French director and star ROBERT HOSSEIN stars as the real-life German serial killer Peter Kurten in The Secret Killer, a richly photographed b&w thriller a.k.a. The Vampire of Dusseldorf. ln Hossein’s version of the Kurten saga, the murderer is a darkly handsome man who is an unassuming boarder in a rooming house. At night however, he visits a nightclub where he gazes upon the beautiful face of Anna, a German singer whom he worships and adorns with presents. Rejected by the woman he loves, the simple, reserved man walks alone into the black of night where he preys upon the young and innocent women he encounters.
Eventually, the singer allows Hossein to share her bed... for a price. But this only disturbs him further. He falls deeper in love with her and shadows her every move -- even as she leaves the club with other men. His bloodlust - a desire to kill fueled by a combination of sexual urges and dysfunction - leads him to strangle, stab his victims, usually in the grimy alleyways that prostitutes frequent for their clientele...
One genuinely unsettling scene shows Hossein walking hand in hand with a little girl whose dirty clothes echo her family’s obvious poverty. As the pair turn the corner and slowly walk up a flight of stairs in a rundown tenement, a queasiness takes over as you begin to second guess what the killer may do to this young, innocent victim.
The film also doesn’t neglect the beginnings of the German Nazi regime - attacks in the night by Hitler’s brown shirt youth squad, book burnings, persecution of minority shop owners, etc -but it does fictionalize the actual historic events concerning Kurten who was born in 1883 and murdered dozens of people by the time he was guillotined in 1931.
Robert Hossein began his acting career in the original French theater of the Grand Guignol. His first acting appearance in film was in 1948. His other notable genre credits include Double Agents (1959), Shadow of Evil(1964), The Dirty Game (1965), and Dario Argento’s Wax Mask (1997). From a not-so-secret 35mm negative.
-- Louis Paul, Inferno Italia: Der Italienische Horrorfilm
Color: B&W Widescreen France / Spain / Italy
Starring: Robert Hossein
Co-starring: Marie-France Pisier
Other cast: Roger Dutoit, Annie Andersson, Anne Carrere
Directed by: Robert Hossein