Jun 24, 2014
As far as I am concerned, the only great German horror filmmaker of the 1990s was Jörg Buttgereit (Nekromantik, Schramm) and he was an avant-gardist of sorts who only directed two features during that entire decade before giving up on filmmaking for good (though he has recently made a comeback of sorts, albeit in a somewhat under-whelming way). Of course, aside from a couple notable exceptions over the decades, kraut cinematic horror has been more or less dead since the German expressionist era of the 1920s and 30s, with the 1990s being a particularly pathetic decade for not only what German-French-Jewish film critic Lotte H. Eisner described as the ‘Haunted Screen,’ but Teutonic cinema in general. Indeed, while the ‘socially-conscious-minded’ directors of German New Cinema had little interest and use for the genre (though a couple masterpieces, including Lommel’s Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe (1973) aka The Tenderness of Wolves and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), were made during that time), the post-Fassbinder era was even worse. One of the few German horror flicks from the early 90s that I did manage to find some marginal value in is the sleekly stylized horror-thriller-drama hybrid Babylon - Im Bett mit dem Teufel (1992) aka Babylon – In Bed with the Devil directed by Ralf Huettner (Texas - Doc Snyder hält die Welt in Atem, Vincent Wants to Sea) and starring Natja Brunckhorst, who is best known for playing the eponymous teenage junky protagonist of the kraut cult classic Christiane F. - Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (1981). Featuring a fetishism for foul human flesh in the spirit of kosher Canadian auteur David Cronenberg, the phantasmagoric and even sometimes kaleidoscopic aestheticism of Guido giallo maestro Dario Argento, the offbeat and jazz-driven mystery and intrigue of David Lynch, and a twist ending that falls in somewhere between Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and The Wizard of Oz (1939), Babylon certainly features an eclectic hodgepodge of cinematic influences that transcends horror and borrows everything, ranging from the meticulously stylized pseudo-softcore flicks of Zalman King to even the high-camp of Werner Schroeter, thus making the film of interest to more 'idiosyncratic' cinephiles. Make no mistake about it, Huettner’s film is a piece of salacious and sleazy celluloid trash of the rather radical ridiculous sort, yet it is also a charming work of celluloid trash that acts as a reminder that some modernist horror flicks can have a semblance of class and cultivation. The sordid story of a young statuesque nurse with a Nordic build who hooks up with a suave psychopathic salesman of the semen demon sort who impregnates a number beauteous young ladies that ultimately die a miserable death when their wombs explode after the demon seed inside themselves completely fertilizes, Babylon could be described as an allegory for AIDS and other STDs in the post-sexual liberation age, but it is better not to analyze the director’s intent, as the film is best enjoyed as a work of reasonably aesthetically pleasing fantasy of the female-flesh-fixating sort.
Opening with a young pregnant lady suffering some sort of complication relating to pregnancy in an opera house while her dubious boyfriend Lothar (played by Dominic Raacke of 45-year-old German TV crime series Tatort and Brian De Palma’s lazy 2012 lesbo thriller Passion) checks out some sassy S&M-obsessed chick flashing her big bosoms in a nearby balcony, Babylon immediately lets the viewer know their entering a semi-surreal erotic pandemonium where every human act seems to have some sort sexual connotation. While Lothar’s girlfriend is rushed to the hospital that night, she soon dies after her stomach inexplicably explodes. After walking in on a blind lesbian named Sabine Vogt masturbating to a tennis game on TV, protagonist Maria (played by Natja Brunckhorst of Christiane F. and Fassbinder’s final 1982 film Querelle)—a reasonably attractive yet somehow single nurse—finds the exceedingly bloody and gore-adorned corpse of the pregnant girl. The next day, Maria goes to the apartment of the dead girl’s parents to let them know about their daughter's rather bizarre death, but when she arrives there she notices a Svengali-like salesman, Lothar (Maria has no idea he is the dead girl’s boyfriend), attempting to sell the parents worthless crap. The father of the deceased, Herr Czermecki (Gerd Lohmeyer), is a hyper-paranoid Slavic midget suffering from a serious case of small man’s complex who accuses Lothar and Maria of being in cahoots together to swindle his family upon hearing the bad news regarding his belated daughter’s mysterious death-by-exploding-stomach. In fact, Herr Czermecki completely loses it and pulls out a gun on the two guests, but Lothar manages to snatch the weapon away from the mad little mensch and helps Maria escape from the apartment unscathed. Of course, Lothar is no hero, as a lethally lecherous lady's man who knows how to appeal to women's weaknesses, especially where superficial compliments are concerned.
A rather charming (but not exactly handsome) devil with a moronic goatee in the spirit of Anton LaVey who hits on girls by asking them if they are Swedish (the film seems to insinuate that Germans see their Germanic brothers the Swedes as their racial superiors) and stating such silly things as,“I’ll give you wings and fuck you to heaven, sister Maria. You want that? Or should I send you to hell? I can screw you to hell. My prick can do it all,” Lothar offers Maria a ride home and before the young lady knows it, she is copulating with the satanic salesman, who pounds her puss so hard that the raspberry-flavored condom breaks. On top of coercing Maria into sex, Lothar also convinces the nurse of compiling a list with the addresses of all the patients at her hospital so he can come by their home, so as to exploit their sorrow by selling them junk that they do not need, or as he proudly states himself, “the sick are so susceptible.” Needless to say, Maria eventually feels bad about exploiting her patients and starts a fight with Lothar that concludes with the premature end of their relationship and the sinisterly suave salesman hatefully stating to the nurse upon leaving her apartment, “pity your tits are so small.” Of course, Maria naturally gets pregnant as a result of her rubber-busting fling with Lothar and she eventually convinces her doctor friend Tilmann (Michael Greiling) to perform an illegal abortion on her. Before having her unborn babe vacuumed out of her womb, Maria takes Sapphic blind patient Sabine on a ‘date’ to an opera house to inform her that a cancerous tumor in her body has become malignant. A visually impaired lipstick lesbian, Sabine wastes no time in attempting to get into Maria’s panties, but after learning about her terminal illness, she forgets about feelings for the nurse and opts for committing suicide via self-defenestration. Naturally, Maria is rather disturbed when she sees a piece of Sabine's brains on the ground near where the blind babe committed suicide.
Meanwhile, Lothar begins inseminating other young beautiful women with his deadly gentleman’s relish, including Maria’s blonde and big-breasted nurse friend Bibi. Lothar charms Bibi the same way he charmed Maria by asking her if she is a Swedish model, as he is a pernicious one-note-wonder of a pick-up artist who need not do much to swoon beautiful yet terribly stupid young women. When Maria finally receives an abortion from Tilmann in what is a rather grotesque scene involving the graphic vacuuming of the protagonist’s womb, the mangled aborted fetus manages to escape and ends up in a garbage dump. Shortly after the abortion, Maria witness Bibi’s pregnant stomach exploding while the two are driving somewhere and she blames Lothar for her friend's ghastly death. Naturally, with all of her friends dropping like flies, Maria is questioned by the police, with one of the officers even rather rudely asking her, “Are you gay? Are you a lesbian? Sabine Vogt had shaved her private part.” Eventually, Maria comes to the conclusion that enough is enough and decides to waste Lothar by shooting him while he is taking a leak in a urinal, but the psychopathic salesman seems to have already succumbed to his own seemingly supernatural STD. After Dr. Tilmann, who is secretly in love with the nurse, helps Maria escape the crime scene, the young lady goes looking for her aborted fetus in a garbage dump and when she eventually finds it, she is sucked into a gigantic womb as if she is being reborn. When Maria awakes from her ostensible rebirth, she finds herself awakening in a hospital bed and being greeted by Lothar of all people. Indeed, Maria has just given birth to her husband Lothar's child and virtually everything that has happened in the film was merely a dream. Of course, Lothar is still revealed to be a scumbag, as he engages in sadomasochistic sex with another woman while talking to his wife Maria, who is still recuperating in the hospital, on the phone. In the end, Lothar states directly to the viewer: “I’m a machine…made from over 100 billion parts. I took 500 million years to mature. Can’t you feel it?”
An oneiric celluloid work that is equally aesthetically orgasmic as it is ominous, Babylon may be far from a masterpiece but it is probably better than virtually every Hollywood horror movie that has been released in the two last decades or so. In its depiction of a man who kills every woman that falls in love with him and his leather letchwater, the film seems like a rather loose transexualized reworking of Satanic Teutonic Renaissance man Hanns Heinz Ewers’ masterpiece Alraune (1911), which was adapted for film on at least five different occasions (the last adaptation was directed in 1952 by Arthur Maria Rabenalt under the title Alraune aka The Unnatural and starred Erich von Stroheim). Indeed, with its reversal of the gender of the quasi-supernatural sexual predator, Babylon certainly seems like it could have been informed by post-WWII feminist brainwashing, yet the film has too many gratuitous ass and tits shots for me to believe that director Ralf Huettner is some sort of sexually cuckolded cinematic warrior against misogyny and whatnot. Interestingly, leads Natja Brunckhorst and Dominic Raacke were real-life lovers at the time of shooting the film and even had a child together a year before the work was released. Personally, I find Brunckhorst rather unappealing but I barely recognized her in Babylon, as the director managed to direct her from all the right angles, including from behind in a scene featuring her unclad derriere. Of course, those looking for a cheap masturbation aid will probably be disappointed by the work, unless you're a prepubescent boy who gets aroused by seeing a mere mammary gland, as the film is far too silly and, in parts, sickening to act as a sort of celluloid aphrodisiac. Indeed, while the film features scenes that make women’s bodies seem like something akin to an Arno Breker statue, Babylon ultimately makes sex and romance seem ridiculous in many respects, especially when it comes to the pathetic figure of the so-called “pickup artist” as depicted by literal sex monster Lothar. Indeed, as Huettner’s film demonstrates, if a man has to use exceedingly pathetic bullshit tactics to scam his way into a woman's main vein, he is, at the very least, a disingenuous fellow and possibly a psychopath like antagonist Lothar. Of course, as a work that depicts death-by-gestation, Babylon will probably be the most horrifying to young females, especially of the pregnant sort, and probably should not be viewed by a chick that has had an abortion, as it features a somewhat graphic scene of the protagonist's unborn mutant fetus being sucked out of her womb during surgery. Indeed, a work of racy reproductive horror that is probably the closest thing to a kraut Dead Ringers (1988), albeit nowhere near as sophisticated (but arguably more stylish), Babylon is cultivated celluloid trash with a surprising amount of elegance and dark humor that ultimately reminds the viewer that there are some rare films that manage to straddle the usually fine line between cinematic crud and charm.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:27 PM
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