Ginger Nuts of Horror
Welcome back to Film Gutter, where we spend a while swimming in the effluence that mainstream horror leaves behind. After a week off, we're back with the first of three reviews looking at one of the best-known names in extreme horror, and a man synonymous with the video nasty era, Jorg Buttgereit. So infamous was his movie Nekromantik that it has only just been granted a cinema release for the first time, 26 years after its initial release. But more of that one – and its surprising sequel – in the next fortnight.
For today, we're spending some time looking at Schramm, Buttgereit's take on the serial killer movie. The movie begins with the death of our lead character, who falls from a ladder whilst painting his house. Cosy and domestic, no? Well, anything but, in all honesty. Because in those dying moments we relive the life of Lothar Schramm in all its glory and ugliness. The film comes with the subtitle 'Into the Mind of a Serial Killer', which works perfectly for this one.
What we are offered in Schramm is sort of a tapestry – things are not always in an entirely clear order, and some scenes are presumably the dreams and nightmares of our protagonist. What we are able to discern is that Lothar is in love with his neighbour – a prostitute played by Monika M of Nekromantik 2 – but is too nervous to do anything about those feelings. He's a friend to her, and willing to help her in various ways, and their awkward relationship – which you always feel has no hope of coming to fruition – is part of the story. The other aspect of the tale explores Lothar's distinctly psychotic side, with the murder of two door-to-door religious types a central tenet of that. There are also some pretty full-on scenes of imagined abuse and real-life self-abuse – I won't spoil the most notorious scene in the film for you, but I'm sure DIY was never supposed to look quite like that.
The thing that is fascinating about Buttgereit's work on the whole, and something that is very much in evidence here, is the fact that shock and artistry are combined in a way that is sometimes fantastic and at other times simply feels mismatched. Notable in this film is a habit for the background to be unsteady, shifting and moving in a fashion that is pretty disorienting. It took me a while to notice this going on, but it adds to the sense of unease wonderfully and feels as though you are right into the damaged mind of Lothar Schramm. The cinematography, in places, is absolutely stunning, and there's a wealth of different and imaginative camera angles you wouldn't get in your typical extreme horror move. But working with – and occasionally against – that is the desire to provide something shocking for the viewer, sometimes in a way that leaves you thinking a scene has been ported in from another movie entirely. It's easy to see why Buttgereit was such a source of fascination among the video nasty directors, as it does offer something distinctly different from the likes of The Evil Dead in feel and presentation.
So, what to say in closing about Schramm? It weighs in at just over an hour, and it's unlikely you'll be doing any clock-watching in that time. There's a good slab of shock value, there's a story with some sort of heart at the centre of the plot, and there's some grim and unsettling humour there to boot. It's interesting, undoubtedly. What it isn't is terribly cohesive, either in structure or in style, and I feel ultimately leaves a sense of something that could have been great but simply lands on being good.
An intriguing entry into the video nasty pantheon, and a movie that offers plenty of experimentation to go alongside the expected gore and nastiness. The narrative structure is laid out to be deliberately difficult and obtuse, sometimes making it hard to separate reality from the twisted imagination of Schramm himself. The acting is decent, though, and the film offers at times beautiful visuals as part of its appeal. In the end, though, there's not quite enough of any of those myriad aspects for me to really rate it too highly – it's solid in many areas, but doesn't really shine enough in any of them for me to give it more than a 7/10. Very much worth a look for those with an interest in extreme horror and its history.