As a nation, Germany has gone through many difficult times and survived two of the largest wars ever to take place on our planet. Understandably, after having endured so much real life terrors, the horror movie genre didn’t exactly flourish there following World War II. In fact, it wouldn’t be until the 1980’s that filmmakers would begin to emerge from the German underground film scene and begin making their mark on our favorite genre.
Today I’d like to introduce you to five influential German directors who’ve made the German horror genre what it is today. While you may not recognize them all, I bet you’ll know at least one name from this list.
We begin our journey with a man by the name of Andreas Schnaas, said to be the pioneer of Germany’s ultra-violent underground film scene. Herr Schnaas was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1968 and fell in love with cinema at a very young age. Since his local theaters were lax in their exclusion of young people from more horrific films, Schaas grew up on a steady diet of high caliber martial arts movies and zombie flicks. While his parents didn’t necessarily approve of his cinematic tastes, they did recognize his artistic leanings and by age twelve
he’d shot his first amateur horror film in which he and a friend starred.
It wouldn’t be until 1989 that Herr Schnaas would work up the funds needed to shoot his own movie (5,000 German Marks, roughly $2,000 USD), but when he did his first film he made quite a splash. Violent Sh*t, his initial full length film was so named because it’s precisely what Schnaas’ friend accused him of making. The story involved Karl the Butcher and obviously the movie itself was heavily gore-oriented. Fans loved it and it instantly became a cult hit inspiring many a midnight showing. The German government, on the other hand, banned it once it hit video as the country’s very first straight-to-video release. It’s gone on to spawn three sequels: Mother Hold My Hand, Infantry of Doom (known as Zombie Doom in the United States) and Nikos. Even
though the band never sued for the copyright infringement, the first film did include an unauthorized use of the W.A.S.P. song ‘The Torture Never Stops‘.
That same year, writer director Jörg Buttgereit of Berlin, would bring the world yet another controversial film. Nekromantik was described by famous filmmaker John Waters as the world’s “first erotic film for necrophiliacs”. The story in Nekromantik involves a sort of tragic “hero” who’s job it is to remove bodies from public places. This gives him the perfect opportunity to pursue his favorite fetish: romancing the dead. As you can imagine, due to its
subject matter, the film found itself banned in several countries. However, unlike the Schnaas films, Nekromantik intends to be a social commentary. The basic gist of the story shows the main character as abused and tormented by society at large, thus triggering his withdrawl into the sick fantasy world he’s built to hide within. In his fantasies he can exercise ultimate control over the world and essentially ‘puppet’ the dead the same way that he perceives society to be the all-controlling master of his existence.
While Herr Buttgereit’s film can be defined as horror since that’s clearly a strong element in the film, many viewers find it to be more clearly classified as a transgressive film which is in itself a genre of avant garde filmmaking. The film itself contains many scenes that will be difficult for any audience to swallow, but hard truths about life often are. For stark symbolism, Buttgereit’s cinematic debut certainly pushes all boundaries.
Shortly before the 1990’s, one more force arose in the German movie landscape: Olaf Ittenbach. Black Past, Herr Ittenbach’s first film, proves to be not only his directorial debut, but also his introduction as an actor. He plays a teenage metalhead who’s a heavy drinker and obsessed with death, tortured by nightmarish visions. Of course, from there it’s a total spiral down into madness. Many consider Ittenbach to be the first German ‘splatterpunk’ filmmaker and have compared his works to Resident Evil, Toxic Avengers and other more recognized films. He certainly pushed German horror further into the public spotlight, but not as much as our final director featured in this article.
You may’ve guessed what’s coming: Uwe Boll. Herr Boll is a filmmaker whom critics love to hate. He’s a man who seemingly single-handedly took dark German films to the true international level. He’s not only a director, but also screen writer and perhaps most notably a producer of his own work. Unlike many Hollywood directors who receive outside funding, Herr Boll tends to fund his own work. He studied at both the University of Siegen and the
University of Cologne and holds a doctorate in literature.
So it may come as a surprise to many that he’s so despised in the film world. While there are as many potential reasons as there are minds to think them up, critics often take aim at what they see as his emphasis of style over substance. The films of Uwe Boll often take direct inspiration from videos games like Alone in the Dark, Postal, BloodRayne and House of the Dead. While they may not boast the finest acting or most realistic effects in movies today, Herr Boll’s films most certainly offer up a solid fun factor and that’s made him something of a cult hero among fans of both horror movies and video games in general.
In true maverick style, Uwe Boll rarely stands down when criticized. He’s notorious for publicly insulting his critics and even challenging them to get into a ring and box him! This compliments his legendary ability to raise funds for his films as opposed to seeking funding from established studios. Most of his investors are German because in his native country he enjoys a tax shelter that helps him be able to finance the films more easily. Despite all the
harsh criticism and downright mean things said about his films, he continues to produce them and they arguably improve. While he may remain a magnet for media spite, Uwe Boll stands proud for his fans and refuses to give up his passion.
That’s a wrap on this look at four influential directors on the German horror movie scene. I hope I’ve opened your eyes to what the land that brought us Volkswagens and Dachshunds has to offer when it comes to dark cinema. It may take some work to find the titles featured here, but you certainly won’t fail to be shocked if you choose to pick a few up for your own viewing pleasure!