May 18, 2011

The German Chainsaw-Massacre

Everyone knows how brutal a Texas chainsaw massacre is, but few can fathom the sheer depravity of a German chainsaw massacre. In 1990, German art-house-trash auteur Christoph Maria Schlingensief released the boldly extravagant Brecht-esque satiric reunification splatter flick The German Chainsaw-Massacre (aka Blackest Heart); the second entry in the director’s “German trilogy,” and a film that boldly goes where no film has gone before. Indeed, you will never see another cinematic work (except in another Schlingensief flick) that even begins to rival the anarchic nature of The German Chainsaw-Massacre; a film featuring a dream-sequence scene where Udo Kier sports an absurd Hitler-Chaplin-swastika-mustache, as well as a cast of swarthy untermensch German actors that put the real-life cast of Fritz Hippler’s The Eternal Jew (1940) to shame. Christoph Maria Schlingensief – who better resembled a Talmudic scholar during his remaining days than an Aryan Übermensch – passed away prematurely late last year due to an unsuccessful battle with lung cancer, thus I feel it is my duty to honor his legacy as a maniac maverick auteur by viewing all of his films within the next month (which is something I should have done long ago). Although it has been a while since I saw a film by the enfant terrible auteur, I decided that viewing The German Chainsaw-Massacre would be the best way to start my month long unofficial Schlingensief movie marathon. After watching the film, I must admit that I was anything but let down, as viewing The German Chainsaw-Massacre was the cinematic equivalent of a bleak phantasmagorical National Socialist nightmare. In fact, I would give my body to the Third Reich if I could somehow hear long dead Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels' (who is infamously known for banning films in the Fatherland) thoughts on the film. As one would expect from a work entitled The German Chainsaw-Massacre; the film is a tad more sophisticated and less serious than Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). German immigrants played a large role in the cultural development of Texas (17% of modern Texans claim to be of German descent) - but like most Americans of European descent – they are indubitably less culturally refined than their blood brothers from the old country. In Schlingensief’s The German Chainsaw-Massacre, one notices that cultural degeneration in Germany has taken a slightly different route than in the Texas portrayed in TCM.

The German Chainsaw-Massacre opens with real-life documentary stock footage from the 1990 German reunification ceremony.  Then, the film takes a sinister turn for the worst, warning viewers that east Germans - who look and act like westerners – are secretly living among them.  During the Third Reich, Aryan blood was considered nothing short of holy, but in GCM it is merely a less than meaty lucrative means for maniacally making money.  Additionally, while the Teutons of Nazi Germany wanted to consolidate with their racial brothers from around the world, most of the eastern and western Germans featured in GCM much rather prefer murdering one another.  It goes without saying that GCM and TCM also have their differences.  Whilst the slightly deranged cannibalistic Sawyer family featured in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre prefers only the finest grade human meat, the west German human-butchering clan of The German Chainsaw-Massacre stereotypically prefers Teutonic bratwurst cut from the cheap meat of east German swine. Of course, that is not the only difference between the two families, as while the quasi-inbred Texan Sawyer family prefers to butcher and sell the meat of counter-culture hippie types, the family featured in GCM – who are set in their barbaric ways – are happy to kill friendly progressive east Germans, as they make for tasty would-be cosmopolitan treats. Thus, it is apparent that Herr Schlingensief executed a role-reversal tactic with his distinct brand of chainsaw massacring - portraying the seemingly more advanced west Germans as debauched capitalists who are too set in their greedy ways to reunite with their culturally and economically bankrupt kinsmen.  Even to this day – like most ex-Soviet eastern bloc nations – the eastern region of Germany still hasn't recovered from decades of communism. Of course, in Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the director played on the prejudicial fears many Americans have for "backwards", "inbred" and "violent" confederates. As you find out during the beginning of GCM, east German anti-heroine Clara is far from being a sweet sassy lass as her thirst for blood is almost equal to that of the west German cannibal clan she falls prey to, for she is an undeniably proficient killer with an improvised talent for murdering and castrating enemies. While portraying those east Germans who refuse to leave their post-communist region as backwards automatons who are incapable of deracinating themselves from their former authoritarian brainwashing (as personified in GCM by a group of emotionally robotic ex-Stasi border patrol guards), the progressive west Germans - who are also set in their (materialistic) ways - slaughter their countrymen for blood soaked meat and Deutsche Marks. Frau Clara is indubitably a progressive feminist that yearns for total freedom as her sole interest is to emigrate to the west at any cost, even if she has to murder her androgynous troll-like husband in the process. On top of featuring a totally different socio-political subtext from the more traditional and linear horror history told in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The German Chainsaw-Massacre – a salacious work of unconventional slapstick murder – features gore-galore and endless scenes of exquisite entrails and bodily dismemberment. Like most of Christoph Schlingensief’s work, The German Chainsaw-Massacre is first and foremost a clever (albeit intentionally trashy) neo-surrealist romp satire that should be taken solely in jest. Every serious horror fanatic knows that Hooper’s cannibal clan flick is a canonical masterpiece of the macabre (as advertised in the film) due to its extremely naturalistic and somewhat cinéma vérité inspired aesthetic, thus, I suspect that the most fans of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre will fail to appreciate (nor begin to understand) the wickedly designed jubilant chaos that is The German Chainsaw-Massacre.

 Christoph Maria Schlingensief

 I have a feeling that Christoph Schlingensief was less than enthusiastic about splatter films, but he certainly proved his profound understanding of the horror subgenre through the satiric tongue-and-cheek nature of The German Chainsaw-Massacre. Although the film features enough gore to stun the most desensitized of gorehounds, it will be apparent to those individuals that the director lacks respect for such exploitive exploits. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Schlingensief was mocking Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik (1987) – which was released a couple years before The German Chain Saw Massacre – as both films feature mangled human torsos (both being the result of an automobile) that look quite similar. GCM is like a perfect marriage between the Viennese Actionist films and the surrealist works of Luis Buñuel confined to production values that mirror John Waters' early Art-House-Trash flicks (Pink Flamingos, Desperate Living, etc.). Also, despite the sexually surreal nature of The German Chainsaw-Massacre – which includes incest and female-on-female missionary style rape – it is quite apparent that Schlingensief is mocking the post-WW2 libertine nature of European cinema. To put it simply, The German Chainsaw-Massacre is one of the ugliest and most revolting films that I have ever seen in my cinema-obsessed life.  What saves GCM from being a loathsome pile of Germanic excrement is how hilarious and audaciously ridiculous the film is.  Thankfully, Christoph Schlingensief was a politically astute individual who knew how to make his atypical symbolic social commentary digestible.  After all, most politically-charged filmmakers are quite obnoxious (Spike Lee, Michael Moore, etc) in their execution of socio-political commentary. It is very doubtful that there exists another film in the world such as GCM; where a cannibal family keeps their dead Wehrmacht soldier grandfather (symbolic of Germany's inability to move forward) as a mobile shrine (another nod to TCM). To call the films of Christoph Schlingensief difficult would be an obscene understatement, but for those that have the gall to visually devour works that blur the imaginary line between pure trash and pure art, his films offer cinematic experiences like no other. Although A Hundred Years of Adolf Hitler (1989) is the first film in the director’s “German Trilogy”, I recommend that Schlingensief-virgins watch The German Chainsaw-Massacre first as it is a much more accessible work. Due to Hollywood and the mainstream (and the not so mainstream) media’s skillful knack for inducing Teuton-phobia in the minds of American citizens, I think that is safe to say that it if the average yank were to watch one of Schlingensief’s films, it would (mistakenly) confirm their suspicions regarding the purported dubious nature of the fallen master race. Luckily, Schlingensief’s films are only known and beloved by a small cinephile elite that cherishes the unfortunately deceased auteur filmmaker’s incomparable works of post-post-modern Germanic anti-kultur. Maybe someday a brave American horror auteur will do for Amero-cinema what Christoph Schlingensief did for German national films, but such an unlikely scenario is merely wishful obsessive-cinephile thinking. Instead, next time I watch The German Chainsaw-Massacre, I plan to accompany it with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, as such an eclectically perverse double-feature could only make for an oh-so rare majestically macabre experience.  German prophet philosopher Oswald Spengler once stated something along the lines that out of all the artists (he was most specifically referring to the German expressionist painters) who created art during the interbellum period (between the first and second World War), not one of them was an artistic genius that had the ability to construct aesthetically pleasing works.  That being said, Spengler was lucky that he didn't live to see the subversive works of post-WW2 German filmmakers.  Spengler – whose canny physiognomic tact enabled him to foresee many of the horrors that would occur in the western world nearly a century after his death – couldn't even have foretold the spiritually sick chaos contained within a hyper-cynical film like German Chainsaw-Massacre.  Since we (the living) are all confined to culturally degenerate times – where art is more often unprepossessing than not – one might as well buckle-up and enjoy the deluging ride.  Whether you were born in Germany or not, one (most imperatively those of occidental heritage) should accept that a film like The German Chainsaw-Massacre is mostly importantly a reflexive sign of our wretched times.

-Ty E


Sarcophagus McAbre said...

Great review! And what a coincidence: I have just watched the movie a few days ago for the first time... When it was issued back in 1991 I thought it was a sort of joke or a piece of shit... but it is art as far as Germany is concerned...

I still don't know what to think about that movie... except that I regularly come back to it...

My favourite part is maybe the less violent: the crazy folk band created by officers on the dole! When you've seen that you know that ANYTHING can happen.

Thumbs up to the composer Jaques Arr too. Never heard of him before, but he did an outstanding job, as good as Wayne Bell's one on Texas Chainsaw Massacre anyway.

Anonymous said...

If you ever encounter a film called "The British Chain Saw Massacre" please dont watch it, OK.