Indeed, a sort of pleasantly morbid Gothic neo-Heimat horror flick that was heavily aesthetically influenced by the rather wholesome and sentimental Heimatfilm genre that that was popular in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria from the late 1940s to the early 1970s yet fairly unknown outside of the German-speaking world, cinematographer turned filmmaker Schilling’s exquisite debut is as shamelessly Teutonic as films come in terms of its themes, motifs, and overall aesthetic, at least during the 1970s when ethno-masochism and politically-charged leftist horseshit was vogue among German filmmakers. Somewhat interestingly, fellow Swiss-German Philip W. Sauber made an intriguing black-and-white student ‘horror’ film entitled Der einsame Wanderer (1968) aka The Lonesome Wanderer a couple years before Schilling that also features heavy influence from German Romanticism and even the Heimat genre. Unfortunately, Sauber’s political tastes were less cultivated than his aesthetic ones, as he died during a shootout with police in Cologne after killing a cop in 1975 while he was a member of the German far-left anarchistic terrorist group ‘2 June Movement’ (aka ‘Bewegung 2. Jun’), thus he never had the opportunity to make a film of the caliber of Schilling’s debut. Underrated German auteur Hans W. Geissendörfer's visually striking debut Jonathan (1970) also predates Schilling's film in terms of Gothic Heimat horror, but it is somewhat plagued by a lame antifascist subtext that involves vampires being depicted as sort of perennial fascists that feed off the blood of hardworking proles. In short, Nightshade is simply the best of the handful of New German Cinema Gothic Heimat flicks.
Since he has only come to the village to simply inspect a house that he might purchase, Jan naturally assumes it will not be a long stay, but he does not anticipate that the homeowner, Elena Berg (Elke Haltaufderheide), is a rather disturbed dame with a glaring case of lebensmüde that will do anything to avoid even discussing a price for the house. Indeed, when Jan knocks on the front door of the house and gets no response, he looks through a side window and is somewhat startled to discover sullen blonde beauty named Elena—a middle-aged woman that is clearly past her prime, yet still absolutely stunning—burning papers and other items in her fireplace. Since Elena seems oblivious to her surroundings, Jan lets himself inside the house and introduces himself as a potential buyer, yet she simply refuses to discuss a price. While Elena has a somewhat frigid affect that hints that some sort of tragedy has chilled her soul and turned her into not much more than a walking and talking corpse, she does seem intent on having Jan stay and tries to ply him with some Vermouth, which he throws in the fireplace when she is not looking. While Jan makes it quite obvious that he wants to know the price for the house and then leave, Elena still manages to coerce him into spending the night in a guest room in the upstairs of the house. As demonstrated by the fact that he is chain-smoking in the dark while he should be sleeping, Jan certainly seems somewhat uneasy by the situation and the mysterious sexy spinster that owns the house, yet he is also undeniably attracted to Elena, hence why he opts to stay the night despite his instincts telling him to leave immediately.
Chilled to the bone by what he has encountered that night after discovering that he may have made love to a mad mariticidal cunt that literally got away with murder, Jan refuses to sleep with Elena, who is to weak to complain, and instead lurks around the house that night while chain-smoking and looking like he has seen a ghost. The next morning, Elena looks even worse and seems to be suffering from some Camille-like wasting disease, yet she gets the strength to tell Jan everything that he has been dying to know. As Elena explains, Werner had been separated from her for a year on the day he died in 1969. When Werner decided to pay her a visit after a year of separation, lovesick Elena, who felt she could not live without him, tried in vain to convince her husband to come back to her, but he “got angry,” and replied, “It’s right the way it is now.” As Elena also explains to Jan, “The years we spent together were a living hell to him. He would never change his opinion,” thus indicating they had a very one-side marriage that was doomed to oblivion. Realizing that Werner would never come back to her, Elena decided to fail to warn him about a dangerous moor when he attempted to take a shortcut in the countryside. Indeed, Elena watched passively as her husband was swallowed alive by the moor. As for her reasoning, Elena confesses to Jan, “He couldn’t leave anymore. I loved him. Now I possessed him. Forever. That’s what I wanted to tell you . . . so that . . . I give you the house for free. You just need to open the letter. Forgive me! But . . . Forgive me!” Only seconds after telling her story, Elena dies in her bed. Upon examining a desk next to Elena’s bed, Jan discovers a bottle of Pentobarbital-Natrium and realizes that she has killed herself.
Somewhat ironically, the virtual heart of New German Cinema, Rainer Werner Fassbinder—a man that made a good portion of his films for television—was a fan of Schilling’s films. Of course, the two filmmakers share one major thing in common and that is their almost pathological love of melodrama (notably, Schilling's wife Elke Haltaufderheide would also star in Fassbinder's magnum opus Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) in what would ultimately prove to be her penultimate acting role). In fact, as Schilling once wrote, “Melodrama—what a strange concept; another cubbyhole in which one places scenes with crying men, childless, rich women, passionate love-hatreds, and setting suns. It also is used as a disapproving and disdainful response to a precisely choreographed attack on the world of emotions, something a cinematic film can do if it takes itself seriously. I take it seriously and no doubt use these forms taken from the melodrama, because these forms likewise contain something that is specifically cinematic: an optical narrative structure which does not explain and edify—a way of dealing with emotions.”