You wouldn’t think the story of a child murderer would lend itself to comedy, but this Austrian television production, shot on location in wintry Vienna, sprouts some dark humour.
It also has the cheerful banality of a TV police procedural. Do all police eat unhealthy food? An inspector played by Sarah Viktoria Frick wins sympathy for her persistence, and she never stops eating burgers and buns.
Overall it’s a grim reflection of our modern world, with the rise of a surveillance society and the shameful way headline-grabbing crimes get exploited for political ends. Here, a right-wing minister uses the murders to attack immigrants and push for greater “homeland security”. We also see the manufacturing of fake news, warring parents, the horrible things that children sometimes witness, etc., all of which distract the viewer from the dire, dramatic heart of the story.
The original film was creepy, I watched this late at night many years ago and it turned me against Peter Lorre forever.
This version is more watered down than souped up, and the only parts that really work are those that closely imitate the original mise-en-scene and screenplay written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou. The engrossing opening scene, for example, shows the heart-breaking last hours of 8-year-old Elsie. When she comes home on a cold snowy evening without her red jacket, her annoyed mother sends her back to the playground to get it.
She will be one of several missing children, as the police launch a manhunt and the news media howl for justice.
After you’ve watched the series, you can scare yourself with the original