The Tenderness of Wolves (1973)
Neuer Deutscher Film fanatics rejoice, Ulli Lommel is here and he brought Rainer Werner Fassbinder along with him. Fritz Haarmann lives the dream life, not only is he a rapist serial killer of boys and young men, who lives in an apartment decorated with kitsch paintings of angels and filled with the rancid meat and moldering bones of his victims, in a highly chic bombed out part of the city, but he has a thriving business selling human meat to local establishments. Jealous much?
Loosely based on the life and crimes of Werner Kniesek, this Austrian film descends into the psycho psyche of a recently paroled killer as he embarks on a seriously sick and sadistic spate of slaughter in a manner quite unlike any other. Immediately after having been “rehabilitated” in one of the country’s fine institutions, our “hero” who never stopped seeing red, descends on an isolated estate, where he proceeds to “work out his repressed emotions and meaningfully express himself” by exterminating its inhabitants for his own sadistic sexual self-gratification; all the while, treating us to reminiscences of his childhood torment and systematically laying out all of the fantasies he’d like to make reality; it’s all heartwarming stuff really. Of course, I’m being facetious; this is a rough film to get through, the first two murders are actually unintentionally funny in my opinion but things take an abrupt and stark turn for the decidedly disagreeable with the killing of the daughter which is hard to watch, even for this jaded misanthrope. The film is masterfully composed and seamlessly shot with nary a nick in the narrative. Complimenting the camera work, Klaus Schulze’s synthesizer soundtrack sends symphonic shivers scurrying up my spine, giving the impression these psychopathic sounds are driving the annihilative actions of the antagonist. Clearly auguring later “extreme” movies from western neighbors France, this film also really deserves to be mentioned alongside superlative cinematic treatments of stateside slaughterers such as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, though for my money, Angst is infinitely more artful and hermetically unparalleled.
Coming two decades after Tenderness of the Wolves, a decade after the aforementioned Angst and six years after his notoriously nasty necrotic debut, Nekromantik, Teutonic auteur Jorg Buttgereit’s sublimely surreal sadomasochistic sickie swansong character study collage of a sexually deviant serial killer’s final seconds of survival is exactly what it’s subtitle: Into the Mind of a Serial Killer suggests. Through a loose utilization of the reverse chronology technique, later popularized by the likes of Christopher Nolan, we witness the recondite recollections of one Lothar Schramm, the Lipstick Killer, as he lies sprawled out on the floor of his apartment in a pool of his own blood after cracking his skull open following a header off a ladder while painting over plasma stains in the parlor. What is great about Schramm is that it doesn’t allow for any pop psychology answer to the perennially posited query, why? We are left with the patently pathetic personage of masturbating, penile mutilating Schramm himself; he was what he was because he was a loser, nothing more. That is the truly subversive substrate of this film, it’s comment on it’s own ilk.
Cold Light of Day (1989)
We now jump across the pond to Merry Olde for a little looksee at a lunatic Lustmord flick “For those too sensitive for this world” as the concluding tribute to the director’s self-slaying friend states. The film is based on the escapades of “the British Jeffrey Dahmer”, Dennis Nilsen and is shot in a queasy quasi cinema verité style, which adds inestimably to the grubby, grimy, grungy feeling of inhabiting Nilsen’s flat, not to mention his life. Heads are boiled, bodies are stowed under floorboards and none are the wiser until Dennis formulates the fancy idea of flushing flesh down the loo. If I may be allowed a pun, that is when everything goes to shit; Nilsen is promptly arrested and confesses his misdeeds to his Albion accuser Inspector Simmons. As an aside and if I may be allowed one more pun, this film pairs well with the 1993 film, The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer starring Carl Crew as the eponymous Dahmer, which, while “fictionalized” sheds far more light on the character and motivations of it’s subject and feels truer than 2002’s Jeremy Renner vehicle, Dahmer.