Oct 30, 2012

The Tenderness of Wolves

Based on the exceptionally bestial acts of pederast German serial killer Fritz Haarmann aka the Vampire of Hanover  – who molested, murdered, and cannibalized upwards of 27 boys and young men between 1918 and 1924 – The Tenderness of Wolves (1973) aka Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe directed by Ulli Lommel (Haytabo, The Boogeyman) and produced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Satan’s Brew, Querelle) is undoubtedly the greatest ‘horror’ film of Neuer Deutscher Film. Following in the hard-to-supersede footsteps of Austrian auteur Fritz Lang’s self-proclaimed masterpiece M (1931) – a work also based on the real-life murder of Haarman, but also fellow post-WWI bloodlusting seriall killers Carl Großmann, Peter Kürten, and Karl Denke – The Tenderness of Wolves takes a more realist and Fassbinder-esque approach as opposed to the big-budget German expressionist aesthetic assembled by the Metropolis (1927) director. Starring Fassbinder superstar Kurt Raab (Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?, Beware of a Holy Whore) in the leading role as a bald-headed bastard Haarmann, the character bears a striking, albeit more sinister and strapping (relatively speaking), appearance to Peter Lorre’s character Hans Beckert in Lang’s M. Decidedly anachronistic in nature due to unavailability of costumes and props from post-WWI era, Lommel opted for setting The Tenderness of Wolves amid the debris and devastation of ground zero Germany soon after the conclusion of the Second World War, thereupon giving the film a much more nihilistic, fiercely forlorn, and overall harum-scarum feel that is more harmonious with Fassbinder’s deracinated Deutschland of the socially and emotionally inharmonic than the post-empire/pre-nazi years. Of course, the most obvious and important difference between The Tenderness of Wolves and M is that, unlike Lang’s work, Lommel’s film is decidedly dripping with blood, but more fascinatingly yet appallingly, gratuitous and seedy scenes of exposed young male bodies, including that of a particularly venerable preteen boy. That being said, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that not only is The Tenderness of Wolves one of the most aesthetically callous portrayals of a serial killer ever captured on celluloid, but it is also the sort of film that a real-life lust-slayer would see as the most potent and gratifying of arthouse pornography. In other words, The Tenderness of Wolves is to the chickenhawk serial killer what the kiddy arthouse flick Maladolescenza (1977) directed by Pier Giuseppe Murgia is to the debauched bourgeois pedophile. Needless to say, The Tenderness of Wolves is not the sort of ‘horror’ film that appeals to those pedestrian horror fanatics who spend their saved up allowance money dressing up in unflatteringly fitting Michael Myers costumes and going to Friday the 13th conventions.

Like William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980), Todd Verow’s Frisk (1995), and Marian Dora’s Cannibal (2006), The Tenderness of Wolves is the sort of uncompromising homicidal homo flick that would be especially unsettling to modern prissy political correct viewers, not just because of the serial killer’s sadistic sodomite persuasion, but also the pathetic way his life; or lack thereof. Living in a terribly cramped, decrepit, and filthy apartment adorned with human bones, rancid meat, and kitschy angel paintings, Fritz Haarmann (Kurt Raab) is not exactly the most hygienic fellow, thus he has no problem butchering the tender bodies of his young prey and selling it on the black market in a manner that anticipates the cannibalistic family in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974); a work that was released one year after Lommel’s film that would do for Texas farmhouses what Lommel's did for German ghettos. Haarmann also has an opportunistic bisexual boyfriend named Hans Grans (Jeff Roden) that looks somewhat like director Ulli Lommel due to his dapper appearance and who merely uses his cannibalistic friend as a source of tasty twink patties and over black market goods. Needless to say, Haarmann is a patently pathetic pervert, thereupon giving a certain ‘humanity’ to his mostly chilling character and thus making The Tenderness of Wolves all the more of a vexing experience for the viewer. Like “British Jeffrey Dahmer” Dennis Nilsen, Haarmann – a cunning creature of the most bestialized yet godforsaken sort – works with law enforcement, thereupon enabling him to shield his crimes, at least for an extended, mass-murderering period of time. Considering the cops themselves have come upon hard times in post-WWII Germany, they remain absolutely apathetic towards Haarmann’s proclivity for penetrating young boys as they see him, so long as the baldheaded brute provides them with the sort of petty slum policing they are looking for. In fact, Germany is so devastated and depleted by war that an Arab black marketer (played by Fassbinder’s tragic Moroccan lover El Hedi ben Salem) of all people has the audacity to tell Haarman that, “Germany is kaput,” which is indubitably true considering an untermensch barbarian can now bed a German woman for a package of cigarettes in a country that previously put a premium on racial eugenics only a few years before. In short, The Tenderness of Wolves does for the German New Wave what Roberto Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero (1948) did for neorealism: depicting the post-war Germany in a most unsentimental light where the common man is a degraded beggar and the average woman is a worn-out whore, albeit Lommel took particular advantage of these stark circumstances – soundly synchronizing horror movie genre conventions with real-life horror – henceforth creating one of the greatest Teutonic horror flicks since, well, Fritz Lang’s M.

Due to his artistic degeneration into an acutely amateur auteur of such digital diarrhea direct-to-DVD horror flicks as Zombie Nation (2004), Zodiac Killer (2005), B.T.K. Killer (2005), Green River Killer (2005), Baseline Killer (2008), and other similarly generically titled and hastily assembled, wretched works, some fans of The Tenderness of Wolves question if it was actually Fassbinder in the director's seat as he was certainly on the set of the film as both producer and a co-star. In an interview featured in the book Eyeball Compendium, Lommel states in regard to Fassbinder’s contribution to the film: “He actually didn’t want to make the movie himself, but he had respect for our affinity for it. He didn’t want to do it and it didn’t fit into his career, really, and he thought it was too controversial…What I got from Fassbinder was everyone who ever worked for Fassbinder. All the Fassbinder superstars are in this movie, except for Hanna Schygulla.” Indeed, after re-watching The Tenderness of Wolves not long ago, as well as some of Lommel’s later works Cocaine Cowboys (1979), Blank Generation (1980), The Devonsville Terror (1983), and Strangers in Paradise (1984) and a marathon of Fassbinder’s movies, there is no doubt in my mind that the arthouse-turned-shithouse auteur directed it. On top of being more gory, gritty and downright vulgar – traits that dominate Lommel’s contemporary films, although in a rather retrogressive manner – than anything Fassbinder has ever directed, The Tenderness of Wolves lacks the sort of signature naked melodrama that even predominates in the Fox and His Friends (1975) director’s lesser works.  A malicious and oftentimes misanthropic cinematic work of vicious aesthetic and thematic vulgarity, The Tenderness of Wolves is probably the only German New Wave flick that did for horror what Fassbinder's films did for melodrama: unshrouding the collective soul of a defeated, dehumanized, and demoralized nation, which Lommel's friend/producer Marian Dora would continue with Cannibal (2006) and The Angel’s Melancholia (2009) aka Melancholie Der Engel.  I might be a tad bit optimistic, but maybe its about time Ulli Lommel goes back to the Fatherland and returns to his artistic roots, as the murderous mystique of cock-chomping cannibal Armin Meiwes and aberrant Austrian Aryan Josef Fritzl beckons....

-Ty E

1 comment:

Phantom of Pulp said...

Stunning review of a stunning film.

You guys are on a fuckin roll.