When this review was originally written most of the information touching upon Jörg Buttgereit and his 1987 film Nekromantik remained the case at the time. Fortunately for fans of his work, UK fans in particular, since December 2014 the wonderful people at Arrow Films have not only been allowed to release this (in)famous film experience [Fully Uncut] but if you are fortunate to own the limited Blu-ray box set edition this also includes short films, Hot Love (1985) and Horror Heaven (1984). This package also includes a dvd transfer and new 2014 material and masses of other features to innumerable to mention. The same form has recently been repeated with the 2015 full uncut release of Nekromantik 2 (1991). Not only do I salute the efforts of Arrow films and what they must have gone through in order to get these two controversial pieces passed by the BBFC but I must also congratulate them for getting another mention on this blog. This fact alone can mean only one thing, that Arrow are constantly impressing me greatly with their genre releases. Long may this trend continue and their ever expanding catalogue be as productive with future releases and also continue in the same positive vain. E.D. Leach. 27th December, 2015.
Jörg Buttgereit’s Schramm: Into The Mind of a Serial Killer, 1994 is without doubt the most controversial film to hit The Cult Movie Review site thus far as is we must add the films director also. Jörg Buttgereit was born in the old not as yet unified West Berlin, Germany on the 20th December 1963. To this day Jörg Buttgereit is a director of few works since his break through movie Nekromantik way back in 1987. Up until this point Buttgereit had produced only short films and documentary formats but his first main feature and his début long form production would show the world an uncompromising and at times brutal and most suggest controversial form of both subject matter and direction. The feature storyline of his 1987 movie would immediately court such uncomfortable notoriety by dealing with the subject matter of necrophilia in particular. A deliberate ploy to offend perhaps? Whatever the directors intent it was clear to the film world that Buttgereit would not bow to conventional means and introduced what most critics saw as a return to the video nasty era of filmmaking, while others may suggest all Buttgereit simply did was remind people that movies should be about whatever the director chooses to create despite subject matter and despite the possible consequences of not compromising in visualising his own strong cinematic aesthetic.
Had this young director set-out to deliberately antagonise – reopen old wounds or had he simply had enough of standard horror movies of the period and decided on shaking things up once again. Whatever his reasoning or mind set his first noted effort Nekromantik is both very uncomfortable viewing and quite disturbing even to many hardened horror fans, myself included. I like the fact that Buttgereit made the film despite knowing what would happen and how indeed both he as a director and the film as a genre movie would be both perceived and received. Would he, could he divide the genre community by shaking things up even further. At this point I will not get into a more in depth opinion of what I think personally of Nekromantik right now because I really want to concentrate more on Schramm but as a cautious fan of both of the Nekromantik movies i am definitely a fully fledged fan of two of Buttgereit’s other efforts, Schramm is included in my more favoured of his films. It must be pointed out right now that I have no problem with his controversial Nekromantik and its 1991 follow up work at all. All I will say at this juncture RE: Nekromantik; I have witnessed at first hand how offensive this film was construed and viewed sometime ago when I was once present as part of a cinema audience at a special showing of Buttgereit’s cult classic and I can tell you a minority of the audience were so obviously offended that they soon left the screening, some in disgust, some in probable shock but all had common sense to know their limits and leave the auditorium without further delay. I fully accept and understand this behaviour and bare no criticism toward these genre fans who found Nekromantik that step too far. This work and Jörg Buttgereit’s other films have never been given a official UK cinema rating and I believe is still the case today that three of the four are still officially banned from UK distribution or general release. Der Todesking 1989 was given a video certification and released by Screen Edge videos in the early 90’s. I also believe a box set of his short films the main title feature being Hot Love, 1984 may have had very limited release at one time or another but his four main features are available only as imported options, three of which are unavailable to purchase in the UK directly. Only special one off genre orientated movie festivals have been granted special permission to show any of his work in the past and again I believe is still the case in 2012 which is both sad and somewhat perturbing as we are now firmly in the second decade of the 21st Century. I must also give a quick mention here before we proceed any further to the film that brought this director to my initial attention. A film that will be reviewed by us sometime in the future. Der Todesking, 1990 aka The Death King is a truly wonderful unique and extremely bizarre movie that never before have I seen the likes of, nor have I seen anything like since. This was the film that originally introduced me to the strange twisted and dark world of Jörg Buttgereit and fellow collaborator and associate, Manfred O. Jelinski.
Anyway I digress as usual, so back to this film. A serial killer, Lothar Schramm (The Lipstick Killer?) played extremely convincingly by Florian Koerner von Gustorf lies injured in his apartment after a ‘forced’ home improvement accident. During this period we are given a story based on various phases of backdated flashback of both the characters twisted reality and his extreme flights of fantasy, both most often collide and intertwine and suggest ergo the complex and disturbing broken mental state and mind of our killer. It is this approach that not only gives a perspective through the eyes of what is in essence a brutal man but at the same time as later in proceedings clearly shows our psychotic killer may have a certain vulnerability which begins to manifest within this characters daily activity, this is a man who thinks nothing of taking life when he so desires. His sometime obsessive even protective though initial distant friendship with his next door neighbour Marianne played wonderfully by Buttgereit regular Monika M, suggests what may be a temporary reprieve from Schramm’s manic tendencies, her eventual interaction begins to bring out a more social and humane personality as the films storyline soon focuses upon. This particular relationship between Marianne and Lothar is quite extraordinary and has many depths that are dealt with with such mastery by Buttgereit and Franz Rodenkirchen who Co-wrote the story. The writing takes the unusual step of creating a social and cultural cusp between the protagonist and the sleazy life that Marianne’s character leads in order to make a living? It seems to suggest that Lothar Schramm is trying very hard in stages to claw his way out of his own perceived madness which is his constant companion. Later on the significance of this neighbourly interaction has far reaching and devastating consequences to both main characters but not in the way you may think or imagine?
What could just be a play on the standard serial killer format is much more diverse and complex and is not dealt in a routine way at any point. A lot of critics of this film tend to forget there is a underlying storyline that works really well but it seems people are much more focused and concentrated on the more controversial elements of this nightmarish movie, which is pretty understandable I guess! There is nothing glamourous about our killer. ‘Hannibal Lecter’, Lothar Schramm is not, nor does this film favour such comparison. There is no glorification here, what you get is brutal and often sordid. This is a individual in the midst of total breakdown, a massive disorientation of prescribed attitude and normal behaviour and civility. What we have here is a man who suffers from delusions of extreme body politics (as is often graphically depicted). There is a constant flow of sexual frustration and deviancy which is clearly displayed throughout and what ultimately causes this character the awkwardness of any normal social integration or secure interaction of any note, this basic human trait, to a large extent fails. The exception to this rule being his subsequent friendship with the character Marianne. Though later this relationship is ultimately played out as Schramm feels better comfortable with. (Very disturbingly indeed I must add). I cannot stress enough how important this particular scene is in context of the movie and could this be a moment of bizarre clarity? All I will offer as synopsis is that Marianne does not suffer as others would in such moments when in the presence and company of this insane person.
Front artwork for booklet By Martin Trafford
The first double homicide carried out by Schramm and the subsequent fall into total despair and self loathing and self harm, (which is of the most disturbing I have ever witnessed in any movie) forms a massive discomfort for the movies viewer is the association and characterisation of how mental breakdown is so brutally and often convincingly portrayed, unlike any other movie dealing with such shattering effect. John McNaughton’s 1986 Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is the only other notable movie that is comparable with Buttgereit’s effort. Unlike McNaughton’s masterpiece however, Schramm deals more with the sheer insanity rather than Michael Rooker’s phenomenal portrayal in Henry which extends more on Modus Operandi and the subsequent interaction and grooming, apprenticeship of another character and would be killer, in this case Tom Towles character and Henry sidekick Otis. (Yes it is obvious T.C.M.R. Will tackle John McNaughton’s epic ‘Henry’ very soon!) Unlike Henry: Lothar Schramm is a lone menace, pure and simple.
There is far more to Schramm than just pure visceral intent and controversy, though both are clearly here in abundance. The movies soundtrack which is arranged & composed by Max Müller & Gundula Schmitz often adds another unseen, foreboding element in its inference, tone, its very presence which is often noted in the more shocking moments, including the ‘exercising scene’ or ‘the rut’, as I like to consider it to be.
Some film critics and genre fans alike have found this movie obscene and quite beyond the pale. There are scenes of human self mutilation that are very extreme but put in context are quite necessary in expediting the extremities of deprivation the main character it seems is constantly experiencing. I found in this Buttgereit effort a film that is uncompromising yes! And at times is extreme but at no time does the film ever glamourise or seek redemption for being so brutal a ride as the movie clearly and spectacularly is, nor does the Teutonic character fall in to any of Hollywood’s often stereotypical pretext or conventions. What we have here is a director who made a film as a film should be made and that is with his own vision and direction and is therefore not influenced by outside forces telling him what is acceptable as a horror movie or indeed choice of subject matter. This film is clearly not every ones idea of movie entertainment and is definitely not a film that makes a moral judgement on its subject matter but what it does do if you are willing to stick with it is take you on a unsavoury journey and in turn make you intake large gulps of shallow breathing aplenty as you experience this unforgiving world and if you see it out to its inevitable outcome and finale. The relief at getting to the other side of this dark road is what experiencing this movie is really all about. This is one of many reasons why I like Schramm as a movie experience and why the films director is very much appreciated on this side of the divide at least. The main performances of the two focal characters played by Florian Koerner von Gustorf and Monica M, are so rewardingly portrayed that both deserve immense credit for pulling off tremendous performances considering the overall tone of dread and sadness that comes in their characterisations. May I also say the dark and uneasy twist in the tale which comes at the very end of the film will make you wonder how a movie dealing with something so terrible in the first place could possibly add anything additional to the horror in an already claustrophobic and tense piece of work but being this is a Jörg Buttgereit production the unexpected is never far away and he creates a even more tragic an ending than one could possibly imagine. The closing scenes of this drama will take your breath away as the film simply adds more drama to a already tense and macabre storyline. What lies beyond the main characters probable demise and the unforeseeable circumstances that befall both the serial killer and his (would be?) saving grace which comes in the form of his neighbour Marianne just adds so much more than the average serial killer flick dirge that is often both glamourising of the topic and more often than not come far too overrated in critical appraisal. Many serial murderer dramas come nowhere near accomplishing what this stark and gruesome effort does, nor do they convey the darkness and shocking atmosphere that reality would surely create when dealing with such human depravity. Jörg Buttgereit dictates from start to finish how to break from conventional themes and makes no apology for doing so which I like and appreciate.
Artwork By Martin Trafford
Schramm is not perfect by any means and neither is it as subversive as its current notoriety and status suggest. Surely the BBFC should now go back and reevaluate Buttgereit’s work, including both Nekromantik movies. Yes I understand why this directors work is often approached with great caution and I too would again advise said caution but to still have a blanket ban on Jörg Buttgereit’s important work is probably more offensive a travesty decades on from their creation than peoples right to choose what they sensibly view. What I have seen in recent years and as been openly available to view in public and private and general cinema release often makes me wonder what distinctions must be made before we stop behaving like a junta nation and start behaving like the diverse and more savvy nation we are now famed for being, especially when it comes to the arts world. Jörg Buttgereit’s horror vision is definitely an acquired taste and I in writing this review have now firmly drawn my line in the sand and have openly shown the world where I am proud to stand on this issue of censorship but more so regarding this Teutonic directors work, of which though flawed and at times basic is very often humourous as well as violent and extreme and deserves to be viewed and accepted as routine rather than through mystery and condemnation alone. Schramm: Into The Mind of a serial Killer is a unique and individual perspective on the genre and this market in particular. I believe that the work of Jörg Buttgereit is not widely viewed for the reasons explained, which is for me personally both sad and also quite exciting in many ways because it means I am in a small group of people that have actually taken the time (uncomfortably I may add) to appreciate his work which is pretty cool really! However I hope that one day Jörg Buttgereit will get a fresh lease of life in both his old work finally seeing the general cold light of day. Hopefully whether it be a self imposed exile from movie directing? or just the simple economics of the film industry no longer permitting or even movie producers willing to finance or risk radical filmmaking from such directors, I live in hope that we will eventually see more work from this filmmaking enigma. Frankly it cannot come soon enough. E.D. Leach.
If you have not yet seen Schramm: Into The Mind Of A Killer, then with serious caution I highly recommend this very dark and disturbing movie. If you seek it out then I also advise caution. (See below for details). If you still want to purchase this film despite all possible ramifications then may I suggest the wonderful Special European, 2 disc edition which contains many extras including a booklet the making of… (which is also documented on the dvd extras). There are also Trailers to all Jörg Buttgereit’s other films and lots of other extras. Disc 2 features the full and wonderfully strange and often melancholic soundtrack by Max Müller & Gundula Schmitz.
There are some interesting facts that both directly and indirectly have caused me personal problems in my movie viewing past and doubtless if this review is noted in certain quarters, may lead to more problems in the not to distant but for now at least this review site is about the diversity of genre movies in particular and so I feel obliged to do my bit as this review clearly shows.
Fact: Up until 2015 it was illegal in UK law to obtain via import the following Jörg Buttgereit movies; Nekromantik, Nekromantik 2 and Schramm: Into The Mind of a Serial killer direct from or via the US and European countries were these films are fully uncut and freely available to purchase. Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, H.M.R.C. Can seize and confiscate, arrest, fine and even imprison anyone importing these films directly in to the country. If I find the legal president that I once received on the subject I will make this public and gladly add it to this review so no one in future suffers financial loss or the possibility of serious prosecution. You have been warned.
Fact: Though less interesting and not nearly as important than the previous factoid, David Kerekes, writer of the book SEX, MURDER, ART: Films of Jörg Buttgereit is a native of my hometown Radcliffe, Manchester. If memory also serves me correctly he also ran the official Jörg Buttgereit UK fan association at one point? For more information on David Kerekes here is a link to his current status.
Fact: Jörg Buttgereit directed one episode of the cult Sci-Fi TV series and T.C.M.R. Favourite, Lexx. Season 2, episode 9 titled 791. Broadcast in June, 2000. In 2009 Jörg Buttgereit directed a documentary called Monsterland, based on the history and origins of monsters in the movies. This documentary is notable for interviewing some of the genres greats like, John Carpenter, Rick Baker, Joe Dante, H.R. Giger & Kim Newman. Recently Jörg Buttgereit directed a 65 minute movie called Video Nasty, 2011.