This article was last modified on May 1, 2012.


German Gore Films 1987-present

Regular readers will be familiar with the gore films of Lucio Fulci, and many have also seen the many splatter films that Japan has to offer. But only the most die-hard gorehound has probably seen more than a handful of Germany’s messier films, many of which are low budget and/or banned. Bigger German names include Uwe Boll and Ulli Lommel, both of whom are regularly attacked for their work, but neither can be said to make “gore” or “splatter” films. And we can discount Wolfgang Buld, who has dabbled in horror but is largely known (if known at all) for documentaries of the punk music scene.

The subgenre can be traced to one man: Jorg Buttgereit, the Father of German Gore. Surprisingly, he traces his influences not to the American slashers but to Japanese monster movies (although inspiration for the film did come from biographies of Ed Gein and Ted Bundy). And what fueled his debut feature was not so much a love for horror as it was a distaste for censorship. “In the 80s censorship became really big in Germany and not one of the movies made it into the video stores or theaters uncensored any more,” Buttgereit says. “Going over the top like that with ‘Nekromantik’ was our way to protest, which resulted in indexing and a nationwide confiscation of the films.”

nekromantik

Perhaps the authorities had some reason to be concerned: could the general public handle a film about necrophilia, a woman who uses a steel pipe for a phallus, and the most exciting “climax” (pun intended) in horror history? The film, a modern classic for gorehounds, may be the most extreme film ever made in any country, rivaling even the films of Takashi Miike.

“Nekromantik II: The Return of the Loving Dead” followed in the legal footsteps of its predecessor, being nationally confiscated with a court case that dragged on for two years before the movie finally received a limited release. Buttgereit found a loophole: “We managed to legalize all of the films here by labeling them as art.” And in many ways they are indeed art: the dark subject matter is only explored, never exploited.

The film itself differs from the original in one key way: the protagonist is now a woman. And while it was easy to dismiss the “hero” of the first film as mentally deranged, there is a much more sympathetic approach the second time around. Says Buttgereit, “The sequel has more of a feminist touch to it… the important thing for me was to make the audience care about the actress.” Whether a film about necrophilia could ever seriously be considered feminist is debatable, but the director is not the only one to draw that conclusion.

What makes Buttgereit’s work stand out from other low budget films, especially today, is his strict preference for film over digital photography. “I think it is important for my films that they are shot on actual film stock,” he says. “The grainy 16mm and Super 8 film stock definitely works for the atmosphere of the films.” But don’t hold your breath for another “Nekromantik”. Coupled with the censorship he still faces in most countries, Buttgereit notes, “Bootlegs and illegal downloads have made it impossible for me to do independent films like I did in the 1980s.” (This last point is debatable — legitimate DVD copies of “Nekromantik” can sell on Amazon for as much as $70. There is clearly a market.)

His work in film (he also writes stage plays) has two other must-see entries for the German gore fan: “Der Todesking” and “Schramm”. Called experimental because of its lack of central characters (though this is hardly a unique situation), “Todesking” features seven suicides that correspond with the days of the week, with a rotting corpse shown between each segment to frame the overall film. Buttgereit also occasionally indulged in Nazi imagery, and this film is no exception: one segment features soldiers torturing a prisoner in a concentration camp, castrating him and painting a swastika on his chest. American audiences can see this film by ordering the German special edition DVD and playing it on a region-free player, or tracking down the VHS released by Film Threat in the early 1990s. No region one DVD exists.

“Schramm” is Buttgereit’s interpretation of the serial killer genre, based in part on the life of Carl Panzram. The director’s mixture of sex and death is prevalent, as Lothar Schramm makes love to blow-up dolls, fantasizes about toothed vaginas, nails his foreskin to tables and dreams of a visit to a dentist who extracts his eyeball. On top of this, Schramm masturbates over a dead body and falls in love with the neighborhood prostitute, while taking sexually suggestive photos of Christian missionaries he has killed. Somehow, Buttgereit manages to make these images artistic and not strictly exploitative.

For those interested in the special effects of Buttgereit’s films, the documentary “Corpse Fucking Art” is well worth checking out. And while he has switched gears to the stage and radio, there remains a slim chance we have not heard the last from Jorg Buttgereit. “I’m still waiting for the phone call from Michael Bay to do a remake,” he jokes. “I would consider it if I would have creative control over it.”

Buttgereit was followed on to the scene by Andreas Schnaas, the creator of the self-explanatory “Violent Shit” film series. The first film, produced for only 5000 marks ($2000) in 1989, was Germany’s first direct-to-video horror film. The film was shot with a rented camcorder over the course of four weekends, with a cast of amateur actors (primarily friends of the director), and depicts poorly-conceived situations involving graphic violence and sexual mutilation. Amazingly, the video could also be found throughout Europe and even on American store shelves and achieved a cult following despite (or perhaps because of) its terrible production value.

“Violent Shit II: Mother Hold My Hand” upped the ante from the first film, which was already excessively violent. Set twenty years in the future, we not only have the obligatory slaughter, but blood-drinking and a scene of incestuous oral sex.

If the series ever made sense, it was completely over by “Violent Shit III”. The film had such little connection to the first two, clearly only trying to cash in on what little name recognition the original had, it was renamed “Zombie Doom” for American viewers. While you should never be surprised by what potpourri Schnaas is able to brew, this particular film features hideously deformed super soldiers and a cybernetic zombie.

Schnaas’ career hit a simultaneous high and low in early 2001, when he made “Demonium”, a story revolving around relatives who would kill each other for an inheritance. On the bright side, he had an unheard-of budget of 1.4 million dollars to work with and was shooting in Rome, a European gore capitol. Schnaas does profess to be a huge Lucio Fulci fan. But the flick was a flop, with its dialogue being spoken in embarrassingly broken English by an Italian cast. American audiences will have to import a copy from England to see this train wreck.

By 2003, Schnaas found himself in New York City directing his first American film, “Nikos”, starring Joe Zaso and Felissa Rose (“Sleepaway Camp”). Debbie Rochon and Lloyd Kaufman make cameo appearances, and Schnaas sticks to the low-budget method; the whole production was financed for $40,000. Zaso has less than fond memories of the project, saying, “I ended up doing the job of 10 people because of the tight budget. It was hell on earth. At first challenging, then nightmarish beyond belief… Andreas is one of the most deluded, nasty and over-demanding people I ever worked with.”

Moving past the pioneers, we turn to the German goremeisters of the 21st Century. Olaf Ittenbach tracks even farther off the radar than his predecessors, though his critically-derided “Legion of the Dead” did manage to find its way to the States. He followed that up with “Evil Rising” and “Beyond the Limits”, for which he earned modest praise from film festivals. Ittenbach’s career could be labeled third-tier and completely forgettable if it were not for one stroke of luck: he served as Uwe Boll’s special effects creator on “BloodRayne”, a film which has gone down in infamy.

Perhaps ironically, although Ittenbach does not have the same number of adoring fans that Buttgereit or Schnaas do, his films are more marketable in the States. Of the four directors covered in this article, Ittenbach is the only one who has a film available for streaming on Netflix: “House of Blood”, wherein a bird dies for no reason, falls, and manages to hit a rock which then rolls onto a road and causes a chain reaction automobile accident… TWICE.

Ittenbach’s “Burning Moon”, called “anti-human” by Zack Carlson (author “Destroy All Movies!”), features a teenage boy using heroin and telling his kid sister three progressively demented stories. Carlson further informs us that “Olaf Ittenbach was destined to either make this film or rape wolves.” The film, banned since its creation in 1997, has been labeled “irresponsible and sick” for its depiction of Hell and “pathologically inventive, heinously clever” by Gore Score. The DVD was finally released on March 13 thanks to Intervision.

His most recent film of note is “Dard Divorce”, which follows a bitter divorce that quickly goes from bad to worse after the family dog goes missing and in his place is left a letter written in blood. From there, the tale spirals into a tragedy of murder, kidnapping, and a brutal use of pruning shears. Due to the small budget, Ittenbach took almost a full year to film this, shooting at his own home and only on weekends. Shots of San Francisco were added later to make the film appear American. (The word “dard”, by the way, is apparently Persian for “inflicting pain”, though my Persian is rusty and I have to take Ittenbach’s word for that.)

Today’s German horror fans place their hope in Timo Rose, the so-called “German David Fincher” (or “the MacGyver of special effects”). Rose’s influences rest in the earlier films of Andreas Schnaas, with his colleague Ittenbach occasionally assisting on special effects. He also grew up with the classics: “Hellraiser”, “Jaws” and “An American Werewolf in London”. Rose believes that horror is the best genre to convey the full range of human emotions. “In horror you can scare the living daylights out of people in one second, and in the next you can make them laugh or cry,” he says. “So I think the attraction is the scares, the blood and all that, but also the fact that the genre plays on so many strings all at once.”

Besides filmmaking, Rose seems to have an apparent knack for marketing. Fan favorite Debbie Rochon appeared in his “Lord of the Undead”, and he has started filming at least partially in English to appeal to a wider audience. Anyone who has attended a convention in recent years will surely have heard of “Barricade”, featuring Raine Brown, and loosely based on an H. P. Lovecraft short story. The film plays out like a low-budget “The Hills Have Eyes”, costing the producers under $50,000 and shot in about two weeks. But what they lacked in time and money they made up for with blood, brutal killings and extreme gore — underground German staples.

“Barricade” was followed by “Beast”, another Joe Zaso production starring Raine Brown. Rose’s special effects skills were put to the test. This being a werewolf film, he not only had to manage the gore for death scenes, but was required to to create an impressive transformation sequence. Timo Rose is no Rob Bottin, but he’s no slouch, either.

Many people will say the current German horror scene is dead. Rose says there is not much of a scene at all. Jorg Buttgereit himself says, “We don’t have a horror tradition like you might have in the US… there are no real good underground movies out there. There is nothing exciting happening in the horror genre in Germany.” But we will let readers be the judge.

CHECKLIST:

NEKROMANTIK (Buttgereit, 1987)
Violent Shit (Schnaas, 1989)
DER TODESKING (Buttgereit, 1989)
NEKROMANTIK 2 — DIE RÃœCKKEHR DER LIEBENDEN TOTEN (Buttgereit, 1991)
Zombie ’90: Extreme Pestilence (Schnaas, 1991)
Violent Shit II: Mother Hold My Hand (Schnaas, 1992)
SCHRAMM (Buttgereit, 1993)
Goblet of Gore (Schnaas, 1996)
KONDOM DES GRAUENS (aka The Killer Condom) (Martin Walz, 1996)
The Burning Moon (Ittenbach, 1997)
Violent Shit III: Infantry of Doom (Schnaas, 1999)
Mutation (Rose, 1999)
Anthropophagous 2000 (Schnaas, 1999)
Midnight’s Calling (Rose, 2000)
Mutation 2 – Generation Dead (Rose, 2001)
Demonium (Schnaas, 2001)
Legion of the Dead (Ittenbach, 2001)
Evil Rising (Ittenbach, 2002)
Mutation III: Century of the Dead (Rose, 2002)
Rigor Mortis – The Final Colours (Rose, 2003)
Beyond the Limits (Ittenbach, 2003)
Nikos (Schnaas, 2003)
Lord of the Undead (Rose, 2004)
The Legend of Moonlight Mountain (Rose, 2005)
House of Blood (Ittenbach, 2005)
Don’t Wake the Dead (Schnaas, 2006)
Mutation: Annihilation (Rose, 2006)
Barricade (Rose, 2007)
Fearmakers (Rose, 2008)
Beast (Rose, 2008)
Unrated (Schnaas and Rose, 2009)

Also try another article under Film Industry
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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