Jun 20, 2014
Naturally, as an American, it is not often that I bump into late-1970s German horror films at thrift stores, so when I discovered a VHS copy of Fleisch (1979) aka Spare Parts aka Hôtel de l'apocalypse aka Carne aka Le motel rouge directed by West German TV auteur/novelist Rainer Erler (Operation Ganymed, Das blaue Palais mini-series) in a giant black case, I naturally bought it (or should I say, my girlfriend bought it for me). Exceedingly misleadingly marketed in the United States as a sexually-charged slasher flick (the Vidmark Entertainment VHS release I have features a scantily clad babe on the cover whose body parts have been dismembered as if her limbs are puzzle pieces) and featuring the somewhat ridiculous puffery-plagued tagline: “The cutting edge in medical terror!,” Fleisch was produced by the German TV channel ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen aka Second German Television) which, through its experimental feature slot ‘Das kleine Fernsehspiel,’ produced a number of important works by top auteur filmmakers associated with German New Cinema, including Werner Schroeter, Helma Sanders-Brahms, and Ulrike Ottinger, as well as foreigner experimental filmmakers like Raoul Ruiz and Stephen Dwoskin. Of course, Fleisch is certainly no highbrow avant-garde work, as a somewhat hokey horror-thriller with rather terrible dialogue, an absolutely abhorrent hippie-esque folk soundtrack, and a convoluted and sometimes just plain nonsensical storyline, yet the film has something about it that makes it marginally notable, especially in regard to its distinct German perspective regarding the United States. Indeed, shot in New Mexico and New York City, Erler's anti-intellectual exercise in so-called “medical terror” features an America where everything, including illegally harvest organs, has a price and people do not bullshit, especially when it comes to killing and ‘kicking ass.’ Indeed, sort of like the Paris, Texas of kraut quasi-exploitation cinema, Fleisch is at its greatest and most stunning when depicting the barren beauty of southwestern landscapes and unbelievably ugly east coast urban decay. Depicting a country where people are so stupid that they do not even know that Germany is a European nation and where truckers comprise a secret society of honorable, if not violent and uneducated, renegade heroes of sorts, Erler’s film may be a second rate horror-thriller with conspicuously contrived dialogue and a sometimes nonsensical plot, but it offers a rare honest cinematic depiction of the ostensibly glorious United States of America and its semi-feral-like Europid citizens.
Hot young blonde Teuton Monica (Jutta Speidel) has just married her American musician boyfriend Mike (Herbert Herrmann) and for their honeymoon, they have decided to take a whimsical road trip across the American southwest, even though they have very little money to spend. While cruising through New Mexico, the two spot a shockingly cheap motel with the strangely fitting name Honeymoon Inn that offers couples a room and free coffee for a mere $7.50 a night. When the two newlyweds drive up to the motel, they are immediately greeted by the eccentric owner (Tedi Altice), who dresses like a white trash gypsy and has a rather contrived friendliness, as if she is a big bitch suffering from constipation who is trying as hard as she can to put on a friendly front. Upon renting a motel room, the two lovers are soon bombarded with personal questions by the motel owner, who remarks to Monica, “Well, I can hear you ain’t American and I can see you ain’t from Mexico.” After Monica remarks that she is from Germany, the motel owner absurdly asks, “Germany? Oh, is that in Europe?,” to which the sensual young Aryan beauty sarcastically replies, “Yes, I’m a kraut…A Fritz, a Fräulein…Anything wrong with that?” After settling into their motel room, Monica and Mike do what newlyweds should do by making passionate love, but the fun soon ends after they finish having sex and subsequently frolic around outside in the arid desert where they soon notice a mysterious ambulance driving off-road. Monica must have supernatural powers as she instinctively runs away from the ambulance and begs her hubby to do the same, but he ignores his wife’s warnings and is soon kidnapped by the two EMTs driving the vehicle. Luckily, Monica manages to get away, but when she goes to the motel owner from help, the old pseudo-gypsy con-woman pretends not to know her and seems quite apathetic to the blonde babe’s pleas for help. Indeed, the motel owner is in cahoots with the mad medic kidnappers and she calls back the ambulance to kidnap the horrified German girl, but Monica manages to get away and subsequently waves down a cynical redneck Polack trucker named Bill (Wolf Roth).
While Bill is initially annoyed by Monica’s fear-based shivering and assumes she is a teenage runaway who has some sort of pathetic “sob story,” he soon begins to warm up to her and realizes she is really in trouble after hearing her somewhat dubious story. Indeed, Bill is a hardworking trucker who is fueled by “uppers and a steady supply of coffee” and has no time to help anyone because he has to transport “20 tons of frozen beef to New York,” but he cannot help but help a hot young half-naked Aryan babe in need. After running into the EMT kidnappers at a diner, who eloquently describe Monica as a junky “bitch” who escaped from a mental institution, Bill begins to totally believe Monica’s story and agrees to selflessly help her to find her husband Mike. With the support of his uncommonly loyal trucker comrades, Bill comes up with the plan to have Monica and himself intentionally kidnapped by the black market ambulance bandits so they can trap the malevolent medics and have them interrogated regarding Mike's whereabouts. Indeed, after the two are kidnapped at the Honeymoon Inn (Monica sports a brunette wig to obscure her identity), Bill’s trucker friends chase down and trap the ambulance and attempt to interrogate the EMT goons, but the degenerate medics will not go down without a fight. After shooting and killing one of the murderous medics, Bill strips the other one naked and puts him in the meat freezer in the back of his truck in an attempt to get the pseudo-EMT to talk. As it turns out, the ambulance is used to kidnap complete strangers who are sold at $2000 a head to sinister surgeons who run an international black market organ bank that is patronized by wealthy cripples that need organ transplants. Bill and Monica learn that a certain Dr. Jackson (played by German documentary filmmaker/actress Charlotte Kerr) is responsible for running the underground organ harvesting industry, so they decide to pose as medics and head to the hospital of horrors where the organ harvesting takes place in the hope of finding Mike.
Needless to say, Monica is rather shocked when she is randomly approached by Dr. Jackson while waiting for Bill in the ambulance and learns that the seemingly depraved doctor is actually a sophisticated and reasonably attractive woman who takes her job rather seriously, especially in regard to preserving and transplanting donor organs. Ultimately, Dr. Jackson figures out that Monica is the wife of involuntary organ donor Mike and coerces Bill and the Teutonic beauty to fly out to NYC via airplane to transport a couple of 'patients.' On the airplane ride, Monica discovers her husband Mike, who has been drugged and is strapped to a stretcher, in the back of the plane, but she and Bill are soon drugged against their will and tied to their seats. When the plane lands in NYC, Monica somehow manages to escape after abruptly jumping out of the airplane door and running through a series of abandoned buildings, but her personal crusade to help Mike and Bill now seems hopeless, so she merely waits at a dangerous park nearby the hospital where her husband and friend are imprisoned and begins to cry hysterically. When a police Sergeant (Bob Cunningham) spots Monica sitting in a dangerous part of central park, he has her detained and listens to her rather far-fetched story involving murderous medics and sinister surgeons. As it turns out, Dr. Jackson has come forward to the police and has confessed to her crimes. With the rather worthless help of the police, Dr. Jackson and Monica manage to smuggle Mike and Bill out of the heavily secure hospital, but they are chased down by the good doctor’s Svengali-like male Intern (Christoph Lindert), who slicks back his hair in a rather unfashionable fashion that is not unlike Hannibal Lecter, thus giving him an ominous appearance. As Dr. Jackson reveals, she was blackmailed by the Intern into getting involved with the organ harvesting black market after she got involved in a dubious organ transplant involving her terminally ill son. When Dr. Jackson first met Monica and realized the deleterious effects she was having on people's lives, she finally decided enough was enough, or so she explains to the young Aryaness. Ultimately, Dr. Jackson manages to save Monica, Mike, and Bill by dropping them off on the street in the middle of a car chase between her and the Intern’s men. In the end, Dr. Jackson becomes a martyr of sorts after she is killed in a car crash when her ambulance is run off a road by the Intern’s men. Ironically, Dr. Jackson does not become an organ donor in the end, though Monica, Mike, and Bill pay their respects to her at her funeral.
Undoubtedly, compared to the great works of German New Cinema being produced at the same time by ZDF, Fleisch seems like an obscenely outmoded celluloid pseudo-horror turd that has become less than fresh with age, yet if looked at as an original cinematic portrait of America and its eclectic landscapes from a depicted from a distinctly Teutonic perspective, the film is surprisingly entertaining and certainly has some minor aesthetic merit. Indeed, if you’re looking for a celluloid postcard of America that does not emotionally drain and/or bore the viewer like the malignantly melancholy quasi-existentialist cinematic meanderings of Wim Wenders, Fleisch makes for a reasonably fun filmic road trip through the United States. Surprisingly, Rainer Erler’s film was somewhat recently remade by South African auteur Oliver Schmitz (Mapantsula, Paris, je t'aime) as a German-SA co-production entitled Deadly Harvest (2008) aka Fleisch. Of course, there are countless other films in the same vein as Fleisch, including Michael Crichton’s Coma (1978), Cardiac Arrest (1980), Larry Cohen’s The Ambulance (1990), and Turistas (2006) directed by Hollywood hack John Stockwell, but one can hardly call any of these films masterpieces. Undoubtedly, Fleisch must have stricken fear into some Germans when it was first released, as a work where virtually all of the characters are either uneducated and/or hicks, New Mexican seems like seem sort of hellishly hot rural pandemonium-like wasteland, NYC looks like a grimy and even somewhat grim third world sewer, and doctors/medics target foreigners for their priceless organs. As for real-life organ harvesting, it is well documented that the Israeli’s have been doing it for decades, with the government of the only official Jewish nation in the world even confessing to stealing the organs of dead Palestinians during the 1990s. With that being said, I have to admit that I would love to see Roland Klick, who directed his classic acid western Deadlock (1970) in the Negev Desert during the chaotic aftermath of the Six-Day War, get back behind the camera for the first time in decades and direct a film in the spirit of Fleisch on Israeli organ harvesting. Indeed, for fans of anti-intellectual kraut filmmmakers from the 1970s/1980s like Klick, Roger Fritz, Klaus Lemke, Rudolf Thome, and Eckhart Schmidt, Fleisch makes for a sometimes aesthetically pleasing piece of Teuton-sired trash Americana.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:03 AM
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