In a secret location in London, a group of hooded vigilantes holds a mock court dispensing justice to those vial criminals who have escaped punishment for their crimes. The court tries, judges and passes sentence on the villains. The sentence is death by hanging. The hangings are done using a historic hangman’s rope stolen from Scotland Yard’s black museum. So far there have been three men murdered in this fashion. The rope gets returned to the museum to then be stolen again for the next victim. When found, each victim has pinned to them a detailed report or dossier containing the culprit’s crimes and the decision of the secret court.
Even though the secret court is ridding the city of criminals that escaped justice Scotland Yard is duty bound to try to find its members. The case is assigned to John Hillier (Hansjorg Felmy). Hillier is not happy to be on this case. There is another case that he would rather follow. For the past two years there have been several murders involving young women. Believed to be sex crimes the women are found partially undressed but missing their heads. The heads are never found.
Hillier had been assigned to the sex murder case until this new case came up and despite his protests; he was transferred to the vigilante killings. Hillier had a reason for wanting to remain on the sex murder case. His sister was one of the first victims.
Sir Francis Elliott (Rudolf Forster), who is a retired judge, is also the father of Hillier’s girlfriend Ann (Maria Perschy). His belief that the executioners are doing good puts him in the suspect category along with his creepy looking valet Jerome (Rudolf Fernau) and the suspect list starts getting bigger. The fact that the court knows so much about the criminals they kill brings out the belief that at least some of the members of the court are police. The police medical examiner and family friend, Dr. Philip Trooper (Harry Riebauer) is also a possible suspect. Even Hillier doesn’t escape the suspect pool.
Another fly in the ointment is a strange little man who claims to be a reporter and amateur detective, Gabby Pennypacker (Chris Howland). He is an annoyance to Hillier but always seems to be around when the dead bodies show up.
“The Mad Executioners” AKA “Der Henker von London” was released in 1963 and was directed by Edwin Zbonek. The movie was adapted from a Bryan Edgar Wallace book called “The White Carpet”.
It is one of the most unusual krimis I’ve come across. It has a way of blending gothic horror with the murder mystery genre. In krimi tradition there are several plots involved but they are nicely woven together. It takes the Star Chamber style film and adds a unique twist to it. There comes a point in the film where the sex murderer takes front stage. There is also a smaller subplot where a criminal named Pickaxe Joe who has a vendetta against Judge Elliott. All these strings do end up tied together, not necessarily in a believable way but, essentially in a satisfying manner.