Pastrewka's character even more insulting to Kalkofe's dignity if he'd been Even Longer. Just a suggestion...)

Long and Longer's first case together takes them to the Wanker's abandoned truck... where the Monk's dead body is still stuck to the radiator, like an enormous fly. The scene of the crime leads to some very Zucker/Abrams-y sight gags, including a good joke about the incidental music. One of the funniest bits in the movie involves the forensic scientist Dr. Brinkman (Oliver Welke, yet another German comic named Oliver, and yet another co-writer of the script): Brinkman can identify the type of fiber in the truck's seat cover — Peruvian llama fur; a man is on his way to South America right now to follow it up — and he can determine the steaming body's time-of-death by tasting it for done-ness. But he's at a loss when confronted with the truck's license plate ("Lacquered tin... but there are millions like it."), and he manages to completely overlook the name and address printed on the side of the vehicle: INTERNATIONAL TAMPON COMPANY (ha-ha), Harry Smeerlap and Co., proprietors.

"Harry Smeerlap," muses Even Longer. "Alias 'Louse' Linski. Alias Fritz Carraldo. Alias Horst Feratu." Longer is unaware that the twitchy, breathy-voiced Smeerlap is watching him through field glasses at that very moment — and yes, he is the Klaus Kinski character (as if there was any doubt).

But Smeerlap is just the henchman. Clearly there's someone else behind these grisly doings, and Longer thinks he knows who it is. Dieter Dieter Dubinsky had seen the Monk get run over in front of Blackwhite Castle (" of the oldest estates in England, and one of the last still in black and white"). The master of Blackwhite Castle is the 17th Earl of Cockwood — originally Freddy Fartface (ha-ha), a used car salesman, until his short-lived marriage to the equally short-lived Countess Cockwood (who apparently couldn't wait to get out of the tub before drying her hair. Tsk.). Longer decides to begin the real investigation by seeing what's up with Lord Cockwood2
2. Cockwood was originally scripted as the Earl of Fistfuck — oh, those Germans! — but the producers stepped in and insisted the name be changed. I guess they thought the subtle Goethe reference would go over the audience's heads

Unbeknownst to Longer, Lord Cockwood is just as upset at Der Wixxer as Scotland Yard is. The Monk with the Whip had been his accountant; where in the world will Cockwood find another one? Without the Monk, he's left to manage a bunch of incompetents: Blind Deaf Jack, Smeerlap... and Cockwood's two idiot nephews, Pomeroy and Fitzgerald, whom he calls "Pommie" and "Fritti" ("Frenchy" and "Fry"). As for the résumés the employment agency has sent him, they're hopeless: first, there's der Mönch ohne Peitsche, the Monk Without a Whip. Hmm. Something missing there. That leaves der Schlumpf mit dem Herpes: "OK, he just looks nasty to me," moans Cockwood3
3. ...and here we have one of the truly untranslatable jokes: der Schlumpf mit dem Herpes means "the Smurf with Herpes"; but in English, the abtract noun herpes doesn't take an article, as it does in German, so the pattern "the _____ with the _____", typical of the names of krimi villains, no longer applies. Furthermore, the pattern itself only fits the German versions of Wallace's titles. And finally, the picture of the villain in question is actually that of a conservative German politician, Roland Koch. Koch ran (unsuccessfully) for re-election on an off-puttingly xenophobic platform a few years after Der Wixxer came out. For American viewers, a roughly comparable example might be Rick Santorum... if you're not familiar with Santorum, try Google.

The Earl is particularly distressed because he's in the middle of a complicated scheme, and he needs all the help he can get. His legitimate business of breeding pug dogs is only a front. He's really a human trafficker. He smuggles women out of the country in boxes marked WARNING: TAMPONS. Male customs inspectors find tampons (even unused tampons) icky, so they never bother to open the boxes. Ha-ha.

Unfortunately for Cockwood, selling women into degradation and slavery isn't as easy as it used to be (say, in the days of Der Hexer [1964]). There's really only one market left: girl groups. Blackwhite Castle is the center of the Earl's slavery operation: Deaf Jack abducts women (like Doris Dubinsky) and brings them to the dungeon, where they're forced to audition to sing in insipid pop bands. Actually, this setup offers some good opportunities for satire... none of which are used (except for the brief, good-humored and uncredited participation of an actual German girl group, No Angels). It does allow for the inclusion of one good bit: a particularly disastrous "audition" ends with Cockwood stating, "We'll let you know," then pulling out a gun and shooting the girl. This isn't just the ultimate Simon Cowell moment... it's a crib from the Monty Python Killer Joke sketch, when a Nazi scientist unveils Germany's first attempt at weaponized humor.

When Long and Longer arrive at Castle Blackwhite, the door is answered by the bitler. Sorry, butler. The butler's name is Hatler — A. Hatler — Hatler the butler. He has lank black hair with a severe part, and he wears this tiny little moustache... we get the feeling we've seen him before somewhere. For some reason, the phrase "the butler did it" comes to mind... provided that "did it" refers to, say, annexing Poland. Or, perhaps, running for town council in North Minehead.

Comic appearances by Hitler, or by Hitler stand-ins, were still very controversial in 2004 Germany. Three years after Der Wixxer, a German comedian made a full-length movie spoofing Hitler and the Third Reich. Even though the War had been over for more than 60 years, and even though the film-maker himself was Jewish, the movie created a lot of controversy... both inside and outside Germany. So including a Hitler clone in a comedy like Der Wixxer was a risky thing to do. As it happen, "Alfons Hatler" turns out to be a red goering — sorry, herring — whose most sinister behavior is doing aerobics to a David Hasselhoff tune (one... two... three... heil!). When Cockwood offers to show Longer around the castle, Hatler offers to guide him... and this is another barely-translatable pun (tour-guide/Führer.... "Not this time," says Cockwood). Oddly enough, even though he's clearly not Hitler, the fact that he turns out to be a reasonable chap makes Hatler an even more troubling character than if he'd turned out to be the real Führer in "disguise".

Not much fun in Stalingrad, no.

While Long questions Cockwood, Longer escorts himself through Blackwhite Castle, leading to yet another of the movie's untranslatable but clearly understandable gags, and one that sums up the whole krimi genre in a surprisingly sophisticated way. Longer comes across a trap door, conveniently labeled TRAP DOOR. The supposedly-English detective stands there for a moment, considering: trap door, trap door... Hmm. It isn't until he recollects the German word for it — falltür — that he realizes what it is... and by that time, he's fallen through it.

Fortunately for Longer, the inevitable Edgar Wallace heroine comes to his rescue. She's Miss Jennifer Pennymarket — if there's a double entendre in her name, I can't find it — and she's there because of the pugs. Actually, that's another untranslatable pun: the German word for pugs, möpse, is also the word for "tits". So when she tells Longer that "these puppies got me my job," he immediately thinks of the ones in her sweater. Longer is immediately smitten with Miss Pennymarket, but his attempts to get her to go out with him are interrupted by the sound of farting behind a nearby arras.

That's right: farting. Ha-ha.

Longer whips aside the curtain to reveal Blackwhite Castle's old maid of an old maid, Miss — I can't believe I'm writing this — Miss Drycunt (sorry, but that doesn't even rate a single "ha", even as an aside). Both Miss Drycunt and Miss Pennymarket will turn out to play surprising (and very Edgar Wallace-y) roles in the solution of the mystery at Blackwhite Castle...

... but all this is distracting us from the search for The Wanker. Cockwood is just as anxious to bring the Wanker down as Long and Longer, so — in the movie's best scene — he convenes a meeting of all the surviving Edgar Wallace criminals: the National Syndicate of Notorious Criminals, or NSYNC. The members of NSYNC are the crème de la crime of the London underworld. For instance, there's der Frosch mit der Maske, who looks and sounds vaguely familiar...

Hey-ho, and welcome to the...

Then there's die Bande des Schreckens (the Terrible People), who turn out to be two fat old men in traditional German garb (actually members of a volksmusik singing group). There's der schwartze Abt (the Black Abbot), who's become fashion conscious and changed into der bunte Abt (the Colorful Abbot)... currently dressed in stunning magenta. There's der Buckelige von Soho (the Hunchback of Soho, from the 1966 film of the same name), dressed in a hunch-flattering tux. And then there's der blöde Bogenschütze (the Stupid [rather than Green] Archer). And then, there are the almost-but-not-quite Edgar Wallace villains: der Arsch mit den Ohren (the Ass with Ears) and der Hausmeister mit dem Cordhut (the Caretaker with the Corduroy Hat)... not to mention some villains from other people's movies: Doctor No and his colleague, Doctor Yes (eurrgh); Räuber Hotzenplotz, the eighteenth-century brigand played by Gert Fröbe in the 60's; and, for some reason, a mime. Deaf Jack, the blind man, serves them all refreshments, with the results you might expect. Harry Smeerlap, the Kinski character, entertains the group by playing the harp (in another nod to Neues vom Hexer, where Kinski does the same thing). And in the background, making one of several unexplained appearances in the film, is Bastian Pastewka's Pakistani flower-seller character from his appearance on the TV series "Der Wochenshow" (The Weekly Show).

L to R: Doctor Yes, the Hunchback of Soho, the Ass with Ears,
the Colorful Abbot and Robber Hotzenplotz

Cockwood quickly gets down to business: the Wanker is systematically killing off all the Edgar Wallace villains. The man he sent to kill Even Longer — the speargun-wielding dicke Hai (the Fat Shark... and no, I have no idea what Wallace novel this refers to) — has himself been killed by the Wanker. The skull-masked vigilante poured a bucket of piranhas on him4
4. "bucket of piranha fish"... now where have I heard that phrase before?
. To make matters worse for Cockwood, Scotland Yard is soon to discover that the piranhas are the Earl's own (they trace the licenses on the piranha's collars). What's more, the Forger of London has been found smothered in India ink; the Fish with the Scythe (?!) has also been murdered; the Monk with the Whip was flattened by a truck; and now...

It's at this point that NSYNC's video screen suddenly flickers. Their logo, a spinning globe with a bomb inside it, disappears, only to be replaced by the image of... The Wanker! "London has a new crime lord now," he tells the assembly: "ME!" He tells them that if they don't surrender their various interests to him immediately, he will destroy them all. "The day is coming," he gloats, "when all men will be equal! The day is coming when all men will be Wixxer (masturbators)!"

That's all the Frog with the Mask is willing to put up with. He's not going to wait for the Wanker to come and get him. He decides to go on national television and announce to the whole world the Wanker's secret identity... which he tries to do, on a talk show called Crime Talk hosted by Günter Jauch (real-life host of, among other shows, "Wer wird Millionär?"). Just as the Frog is about to tell, the host shoots him... then (in a nod to the many ridiculous disguises used in Neues vom Hexer) he pulls off his realistic Günter Jauch mask to reveal... the skull mask of the Wanker!

Will the Wanker succeed in taking over the London underworld? Will Inspector Longer ever guess the Wanker's secret identity, and get the girl? Or will the dastardly Earl of Cockwood, who has discovered that Miss Pennymarket is the rightful heir to Blackwhite Castle, succeed in getting her to marry him? Will Dieter ever get Doris back, and take her home to the ravaged hellscape of Bitterfeld?

No, no, hell no, no and no; but you've probably guessed all that.

Der Wixxer is a very strange movie. Half the jokes are only comprehensible to people who know the Edgar Wallace krimis inside and out, while the other half are so juvenile they'd make a ten-year-old boy cringe in embarrassment. Yet the strangest thing about Der Wixxer is... it works.

The reason it works is that it's absolutely straight-faced. No matter how ridiculous the action may seem — and with inflatable pugs, Rube Goldberg death-traps, a high-speed bicycle chase and even a Busby Berkeley-style musical number, the action gets completely ridiculous — the movie never admits it's in on the joke. The actors are all passionately committed to their characters, however idiotic they may seem — Kalkofe's Longer and Thomas Fristch's Earl of Cockwood are both exasperated by the idiocy of everyone around them, but frankly they're not much smarter, and the apparent simpleton Very Long turns out to be the smartest of them all. However stupidly these people behave, the reasons for their behavior are taken seriously. The result is strangely moving. It's grotesque and funny to see Longer using ever-more drastic measures to revive the crumbling corpse of his partner... but we laugh at the circumstances, not at his pain. Longer's guilty conscience shows itself in a savagely funny dream sequence, but again: the humor is based on real, recognizable emotions. Then comes another dick joke. Sigh... So much for pathos.

Furthermore, the movie looks great. No expense has been spared in creating a richly detailed world for these idiots to move around in. It's virtually impossible to tell when this movie is supposed to be taking place: Dieter and Doris are clearly characters from the 1990's or later, but the England of Long and Longer is a fantasy-land that seems to phase in and out between the 1960's of the krimis and the present day (and that's the perfect environment for them). The transitions between the monochrome Blackwhite Castle and the rest of the world ("Gimme some color, baby!" says Lord Cockwood — in English — at one crucial juncture) are perfectly done, and make a weird sort of sense in context.

It may seem crazy that anyone would take such care over a movie as silly as this one. Hey, the old Edgar Wallace krimis were pretty silly, too; but no matter how ludicrous they became, it was always clear that the people who made them were thoroughly in love with the craft of film-making. Look at Alfred Vohrer's Neues vom Hexer, where the plot is so slight the characters actually have to refer to Wallace's novel to figure out where they are in the story... The script is nonsense, but this gave Vohrer the opportunity to get really creative with the visuals. Or look at another movie that had an obvious influence on Der Wixxer: Im Banne des Unheimlichen, in which chromatically-lit crypts and men who are tinted green — green! — pass unremarked. Again, the absurdity of the script allowed the film-makers to extend themselves, and create a vivid impression that a more sensible screenplay would never have allowed. Der Wixxer goes well beyond the krimis in carefully-rendered absurdity, but it's clear that the movie's creators are every bit in love with The Movies as their predecessors.

German audiences responded warmly to this mix of skill and stupidity. Der Wixxer was so well-received that a sequel, called Neues vom Wixxer (naturally), followed in 2008. Joachim Fuchsberger, who'd declined to appear in the original, was apparently so impressed by the finished film that he agreed to be in the sequel (though I think the original's box-office success may have had a little to do with his decision).

Neues vom Wixxer is, well... not bad. It even brings back the old Constantin Films logo at the beginning, as a gesture toward its inspiration. But the best Wallace jokes had already been used in the original movie, so the sequel comes off a little less focused. The pre-credit sequence makes reference to Der grüne Bogenschütze, but not in a particularly pointed way; a good gimmick involving open graves and a list of names suggests 1960's Die Bande des Schreckens, but the connection is strained. The Monty Python "references" (cough) continue immediately, though: a character warns Long and Longer that the resurrected Wixxer can be found in.... aarrrgh! (he cries, as he's murdered by the Wanker). What could he have meant, wonder Long and Longer; Aaaarrrgh-entina? Aaaaaaachen? (Castle Aaaaaargh?)

Even the quality of the dick jokes in the sequel is somewhat, er, circumcised. Fuchsberger's character is Lord David Dickham — get it? Huh? Get it? — and his daughter (his daughter?) is Victoria Dickham. Yeah. Makes "Lord Cockwood" seem like the height of subtlety, doesn't it5
5. The movie redeems itself a little by having Longer mistake Fuchsberger for the hero of a krimi he didn't star in. Oops!

"Alfons Hatler" returns in a very strangely altered role, as director of an insane asylum; his karaoke performance of "My Way" midway through the film is funny, but also deeply disturbing. Hatler's replacement, Hudson the Butler (Chris Howland), is an inspired character: he speaks his German lines with a strong English accent... because, he explains, he was born in Germany. Lars Rudolph, who played the Kinski character in the original, returns — as Kinski did so often — in a totally different role (this time as "Chucky Norris", ha-ha).

From a technical standpoint, the film is every bit as polished as the original. The film-makers repeat the color/black-and-white gimmick (and really, who could blame them?), but the joke isn't nearly as funny the second time. "Blackwhite Castle" was an inspired gag, but in this case the Schwartz-Weiss location is a cloister that seems to be taken from 1966's The Trygon Factor 6
6. Based on a Wallace novel called "Kate Plus 10"... which, thanks to the horror of reality TV, will probably never be reprinted under that title.
... which is fine, except that The Trygon Factor was filmed in color. The re-use of the black-and-white gimmick does set up one of the silliest jokes in the movie, though: when Long and Longer are stumped about which color wire to cut in a Certain Death 5000 superbomb, Longer gets the idea to shift the cloister from 1966 mode (Color) to 1959 (Black and White) — in black and white, the wires are all grey, so it no longer matters which one you cut!

But overall, Neues vom Wixxer doesn't seem particularly neu. Having worn their Wallace material a little thin, the film-makers pad the rest of the movie with topical references to (for example) 24 and the Charlie's Angels remakes... subjects which were nearing the end of their topicality in 2008. This sort of thing makes Neues vom Wixxer only half a parody of the krimis, and half a scattershot comedy in the vein of the later Scary Movie installments (of which there are enough already).

Even the choice of a concluding song for the credits seems a little forced. In the original, they'd selected a lesser-known tune by the band Madness called "The Wizard"7
7. Covered (very well) by Right Said Fred... with special guest vocalist "Doris Dubinski".
; for the sequel, they not only used Madness again — boy, talk about resurrecting the past...! — they chose the obvious: "It Must Be Love". Perhaps that song isn't played over and over and over and over and over again in German elevators, the way it is in the US, but it still seems like a banal conclusion to a raucous, high-energy comedy.

There are some brilliantly funny bits in Neues vom Wixxer that are every bit as good as anything in the first film... for instance, Very Long's low-speed escape up a flight of stairs, which is the perfect parody of every stupid chase scene you've ever seen in an action movie. But is Der Wixxer capable of sustaining a franchise? Separated from their Edgar Wallace origins, are the characters of Very Long, Even Longer and Sir John really strong enough to stand on their own?

The film-makers evidently think so, since a third installment, Tripel Wixxx, is scheduled for release in 2012.

And to tell the truth, as soon as it becomes available to watch outside Germany, I'll be waiting for it. I can't help it; I'm addicted. Even if the second installment lacks the inspiration of the first, I'm still excited about the third. Even if it turns out to be disappointing, I know it will be worth watching, because the guys who made the Wixxer movies have a real understanding of — and affection for — the krimi movies they parody. It takes real brains to get so many laughs out of such terrible jokes. It takes an enormous amount of heart to deconstruct a genre so thoroughly without ever becoming cynical about it. What can I say? It must be love.

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