From German Film

Schramm’s Visceral Psychological Terror

Schramm: Into the Mind of a Serial Killer. 1993. Directed by Jörg Buttgereit. Screenplay by Buttgereit & Franz Rodenkirchen.
Starring Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Monika M., Micha Brendel, Carolina Harnisch, Xaver Schwarzenberger, Gerd Horvath, & Michael Brynntrup. Barrel Entertainment/Jelinski & Buttgereit.
Not Rated. 65 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
POSTER Really good or great serial killer films are few and far between. Because directors and writers often either don’t go deep enough, or sometimes they descend too far into the tortured psyche of a killer that their crimes and murders can end up sensationalised. There’s a truly fine line to making these types of movies. One of the more contemporary examples of which I’m a huge fan is David Fincher’s Zodiac; it tackles a true story, and it also makes a known case into interesting material for a dark crime-thriller. Then there are others which go for realism in examining a fictional killer, though sometimes they end up too far from anything poignant and fall into the sensational representation of violence.
Schramm is an odd case. All at once there’s an attention for the psychological mess inside the heads of serial killers, as well as the inclusion of bloody scenes to keep the interest of the most twisted horror hounds. While I’m not inclined to love this movie, though I do own it, there’s a certain quality that makes me find it a good serial killer character study. This can be extremely difficult to stomach. One specific scene is a truly hateful thing to watch, especially if you’re a guy and feel squeamish about anything genital-related. But outside of the controversy and its rough exterior, Schramm offers an effective look at the deranged life of a serial killer, the introverted pleasures of madness, and never once lets you forget what you’re watching.
Pic1
There is a hideous amount of blood and gore that will please the most hardened genre fans and disgust the less able to cope with such brutality. One of the first (which is presented in non-linear fashion so it actually comes later in the plot’s timeline) is a brutish double murder. We start with a throat cutting – even worse, while the man tries to drink himself a nice little, tasty glass of Cognac – and then ends with a head getting whacked by a hammer. Right afterwards, we see Schramm taking pictures of the dead, posed in terrifying sexual positions for his delight; some by themselves, other photos of them together.
The single most savage scene is the infamous penis moment. If you’ve ever read about this movie in any capacity, you’ve probably heard about it. This is like watching something out of the Pain Olympics, as Lothar’s self-hatred and his disassociation with reality comes forward tenfold. His unique mix of personality disorders makes him susceptible to self-harm and extreme behaviour, plus it explains his ritualistic manner of killing and what he does with the bodies.
Perhaps more frightening, somehow, than all the bloody imagery are the flashbacks and the snippets of memory from which we begin to glean a sense of the killer himself. They are eerie. Particularly, one early cut to a flashback simply sees children running in the distance through a field, the unsettling atmosphere of an 8mm tape rolling, catching them in their natural habitat. This also leads into the fact Schramm wears a large, complicated brace on his right leg, so right away there’s the idea that something happened to him all those years ago, an event which not only shaped his physical life, but also likely did the same for his mental life, too. Within many scenes we hear heavy breathing. Furthermore, the director edits in shots of Schramm running, other feet running in a group, at times as if he’s dreaming of running again, or maybe they’re memories, who knows. There’s an ever increasing sense that Schramm has been traumatized by his apparent leg injury. He even wakes up, supposedly, to imagine his leg’s been cut off below the knee, savage and bleeding, only to discover it’s all a dream. Most of all what this does is plant us firmly in the perspective of the serial killer whom we are about to examine in full.
So much of the camera work is impressive for a production that’s mostly low budget and fairly simple. There are several key points I find wildly interesting. The first comes after Lothar picks up his friend, a prostitute, and they’re driving – out of nowhere appears this swirling shot that makes you feel as if the car is going around an off-ramp, only there is none to be seen and they’re in the middle of a road; the car spins several times as they chat, neither of them noticing, except us, the audience. This is a disorienting moment that again throws you into Lothar’s world where you feel just as estranged and disconnected to real life as him. Later, in his apartment Lothar works out and the camera sort of follows along with his movements, then soars up over him giving us a bird’s eye view down on the apartment. We constantly get the sense of inhabiting the world he knows, and this only makes things scarier.
Pic4
Living with Schramm, in his headspace and seeing his actions from day to day, can be psychologically horrifying. And it is, undoubtedly. This film has gained comparisons to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and to a certain extent they are both quite alike. However, aside from Ottis, the main focus of that film was not sexual deviancy (even though the real Henry Lee Lucas was all manners of insane and although the character does commit horrible crimes against women), but instead honed in on the pure hideousness of Henry’s evil, the perpetual killer inside him unwilling to be tamed. Our main protagonist/antagonist, if you want to see it that way, Lothat Schramm is both a killer and a complete sexual deviant. The way we spend our time in the other film with Henry watching him commit one murder after another, we likewise spend our time during Schramm with this man, no matter if he’s having sex with a blow-up doll while listening to his neighbours fuck or if he’s doing incredibly masochistic things to his body. We experience all of it, and fall deeper, farther down the pit of his abyssal mind.
The blurring of reality and nightmare is one significant aspect to the psychological elements. A most evident sequence is when Schramm is with the dentist (or imagining it at least), and as the doctor begins removing teeth, he seems to notice something else: all of a sudden Lothar has his eyes pried open like A Clockwork Orange and the dentist begins slicing open his eye socket, a dental assistant comes in to help and removes his whole eyeball. Reality and the nightmare world in Schramm’s head often collide in the most awful ways, from techniques used by the director in shooting a scene to the way things ar edited from time to time.
The most disturbing break from reality? Schramm wakes up naked in bed to find a strange vagina-like creature between his legs, squirming, its lips opening to reveal a set of ugly teeth. Honestly, this one frightened me. Repulsed me, too.
It isn’t my favourite serial killer film. Schramm isn’t easily digested. There are intensely nasty sequences which will push the boundaries of even the most hardened veterans. Myself, I’ve seen 4,200 films and many of those horror, at least one third or more maybe. And still, I find myself squeamish during a couple of overly vulgar scenes. The best part about the whole thing is that this is a quiet, more subdued serial killer tale than most you’ll find. Not subdued in its blood or willingness to show the inner workings of a sick, rotting mind, but quiet in its process. There are no jump scares like other contemporary works of horror cinema. There isn’t a masked or unknown killer. Director Jörg Buttgereit forces us to spend just over an hour (thankfully a short runtime) with Lothar Schramm, until we’ve had our fill of depravity, running blood, murder. Until no more can you deny that evil is entirely human, not a supernatural element by which people feel themselves overtaken. In the end, you’ll need a cozy blanket and a warm beverage to start heating up the cold heart you’ll be left with awhile after seeing experiencing Schramm.

Advertisements

NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN’s Religious Parable

Nothing Bad Can Happen. 2014. Directed & Written by Katrin Gebbe.
Starring Julius Feldmeier, Sascha Alexander Gersak, and Annika Kuhl. Celluloid Dreams.
Not Rated. 110 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2

tore_tanzt_ver3_xlg

While I usually try not to go too deep into personal theories of a movie, if it appears to me as metaphorical, Nothing Bad Can Happen feels very much to me like a film meant to be taken as metaphor, and with that, I feel like this review will mostly focus on my subjective interpretation.

The film follows a young man named Tore (Julius Feldmeier) in Hamburg who attempts to build a new life in a religious group, The Jesus Freaks. After having a seizure during a rock band’s performance, a man named Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak) helps him out, and brings him to safety at his home. There, he begins a relationship with Benno and his family. Eventually Tore even moves into a small guest area at Benno’s home. However, things soon become darker, more sinister for Tore than he could have ever anticipated. A battle of wits begin, as Benno begins to mentally and physically torture Tore. Though the young man clings to his faith, Benno becomes more sadistic as time goes by, ultimately inflicting some of worst punishment possible on Tore.
Toretanzt_JuliusFeldmeier_SwantjeKohlhof_TORE_SANNYThis is apparently based on a news article director/writer Katrin Gebbe read. While I have not searched out the article in question, I still believe Gebbe uses the, at times brutal, story as a way to discuss religion. In particular, she looks at how those who are constantly, and consistently, abused over and over by their religious institutions still keep their faith – often going so far as to excuse the abuse. Furthermore, the actions of Benno as the movie progresses make you realize he was initially trolling for weaker prey when first meeting Tore – once he saw the younger man seizure, he knew this was his victim. Also, you can obviously realize after some time Benno is not Christian any sense whatsoever – much how I feel about those who abuse their power to rape and abuse those without it using their religious position to conceal their actions (those people do not truly believe in anything – religion or otherwise).
23_Toretanzt_0026652_ASTRID-AnnikaKuhl_TORE_JuliusFeldmeier_BENNO_SaschaGersakThis method Benno uses is exactly how the abusers, using religion as their cover, choose which person to subject to their torturous desires. Much like the rapists using the Roman Catholic Church to cover up their heinous sexual assaults on countless, seemingly never ending boys and girls. And still, the abuse reigns on as people continue to bow at the altar of these corrupt churches. Without ruining the ending, there is very little optimism in the finale of Nothing Bad Can Happen – there is a half and half, bittersweet sort of finish. One side speaks to us so that we can learn from all these abuses, and hopefully some who face this abuse also can get away eventually. On the other side, we see how faith can get someone through terrible, horrifying trauma, and yet at the same time could really destroy one’s self altogether. As much as Gebbe based this on supposed true events, I really do believe this is meant to be a metaphor of the larger-scale abuse going on throughout many religions – not simply the Catholics, as I mentioned (I was personally brought up Roman Catholic due to my mom and I living with my grandparents for the first 8 years of my life & when finally given the chance by my mother and father a few years later I gave up church for the rest of my life). Every religion has, and is capable of, abuses, and this almost says to me alone that religion is not as wonderful and miraculous as those who practice their individual religions regularly would have you believe. Nothing Bad Can Happen explores all these things, and more, through a very dramatic film while also incorporating real savage moments of psychological horror.
14_Toretanzt_IMG_9721_TORE_JuliusFeldmeierThe absolute best part of the film is its central performance. Julius Feldmeier plays Tore brilliantly. The whole film is quite subdued and what I call “quiet” – there isn’t any action, it’s all based around the drama of the script.  In these “quiet” films (I’m not generalizing – just stating for the purpose of this review), I find actors often get to really get into the scenes more, in terms of character. Sure, action stars can really get into their own characters, but in films like Nothing Bad Can Happen where the plot does involve or incorporate any big set pieces, special effects, or other things et cetera et cetera, actors have nothing else except for the dramatics of their character and the scenes to focus on. All of the subject matter here is very heavy, and Feldmeier gives a great performance as a young man who is determined to find his way through life, and everything that comes with it, through his belief in Jesus Christ. As somebody who does not take part in organized religion, an actor has to do some serious work for me to empathize with a character who is almost blinded by his faith. Regardless, Feldmeier does such a good job as Tore it was impossible not to feel for his character. With every degrading act Benno unleashes on Torre, both the determination and pain coming through in Feldmeier’s performance tightened the tension of the film, as well extended my empathy tenfold for the character. Really great stuff. I believe this is the first feature film Feldmeier has been a part of, and I do hope to see him again soon after this one.
303541.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxNothing Bad Can Happen didn’t reach Canada until 2014. Because of this, it is absolutely one of the best films I had the pleasure of seeing this past year. I’ve included it on Fathersonholygore’s Best of 2014 List. There’s something about this film which captivates me, and I believe most of that is due to the fact Katrin Gebbe gives us a dose of reality while also spinning the story into a much larger fabric representing the universal abuse of the weak, and possibly gullible, followers by their own religious institutions.
NOTHING-BAD-CAN-HAPPEN-excluisve-620x400The film itself is a real great work of drama with thriller elements, and a healthy dose of horror, to my mind anyways. This is absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 stars for me. I can’t wait to get a copy on Blu ray because there are no doubt bits and pieces I missed when I first had the privilege of seeing the film. Highly recommended. Keep an open mind – an inquisitive, free mind – and think about the bigger implications of Nothing Bad Can Happen. A real powerful work from Katrin Gebbe – someone who I again hope to see more from in the near future.

Bela Kiss: Prologue – Because Literary Terms Be Damned

Bela Kiss: Prologue. 2013. Directed & Written by Lucien Förstner.
Starring Kristina Klebe, Rudolf Martin, Fabian Stumm, Ben Bela Böhm, Janina Elkin, Angus McGruther, Julia Horvath, and Jörg Koslowsky. 4Digital Media.
Rated R. 106 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

1/2★

bela-kiss-prologue-401380lThere are movies which sometimes fool me, for one reason or another, into thinking they’ll turn out to be something much more than they really are – Bela Kiss: Prologue is one such film. Not that I expected greatness whatsoever, but the beginning wasn’t bad. The inclusion of serial killer Bela Kiss intrigued me. Also, the first fifteen minutes or so were decent enough I started believing this might not be too bad. To my chagrin, I slowly came to realize this movie was headed downhill.

The plot of the film is sort of foolish from the start. We get bits and pieces of the Bela Kiss story (I won’t go into this much – you can check it out online & get a much better description of his crimes than I will give you) & then nearly a century later you’ve got a bunch of robbers headed to a remote forest hotel. When they arrive it’s assumed the place will be their safe haven from any law enforcement or authorities, but their safety vanishes once people start to die.
I suppose the whole idea is that Bela Kiss may still be roaming around. There are all sorts of newspaper clippings, yadda yadda, laying around about Kiss; the bodies in the gasoline drums, pictures, et cetera. I mean, it’s just nonsense. Basically there’s no real explanation other than “blood gives you eternal life”, but somehow Bela Kiss hasn’t died – he’s almost 140 and still killing people. Or at least he’s having people killed so he can use their blood. I don’t even really know. It’s an awful, awful screenplay.

They sort of take Kiss’ story and mix in the, short, belief that he was some sort of vampire (due to puncture marks around the neck & the bodies being drained of blood). Instead of coming out with something interesting, it just seems really boring. Bela Kiss as a serial killer alone is terrifying enough. They could’ve given us a version of his story instead of making it into a very confused update, or whatever it happens to be.
This brings me to another point – the title. Basically states it’s the prologue of a story. Whose story? Certainly not Bela’s story because if it were a prologue to that then we’d most likely have a look at his childhood. Or do the filmmakers understand the meaning of ‘prologue’? Not to be rude. I just really don’t get why the word is in the title. I could maybe get with it if they called it Bela Kiss: Epilogue because this is most certainly the end/continuation of Kiss’ story. I try to never really get hung up on a film’s title, especially horror, but this is just laziness. It’s like they were trying to figure out some cool title, they really wanted to the serial killer’s name in there, and all they could think of was the word prologue. I can’t get over it. Sloppy. Unless someone can give me an explanation for it that makes any sense. Otherwise this is one of the rare cases where a movie’s title really pisses me off for having no significance whatsoever.
bela-kiss-prologue_filmstill_web_010Most of this was a real heaping pile of nonsense, however, there were a couple scenes I really liked for the camerawork. Two of these particular moments both involve bodies being dragged. One is early on when the group of robbers end up blowing away a man in the forest on their way to the hotel; the gore is pretty good here, and also the camera view as the body is dragged away looks neat. Same sort of camerawork happens again later once one of the poor victims in the hotel is being hauled away for who knows what sort of torture – the disorienting feeling the camera angle puts us in really works. Not that there is a whole lot of incredible visual flair throughout the entire film. Though, there are a few instances I really enjoyed like these two moments.
bela-kiss-prologue_filmstill_web_001Some of the slasher-type bits of Bela Kiss: Prologue worked well enough. There are one or two scenes which really put this in the slasher genre. Although it is a bad movie and I wouldn’t compare it to any good slashers already out there. Regardless, we get a few nasty throat slashings, stabbings, and other violence. Enough to satisfy the blood quota. That being said, there’s nothing at all new.The villain runs around with a knife senselessly, casually slitting open jugular veins and thrusting blade after blade into victim after victim.
bela-kiss-prologue_filmstill_web_011The finale of the film is fairly blood drenched and gory at parts. Yet I’ve seen much crazier violence. They try to go for this big finish, but it really left me cold. Part of the reason why is because I cared about one of these people. They were awful, petty so-called robbers, who all look like they were cast from out of magazine ads; the characters were weak and ridiculously stereotypical of the worst slasher movies. Then there’s the terrible attempt to throw in a final scene where “The Master” shows up, with his hokey blood red pupils, chomping on a cigar, and telling the woman who runs the hotel their plan has only just begun; he cackles, I cringe. Like a rotten cherry thrown on top of a curdled ice cream sundae. Even worse, the last scene is just atrocious! The dialogue was breathtakingly bad, and the whole way things caped off was just really horribly done. Sloppy from start to finish.
bela-kiss-prologue_filmstill_web_014I can’t give this movie 0 stars because there were honestly a couple moments I enjoyed, which I discussed earlier. Plus they had enough blood in a couple scenes that I was able to at least enjoy the deaths of the useless characters in the movie. I’ll only give this a .5 out of 5 stars. Most of this is really cringeworthy. I find Bela Kiss interesting because I’m interested in the psychology of serial killers; I’ve read books from people like Elliott Leyton to Christopher Berry Dee, the subject is just fascinating. However, the filmmakers really took a creepy story that could’ve provided the basis for a pretty neat period piece (I know this isn’t exactly a massive budget film – I’m just saying this idea is better served in other ways than a mixed-up modern slasher), and turned it into something forgettable. It certainly did not do the film any favours the acting was subpar. I couldn’t wait for this whole ordeal to be over.
If you have any interest in Bela Kiss, go watch some documentaries on A&E or somewhere else. This has nothing to do with Kiss other than they hijack his story to come up with a load of nonsense. Avoid this. If you’re looking for serial killer stories being adapted into fictional horror, stick with Ed Gein’s tale told through movies like Psycho and Silence of the Lambs, or even the classic Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Because Bela Kiss: Prologue is not worth the hour and forty-six minutes you’ll waste trying to struggle through the running time without fast forwarding past huge chunks.