Mar 19, 2017


While the New German Cinema movement of the late-1960s through early-1980s was responsible for producing a wide range of great cinematic masterpieces ranging from Werner Schroeter’s Eika Katappa (1969) to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) to Edgar Reitz’s Heimat: A Chronicle of Germany (1984) to Ulrike Ottinger’s Freak Orlando (1981) to Werner Herzog’s Stroszek (1977), the movement was only responsible for a handful of horror films, though thankfully they are mostly rather notable and original. Arguably, the most well known of these films is Werner Herzog’s classic F.W. Murnau remake Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979) aka Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) starring Klaus Kinski as the eponymous blooduscking ghoul. Not unlike Herzog’s flick, the Fassbinder produced serial killer flick Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe (1973) aka Tenderness of the Wolves directed by Ulli Lommel and penned by and starring Kurt Raab was also heavily influenced by German Expressionism. While not exactly influenced by Expressionism, Nachtschatten (1972) aka Nightshade directed by Niklaus Schilling (Rheingold, Die Vertreibung aus dem Paradies aka The Expulsion from Paradise) was heavily inspired by a once-popular film genre of yesterday and is indubitably one of the most idiosyncratic, refreshingly apolitical, and ‘counterrevolutionary’ films of New German Cinema.

 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.

 While technically a member of New German Cinema movement, Schilling was somewhat of a critic of his contemporaries and had an aesthetic that some might erroneously describe as ‘fascistic.’ Indeed, the pastoral scenes in Nightshade seem like something out of a landscape painting by 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich.  Notably, in his 1977 article ‘Cinema, Melodrama, and the World of Emotion,’ Schilling argued in regard to his distinct philosophy to filmmaking, “One can say that the special qualities of German film are its countryside, its regions, the soil, and perhaps its people in general. And likewise its myths. A ‘German world of feelings’ if you will, which can be an almost ideal cinematic subject. In this sense, the German films of the thirties, forties, and fifties have more to do with cinema than the films of the sixties and seventies. And our surroundings have lost nothing of their mythologies at all; and these are of interest me.” Undoubtedly, it would not surprise me if Schilling was attacked as a ‘Wandervogel romanticizing’ and ‘bourgeois Blut und Boden backing’ crypto-Nazi for having the testicular fortitude to make such an audacious claim in an age when the Baader-Meinhof Gang was celebrated by certain fairly popular German filmmakers. Somewhat ironically, before becoming an auteur in his own right, Schilling was responsible for acting as a cinematographer on some of the hippest kraut counterculture flicks and arthouse flicks of the late-1960s, including Klaus Lemke’s 48 Stunden bis Acapulco (1967) aka 48 Hours to Acapulco, Jean-Marie Straub’s Fassbinder collaboration Der Bräutigam, die Komödiantin und der Zuhälter (1968) aka The Bridegroom, the Comedienne and the Pimp (1968), and Rudolf Thome’s Detektive (1969) starring fashion model turned commie groupie Uschi Obermaier. Notably, Detektive also starred platinum blonde bombshell Elke Haltaufderheide, who would eventually become Schilling’s wife, muse, producer, and regular leading lady, including in Nightshade where she practically glows with tragic and haunted lovelorn pulchritude. 

 A singular work of uncompromising cinematic ‘Liebestod’ where a certain fatally foreboding lovesickness constantly contaminates the air to the point of virtual asphyxiation, Nightshade is a film with virtually nil plot and similarly little action. In short, it is a film of intense yet delicately constructed slow-burning atmosphere and morbidly morose pathos that resembles the most breathtaking of darkly erotic nightmares and ultimately provides the viewer with a hauntingly stirring cinematic orgasm in the end that—for better or worse—is completely unforgettable, even if it is somewhat predictable. Had Dutch avant-garde auteur Frans Zwartjes attempted to direct a Heimat flick with something resembling at least a shell of a narrative, it might resemble Schilling's film.  In its darkly romantic oneiric depiction of mud and murder in the remote countryside, the film also deserves comparisons to the cinematic works of underrated Belgian auteur André Delvaux (Rendez-vous à Bray, Belle). Needless to say, in terms of construction and setting, especially in regard to the beginning, the film owes much to credit to Danish master auteur Carl Theodor Dreyer’s masterful vampire film Vampyr (1932). In terms of its horror approach to the Heimat genre and quasi-mystical depiction of moors and the outdoors in general, the film also seems to have been influenced by the fairly forgotten West German pastoral Gothic Rape on the Moor (1952) aka Rosen blühen auf dem Heidegrab directed by Hans H. König. On a less obvious but no less crucial level, Schilling’s debut also owes credit to the films of Italian maestro Michelangelo Antonioni in terms of attempting to reinvent the concept of narrative cinema and being a sexually tense mood piece that features a short doomed love affair between two alienated strangers. 

 Right from the beginning of the film, it is apparent that protagonist Jan Eckmann (popular Dutch actor John Van Dreelen) is a stranger in a strangeland and that it can only end badly for him. Shot around the Lüneburg Heath region (the German equivalent of Dartmoor moorland in southern Devon, England) of Lower Saxony in northern Germany, the film is set in sparsely populated rural village where the people seem emotionally comatose and walk around like melancholic somnambulists, as if they are the ghosts of an ancient region of the Fatherland that was completely annihilated in World War II.  As an unabashed workaholic that works in the music publishing industry, Jan plans to leave as soon as possible since he has only traveled the region to look at a house that he is thinking about purchasing. Based in Hamburg, Jan never really mentions why he wants to buy a quaint old house in the countryside, but he seems to suffer from some unconscious form of Fernweh as if he was compelled to come to the region by some unseen sinister force. A successful yet childless single man of the mostly materialistic bourgeois sort, Jan also gives off the vibe that it has been a longtime since he felt both the emotional and physical warmth of a hotblooded woman, hence probably why he eventually falls prey to the patently preternatural flirting qualities of the seemingly unhinged female lead.  Like so many films of cinema history, Nightshade reveals the sort of bizarre and irrational behavior that a man will put up with just for a little piece of premium grade pussy.  To Jan's credit, the female lead has some indescribable and seemingly intangible quality about her that absolutely entrances both the viewer and protagonist.

 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. 

 When Jan wakes up after his first night at the house, he is somewhat startled to be greeted by a large lavish breakfast and a note from Elena letting him know that she is at church. A workaholic that hates eggs and rarely eats breakfast unless it is in his office, Jan is not all that impressed with the nice gesture and remains adamant that he plans to leave ASAP after finding Elena at a small eerie church, but the beauteous woman suffers from a terrible case of Erklärungsnot and proceeds to use strange and manipulative feminine tactics to keep him around. For example, Elena sobs when Jan tells her he has to leave, but she pushes him away and runs into another room when he dares to attempt to kiss her. In fact, Elena even seems to haunt the protagonist’s dreams, as Jan has a petrifying yet nonetheless aesthetically alluring nightmare where he sees her lovingly placing red flowers on his gravestone. Somewhat curiously, the gravestone has an inscription of three years before on 27th of July 1968 as Jan's death date. Notably, while Jan is having this stunningly morbid nightmare, Elena is kissing his lifeless lips as if she is attempting to breathe death into him. Unbeknownst to Jan, Elena’s belated husband, who the protagonist bears a striking resemblance to, died under mysterious circumstances on 27th of July 1968. During that same night, Jan is also startled to discover Elena attempting to start her dead hubby’s Mercedes while in a somnambulistic-like state. While Jan manages to kiss her lips and neck and fondle her breasts while she is still sitting in the car, Elena eventually pushes him away. Unfortunately for Jan, Elena is still deeply in love with her dead husband, but luckily he bears an eerily striking resemblance to the seemingly ill-fated dead man. 

 Naturally, one of the things that most annoys Jan about Elena is the fact that she is so impenetrably secretive in a passive feminine sort of way yet, at the same time, this seems to allure him (of course, it does not hurt that she is a nice piece of Aryan ass). For insistence, there is a locked room next to Elena’s that she will not let Jan see inside, though she will not give any good reason for attempting to hide it from him. Eventually, Jan becomes so hopelessly infuriated with Elena’s pathological evasiveness and unsettling secrecy that he loses his cool and demand answers, yelling at her as if she is his delinquent daughter, “I went along with it. But now you’re done. What are you simulating? What do you want from me? Why do you want to sell the house? What’s the matter with the room? Why don’t you want to show me the room? You want to sell, but you don’t want to talk about the price. What about the car. Why did you want to drive off? You were inside my room! What are you doing at night? Say something! I don’t want the house. Nobody is going to buy it! Never! I don’t even want it as a present.” At this point, Elena gives in and hands the key to the locked room to Jan in a slow and almost ritualistic fashion as if the male protagonist is about to open Pandora's Box. Needless to say, Jan gets somewhat of a shock when he opens the door and discovers a virtual shrine to Elena’s dead husband in the form of an almost unsettlingly mundane and minimalistically decorated work office. On top of discovering a daily calendar with the date 27th of July 1968—the same exact day that the male protagonist saw inscribed on his gravestone during his nightmare—Jan sees a 1960 wedding photo of Elena and her dead husband, who is his virtual doppelgänger, albeit slightly balder and less attractive. Before Jan knows it, Elena is inside the room, but when he attempts to talk she softly covers his lips and guides him to her husband’s bed where they proceed to make love.  Of course, by entering the locked room, Jan has symbolically accepted the role of Elena's dead hubby and thus is repaid with morbidly melancholic poontang.

 Considering that Elena is obviously attracted to Jan because he looks just like her dead husband, it is safe to say that she engaging in a sort of emotional spectrophilia with the male protagonist when she begins a sexual relationship with him. Not surprisingly, the next morning after they have sex for the first time, Elena transforms into a completely different person and sheds her hypnotically sullen forlornness for a sort of bubbly girlishness, as if she is a teenage girl that has just fallen in love for the first time. Indeed, Elena immediately begins acting as if Jan is her dead spouse and begins decorating the house as if they are newlyweds that have just moved into their first home.  In short, Elena resembles the happy girl from the 1960 wedding photo of her and her dead husband. Elena also becomes obsessed with having Jan take photographs of her outside, but every time he does so her face is curiously obscured in the photo as if she has some sort of curse weighing down on her and/or she has a black mark on her soul. Of course, Jan becomes somewhat worried when he checks Elena’s mailbox against her wishes and discovers an August 1969 newspaper with the ominous headline, “Mysterious Death in the Pine Moor Remains Unsolved.” To make matters more unnerving, Elena completely collapses when the two begin walking towards the local moor. Naturally, Jan is forced to carry Elena back home, but the protagonist becomes somewhat startled when she remains bedridden and states while in a state of haunted delirium, “Stay! Please stay! I want… I want you, Werner. Come on! Let’s go back. No, let’s not take the car. We’ll walk! A couple of flowers for you. The rain will cover the tracks. Hold me tight. Help me, Werner! Careful! The dress! It’s getting wet. It’s deep.” As Jan soon discovers, ‘Werner’ is the name of Elena’s dead husband.  Naturally, Jan only becomes more and more obsessed with learning about the dead man and his dubious fate.

 When Elena falls completely asleep after spending most of the day bedridden in a semi-conscious state, Jan uses the opportunity to do what he has been meaning to do for days and goes to a local inn to call his work. Of course, Jan gets quite the shock when the rather rotund innkeeper states to him, “You’re well preserved . . . after three years in the moor” and accuses him of being the mysterious “Werner Berg.” After a little bit of morbid confusion, the innkeeper pulls out an old newspaper with an article about Werner’s death that reads, “Elena Berg has been found not guilty on all accounts. The verdict in this sensational trial has been expected. The court had no other choice. But a shadow remains on Elena Berg. A discharge due to lack of proof is inevitable. The defendant left the court in cold blood.” Notably, the article features a court photo of Elena where she looks like the most glacial of femme fatales and certainly not the same woman that the viewer has encountered at any other moment in the film.

 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. 

 While I can imagine many fecund-free feminists deriding the film for being ostensibly misogynistic due to its inordinately dreamy depiction of a half-crazed cunt causing the death of her husband because she cannot bear to lose him, Nightshade is, at least in my less than humble opinion, somewhat flattering in its depiction of womankind, especially in regard to love. After all, even when a woman is dumped by a man that she is genuinely in love with, it usually does not take her long to rebound and devote herself to another dick. Indeed, it usually seems that women get more upset at the prospect of their lover finding another (superior) partner than simply losing said lover, hence the tendency of women to get jealous over the new girlfriend of an ex-boyfriend despite the fact that they no longer have any sort emotional attachment to said ex-boyfriend. Of course, as a childless middle-aged woman that has a much harder time snagging a mensch than a 20-year-old twat with a firm ass and tits, the female lead in Schilling’s film has other reasons to be mad about her husband leaving her as she probably has a perennial case of Torschlusspanik (after all, the great irony of the sexual market place is that, while a man's value tendency to increase as he ages, a woman's simply decreases as her value is based almost solely on her looks and fertility). In that sense, the fact that the film was produced and stars the director’s wifey makes it all the more intriguing, as if lead Elke Haltaufderheide was threatening to kill Schilling if he ever dared to leave her (also, on a more pathetic level, Schilling might have wanted to believe that Haltaufderheide loved him so much that he fantasized that she would kill him if he ever made the mistake of leaving her). Either way, Nightshade is a perversely yet elegantly darkly romantic film that demonstrates in a uniquely unnervingly entrancing fashion that a lost love can be a fate worse than death that can lead to the lovelorn loser to becoming a haunted mess that is imprisoned in an increasingly suffocating pandemonium of the past. 

 Considering it is a two-character film with next to nil plot or storyline, seemingly no studio sets, sparse dialogue, and rather simple camerawork, Nightshade could have easily been a major disaster and abortive cinematic Kuddelmuddel yet it ultimately makes for a shockingly atmospheric and singular cinematic work, especially for an a first-time auteur who originally worked as a cinematographer on rather different and largely black-and-white flicks that have mostly not aged quite as gracefully. Indeed, unlike many of the cinematic works of New German Cinema, which were oftentimes politically-charged and very much typical of their particular zeitgeist, Schilling’s film has a timeless quality not unlike the great works of German Expressionism. As for Schilling’s rather distinct cinematic Weltanschauung, he made his intentions rather clear when he once wrote, “It is really quite simple: cinema should involve the senses. I think of ‘cinema as an experiential realm,’ as an experiential form, something that makes it—or should make it—different from television. Seen in this light, film is by no stretch of the imagination merely to be equated with cinema. If there is anything I bemoan it is surely the increasing impoverishment of cinema, especially in the Federal Republic of Germany, where it actually has become a form more and more like television and connected to it.”

 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.” 

 Interestingly, fellow Swiss auteur Daniel Schmid (Heute nacht oder nie aka Tonight or Never, La Paloma)—a friend and collaborator of Fassbinder—was also obsessed with melodrama, despised leftist agitprop and the counterculture decadence of his own zeitgeist, and was considered ‘counterrevolutionary’ by both fellow filmmakers and film critics.Also , Elke Haltaufderheide is certainly to Schilling’s films what Ingrid Caven was to Schmid’s early cinematic works in terms of being a terminally tragic diva that slowly but surely disintegrates on screen as a result of a deadly love that dare not be named.  Undoubtedly, both Haltaufderheide and Caven are so spiritually forsaken, internally wounded, Todessehnsucht-obsessed, and just plain physically pale in these films that they seem like they would turn into dust if one were to attempt to caress them.  Of course, the major difference between Schilling and his contemporaries Fassbinder and Schmid is that he was heterosexual, which probably explains why his films are more erotic and ‘sympathetic’ to the perils of the female lead. Undoubtedly, in a somewhat preternatural way, one can sense Schilling’s love for Haltaufderheide and her emotional and physical nuances simply by watching his films, especially Nightshade and his arguable magnum opus Rheingold. Likewise, Schilling's love of classic German landscapes is also fairly apparent, which is indubitably one of the reasons why he is the most innately Teutonic filmmakers of his era. In terms of its hopeless and fatalistic doom and gloom Gothic Heimat melodrama, nyctophiliac dream-sequences, bold and luscious colors, and decadently romantic spirit, Nightshade is like New German Cinema’s adequately pessimistic equivalent to Veit Harlan’s National Socialist melodrama Opfergang (1944) aka The Great Sacrifice. Of course, unlike with the female protagonist in Harlan’s film, there is no transcendence for the forlorn female lead of Schilling’s flick unless you count lovesick suicide. In terms of sheer otherworldly aesthetics, eerie tone, and phantasmagoric imagery, Nightshade certainly has more in common with Frank Wisbar’s underrated Nazi era horror flick Fährmann Maria (1936) starring tragic dark-haired beauty Sybille Schmitz (who, incidentally, also starred in Dreyer's Vampyr and was the inspiration for the tragic eponymous junky ex-actress of Fassbinder's Veronika Voss). 

 As someone with an uniquely unhealthy affinity for morbidly depressed and unnervingly introverted natural blondes of the Teutonic-blooded sort, Nightshade proved to be a bittersweetly beautiful affair, even if I found the female lead's guilt-ridden lovesick suicide to be slightly improbable.  Of course, my complaint seems pointless when I remember that Schilling's film is a Gothic cinematic tone poem that is best left to the soul than the intellect.  Either way, the film bleeds feminine melancholy in a way that rivals the best of Ingmar Bergman and for that reason alone makes it worth viewing.  A cinematic work that manages to strip down cinema and bring it back to its basics while at the same time reinventing the concept of narrative cinema, Nightshade also provides a refreshingly experience that recalls times that were simpler, especially when one considers the mostly worthless films that are created in Germany nowadays.  Indeed, after watching Schilling's film, I could not help but recall a recent interview with French blonde bombshell Brigitte Bardot where she was asked if she watches contemporary French films and she boldly replied, “Never. But what is it with all these actors and actresses? We only see scrofulous, sick, twisted and ugly people. The heroes today, they are people in crutches or paralysed in a wheelchair or old and in a coma. Where are the heroes? Where are the personalities that make us dream, the Gabins, the Brasseurs? I think of Alain Delon. Who replaced him? Now it’s just beards [She uses the word “barbus” which literally means beards but is also slang for Muslims] and actresses with oily hair who get raped in corners then find excuses for their attackers. You only have to look at the César Ceremony [French Oscars equivalent] where nice zombies thank Mum and Dad, their concierge and their taxi driver, while making the compulsory call for human fraternity and antiracism.”  While it was most certainly not Schilling's intention, Nightshade is also a reminder that one middle-aged blonde beauty is indubitably worth more than six million 19-year-old Turk twats.

-Ty E

Mar 12, 2017

Der Nachtmahr

It is a long story, but somehow I used to know a gay Sicilian-American that somewhat resembled a young Julius Evola who became a mystical-minded neo-eugenicist of sorts because he was so obsessively disturbed by the low quality of young women in his native NYC and was quite rightly convinced that many of these debutantes were forsaken whores and too hopelessly drug-and-dick-ridden to actually sire healthy offspring.  Convinced that he was on some sort of holy mission in a decidedly dysgenic age where Western governments subsidize the proliferation of racial untermenschen at the expense of the mostly Europid taxpayers, this superlatively strange gay guido, who once told me in all seriousness that he believed that Soiled Sinema was one of the darkest and most depressing website on the internet, had personally known his fair share of dumb party bitches that took too much ecstasy and felt it was his sort of quasi-spiritual duty to preserve superior genetic material that had not been despoiled by modernity. Undoubtedly, this eccentric homo wop eugenicist, who had obvious maternal instincts and clearly suffered from an advanced form of ‘ovary envy,’ was thinking about the sort of teenage kraut raver sluts featured in the experimental Teutonic horror-sci-fi-fantasy Der Nachtmahr (2015) aka The Nightmare directed by ‘Akiz’ aka Achim Bornhak (Das wilde Leben aka Eight Miles High, Shakespeares letzte Runde aka Will's Grill) when he decried the reproductive unsuitability of many modern women. Quite provocatively and fittingly, Bornhak’s feature, which features a bizarrely lovable yet somewhat tragic gargoyle-like fetus monster of sorts, deals with themes of birth, death, motherhood, and womanhood, thus making it a cinematic work that is certainly more socially pertinent than it might seem upon a superficial glance. Set in a nation that is committing collective suicide via to its rapidly declining racially indigenous birthrates and released around the time of the racially apocalyptic so-called ‘migrant crisis,’ Der Nachtmahr—a not-so-orgasmic odyssey about a vapid teenage raver slut with seemingly nil authentic personality that starts losing her mind while simultaneously developing a strong connection to the somewhat enigmatic fetus monster—is indubitably an auspicious cinematic work in a somewhat perversely preternatural form where raw and visceral teenage sexual appeal collides with ostensibly banal things like motherhood and reproduction. Indeed, for better or worse, there is no film quite like Bornhak’s somewhat unclassifiable feature, even if it features some glaring cinematic influences. 

 Part arthouse, part exploitation, and part exercise in spastic genre-defilement, the film certainly surprised me when I first saw it as I am familiar with Bornhak’s most popular flick Das wilde Leben (2007) aka Eight Miles High—a fairly generic biopic about dark-haired German 68er-Bewegung hippie icon and model Uschi Obermaier—which lacks any sort of genuine artistic merit or originality and feels like it could have been directed by any nameless soulless for-hire hack. A seeming expression of the same culturally retarded (pre)apocalyptic post-nihilistic Europa that produces tragic melancholic Nordic wigger rappers like Yung Lean, multicultural British alt-pop groups like Young Fathers, ethno-masochistic antifa-supporting far-leftist half-breed filmmakers like German-Greek auteur Nikias Chryssos (Der Bunker), and intriguingly unhinged yet talented Dionysian divas like Italian actress-cum-auteur Asia Argento, Der Nachtmahr is unequivocally a potent example of a sick and deracinated Americanized Occident that has lost its soul, succumbed to debauchery and complying with every base instinct, and completely forgotten its rich history and cultural legacy. Indeed, Bornhak, who has been supported by people ranging from David Lynch to artistically bankrupt urban scribbler clown Banksy, is clearly a degenerate of sorts, but some brutal truths bleed through his film in a way as if the auteur somehow managed to expose the hidden screams and cries of the decidedly diseased German collective unconscious.  In fact, although assuredly a victim of modernity himself, Bornhak has been influenced by the writings of ‘Aryan Christ’ Carl Jung and his film offers an esoteric view of the excesses of Berlin youth culture and the soulless spiritual void that is (post)modernity.

 Set in a decidedly deracinated trash-covered ‘post-racial’ Berlin that makes the Weimar Republic seem like the height of class and cultivation by comparison and featuring an inordinately sexy ‘heroin chic’ female lead that looks like a Russian sex slave and plastic multicultural cast that includes (but is not limited to) gooks, towelheads, uppity high yellow negroes, assorted mystery meat, and a seemingly self-loathing kraut with a fake Hispanic name (babyface rocker Wilson Gonzalez), Der Nachtmahr could not be more appropriately titled in both the literal and figurative sense. Part of an anti-intellectual romantic genre-conscious trend in contemporary German cinema that includes similarly generically titled films as diverse as queer auteur Till Kleinert’s art-horror fever dream Der Samurai (2014) and Greek-German Nikias Chryssos’ dank dark comedy Der Bunker (2015), Bornhak’s artsploitation experiment can certainly be enjoyed by those individuals that either loathe or loathe art (translation: it has entertainment value). Somehow managing to combine elements of David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void (2009), the film is a sort of forsaken Fräulein Donnie Darko for a nihilistic age where young women seem to more prefer to get drunk and high and sleep with countless guys than do something so deplorably anachronistic as actually get married and have children. Undoubtedly, it would also be fairr to describe the film as being like a marriage between Frank Henenlotter's classic exploitation flick Basket Case (1982) and Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers (2012).  In short, auteur Bornhak seems to have eclectic taste in cinema, including American arthouse, exploitation, cult, and even mainstream big budgets blockbusters, or so one would assume while watching his rather ambiguous feature.

In an interview with AFI, Bornhak notably confessed, “There are plenty of filmmakers I truly adore. But none of their films have been a direct influence on DER NACHTMAHR. At least I was not aware of that while I was working on this film. Looking back at DER NACHTMAHR, I can see some influences from E.T., which was a film I saw when I was a kid. Some say DER NACHTMAHR is like E.T. on acid. SPRING BREAKERS and IT FOLLOWS came out when we already had picture lock in the editing room, and I haven’t even seen IT FOLLOWS yet. My greatest filmmaker role models are David Lynch, Gaspar Noé, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Werner Herzog, Chris Cunningham and Stanley Kubrick.”  In the same interview, the auteur would also reveal that he came up with the idea for the fetus monster long before he ever decided to create a film centering around said creature.  In that sense, Bornhak follows in the footsteps of his hero David Lynch in terms of taking an incremental approach to filmmaking that involves obsessing over certain single ideas and images that ultimately act as a genesis to a more intricate cinematic creation (for example, Blue Velvet was sired from a number of ideas, including Lynch's obsession with spying on a girl while hiding in her closet).

Apparently borrowing its antiquated Teutonic title from the 1781 oil painting of the same name by Swiss artist Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741-1825) that features a demonic apelike incubus crouched on the chest of a beauteous young woman in a deep sleep, Der Nachtmahr is also interesting in the sense that it is a hopelessly modern take on Germany’s great history of dark romanticism. Indeed, if Teutonic Art Nouveau painter Franz Ritter von Stuck had grown up in modern times and developed a hedonistic obsession with teenage flesh, shitty vacuous rave music, and designer drugs, he might direct a film like Bornhak's. 

 Beginning with a sensational disclaimer reading, “WARNING – The following film contains flashing lights and patterns which can cause epilepsy! Warning – This film contains isochronous sounds and binaural frequencies! Anyway – this film should be played loud!,” Der Nachtmahr immediately announces to the viewer that they are about to experience a harsh and grating yet aesthetically pleasing audio-visual drug of the transcendental sort. Ultimately, the viewer is exposed to the increasingly unreliable mind of teenage protagonist Tina Petersen (Carolyn Genzkow) after she encounters a strangle little creature and becomes increasingly alienated from her clueless parents and good-for-nothing dope fiend friends. To be somewhat blunt, tiny Tina seems like your typical dumb teenage party bitch, as she has no problem pissing in the middle of the street and exposing her shaved pussy in public after she gets good and wasted. At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Tina and her two equally vapid best friends ‘Moni’ aka Monika (Lynn Femme) and Barbara (Sina Tkotsch) as they act like spastic hens and talk about stupid shit while they are driving to a pool party to celebrate the protagonist’s birthday. Among other things, Tina discusses deformed fetuses that she and Monika were exposed to at school earlier that day.  While by no means a serious student or scholar, Tina seems to have been deeply affected by one of these barely human miscreations of god.

When Monika—a loudmouthed Asian that seems to be the most domineering of the thickheaded threesome—dares to make a .GIF of Tina transferring into an especially grotesque fetus, the protagonist is immediately disturbed and demands that her friend immediately delete the photo, as if she has a premonition of things to come. When they finally arrive at the party, Tina gets drunk, pops some pills (assumedly ecstasy), and then gets all moody and broody about a dopey dork rocker named Adam (‘Wilson Gonzalez’ Ochsenknecht) that she has an unhealthy crush on. Unfortunately for Tina, an aggressive negress also has a crush on Adam, but all of the teens seem to be too lost and immature to main a serious relationship and are barely even able to communicate with one another in any meaningful way, hence their love of mindless rave parties. Unfortunately, Tina will soon have much more serious and morbid things on her mind. Indeed, upon taking a piss in the middle of a street and flashing her teenage twat, Tina becomes horrified when the fetus she saw from school suddenly moves though a bush after a trail of her urine hits the creature. Somewhat predictably, things only get weirder from there, as Tina is soon plowed down by a very fast sportscar car while she is picking up a necklace with an occult-like medallion that she dropped in the middle of the street. Considering Tina should have been killed but is depicted in the next scene merely lying in the street as if she got too drunk and passed out, the film only gets more convoluted from there as Tina’s mind begins to deteriorate and the fine line between reality and nightmare is ripped to shreds.  From there, Tina finds herself increasingly haunted by the mutant fetus, who she eventually becomes extremely close to in a truly transcendental way.

 A girl from a nice banal bourgeois home with loving but seemingly clueless parents, Tina, not unlike many people her age, naturally feels alienated, but it is only when the grotesque fetus enters her life that she truly comes to understand what it really means to be alone in the world. Indeed, somewhat ironically, Tina even seems detached and alienated at a rave party—a celebration of mindless extroversion that is supposed to bring people ‘together’—but when she begins seeing a tiny monster that no one else can see that she is forced to confront her own loneliness and, in the process, eventually obtains self-acceptance, self-esteem, and personal sovereignty. The first time that Tina is confronted face-to-face with the ambiguously friendly fetus after the incident at the party, she is horrified that he has raided her fridge and has made a nasty mess on the kitchen floor. As a result of talking to her psychiatrist, who inspired her to attempt to communicate with the strange creature, Tina asks it, “What do you want from me?” and it responds by non-verbally offering her an egg, but she bitches, “No, I don’t want an egg. They give me a rash. All over. Do you understand?,” in an arguably symbolic scene of dialogue that may or may not hint at the protagonist’s lack of suitability for motherhood and overall warped female instincts.  Notably, Tina’s friends call when she is in the company of the fetus and she attempts to show them it when they arrive at her house, but the little monster is gone so she opts to smoke some blunts and take bong rips with her completely and utterly worthless friends. As time passes, the fetus becomes Tina’s virtual hermetic roommate and the only living being that sees the seemingly forlorn heroine for who she really is. When the fetus opts to use a razor on his arm and accidentally cuts himself, Tina immediately acquires the same exact wound on the same exact area of her body, thus hinting the two have a deep otherworldly connection and possibly that they are even the same person. Indeed, as the film progresses, it becomes more and more apparent that the fetus is Tina’s sort of Jungian shadow (aka ‘shadow aspect’) and the grotesque bodily version of her entire collective unconscious.  Needless to say, it is only a matter of time before Tina completely embraces the fetus and succumbs to the darker elements of her unconscious.

 When her bossy busybody father busts into her room and finds her sleeping with the fetus, Tina realizes that other people can actually also see her little buddy, though they do not take too kindly to him. Indeed, Tina’s father stabs the fetus with a rod and then a medical crew shows up and has them both tranquilized. From there, the creature is seemingly imprisoned in a hospital and has unexplained experiments done on it.  Meanwhile, Tina's parents consider having her institutionalized.  When Tina returns to school after a long unexplained absence, she is berated by her somewhat sympathetic blonde American teacher (Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth in a rare acting role) for missing a month and half of class. During class, Tina is exposed to 18th-century English poet William Blake’s ‘prophetic books,’ which are a series of lengthy, interrelated poetic works drawing upon Blake's own personal mythology. Notably, part of the poem reads, “A shriek ran thro’ Eternity, And a paralytic stroke, At the birth of the Human shadow,” thus alluding to the fetus being Tina’s shadow. Eventually, Tina totally snaps late one night, physically transforms herself into a sort of strong and super sassy neo-gothic supervillainous, steals her parents’ car, and then sneaks into a hospital to free her fetus friend. In Jungian terms, Tina seems to have achieved total ‘individuation’ as she has achieved a complete transformation, fully embraced the fetus and, in turn, her own dark unconscious self. Coming full circle, the film concludes at Tina’s eighteenth birthday party where she unexpectedly arrives and horrifies her friends by introducing both her fetus friend and new (and seemingly true) self. Luckily, Adam is happy to see Tina and tells her, “You look great.” Naturally, the two kiss, but things get ugly from there, as Tina's friends seem somewhat perturbed by her new sense of self-confidence and grotesque gargoyle-like friend. Indeed, Tina’s friends try to prevent her from touching the fetus, but she proudly cradles the creature like a baby and even kisses it while they look on in horror and abject disgust. Unfortunately, Tina’s parents eventually crash the party and her absurdly anally retentive father seemingly kills the fetus. Notably, the fetus is also depicted being run over with a car just like Tina was at the beginning of the film. In the end, Tina is depicted lying in the backseat of a sportscar while the fetus drives in what is indubitably a symbolic scene that underscores the fact that the heroine’s unconscious has completely taken over. 

 Depicting a morally inverted world where the protagonist’s father is such a petty politically correct pussy that he is actually offended by the word “freak” and even complains “’Freak’ is stupid and derogatory,” yet he does not concern himself with real serious problems and seems to have no clue that his daughter is a hedonistic whore that loves popping pills, pissing in public, and playing hard to get with pudgy-faced stoners, Der Nachtmahr ultimately unwittingly reveals, at least to some extent, how Germany has become so valueless, suicidal, and nihilistic that a good percentage of its populous welcomes the flooding of their once-great-nation with low IQ untermensch invaders from the third world. In fact, the heroine of the film seems exactly like the sort of girl that would get gang-raped by these primitively misogynistic Muslim invaders where she to attend a New Year's Eve celebration or take an evening stroll down the wrong Berlin alley.  Of course, being that her parents are weak bourgeois liberals and she friends with a curious clique of multicultural dope fiends that value nothing aside from their own hedonistic self-indulgence, it is easy to see why the heroine was so psychologically feeble that she needed a sort of transcendental intervention that resulted in her more or less abandoning everyone in her life, at least emotionally, for a sensitive fetus that ultimately teaches her the singular joys of early motherhood, among other things.  In that sense, Der Nachtmahr is a shockingly hopeful film with a largely positive message about the importance of true individuality and the bottomless void that is modern youth (anti)culture.  Unfortunately, somehow I think the message of the film will be lost on most teenage girls, but then again, I think the flick is probably the most influential on the subconscious level, which seems to be the director's intent.

 Upon doing some research on auteur Achim Bornhak, I discovered that he is indeed a C.G. Jung fan and even advertises such on his facebook page, though I have to wonder if he sees Der Nachtmahr as depicting the Wotan archetype as personified by an all-too-petite teen with terribly tiny titties. Indeed, unlike all the other characters in the film, heroine Tina, who initially suffers repressed psychic complexes, arguably has the old gods in her reawakened when the fetus enters her life and exposes to her everything about herself that was once hopelessly buried in a toxic cesspool of soul-numbing ecstasy, generic EDM, and erotomania. As Jung once noted regarding the importance of these perennial archetypal “Gods, Demons and Illusions” and their influence on both the conscious and subconscious, “…they exist and function and are born anew with every generation. They have an enormous influence on individual as well as collective life and despite their familiarity they are curiously non-human. This latter characteristic is the reason why they are called Gods and Demons in the past and why they are understood in our ‘scientific’ age as the psychical manifestations of the instincts, in as much as they represent habitual and universally occurring attitudes and thought forms. They are the basic forms, but not the manifest, personified or otherwise concretised images. They have a high degree of autonomy, which does not disappear, when the manifest images change.”

While one could argue that National Socialism was a reemergence of the repressed Germanic god Wotan, the fetus in Bornhak's film makes for an even more interesting archetype representing Aryan fertility, as if it an expression of repressed maternity in an ungodly age of philosemitic Americanism, abortion-on-demand feminism, neo-liberalism, and cultural Marxisism where motherhood is frowned upon and seen as anachronistic and unprogressive while soulless sexual promiscuity and miscegenation seen as has ‘hip’ and ‘progressive.’ Undoubtedly, the Teutonic collective unconscious is sick and repressed and heroine Tina’s arguable involuntary date with ancestral memory is a blessing in disguise. Needless to say, it is only natural and exceedingly fitting that the heroine’s nemesis is a nasty negress who, as a racial alien, naturally lacks the genetic capacity for encountering such archetypes (after all, were goofy kraut turd Wilson Gonzalez to have a child with a negress, it would indubitably be more horrifying than the fetus in the film, but I digress).  Interestingly, the grotesque fetus in Der Nachtmahr looks like it could have been one of the ghouls featured in Franz von Stuck's classic 1889 painting ‘Wild Chase,’ which is notable for featuring a prophetic Hitler-esque Wotan on horseback.

Notably, in an interview with the American Film Institute, auteur Bornhak revealed that he always intended Der Nachtmahr to be a film that was open to interpretation, stating, “There is a lot of guessing and discussing what the creature stands for, or what it symbolizes. Some say it’s an incarnation of a symbol of bulimia (fat belly, Tina throws up, it is constantly eating, Tina is feeding him junk food, etc.); some others see the fear of an abortion or an involuntary pregnancy. Some think it represents Hades, the god who guides the living to the realm of the dead. It was always important to me to keep the interpretation open to the audience so everybody could come up with their own interpretation. For me, the creature was always something that appears between two different worlds. He is like a doorman, like a Fata Morgana that appears in the space between the ground and hot air. He never sleeps but at the same time he never seems to be really awake.” Of course, as Jung revealed in regard to his belief that Friedrich Nietzsche was under the subconscious influence of Wotan despite his lack of familiarity with Wotan, “Nietzsche‘s case is certainly a peculiar one. He had no knowledge of Germanic literature; he discovered the “cultural Philistine”; and the announcement that “God is dead” led to Zarathustra’s meeting with an unknown god in unexpected form, who approached him sometimes as an enemy and sometimes disguised as Zarathustra himself. Zarathustra, too, was a soothsayer, a magician, and the storm-wind...”  Personally, I like to think that Bornhak had a sort of atavistic awakening and discovered the old gods while assembling Der Nachtmahr.

 While I am more than just a little bit pessimistic, especially since the nation is flooded with hostile Islamic hordes, Der Nachtmahr hints at a sort of cool atavistic reawakening in Deutschland that actually appeals to young people.  Undoubtedly, Till Kleinert's Cowboy (2008) and especially Der Samurai (2014) accomplished something similar, albeit in a sort of gay Männerbünde fashion. At the very least, these relatively idiosyncratic Teutonic neo-romantic films represent a healthy change of pace in German cinema and are certainly a major improvement over the spiritually sick films of the so-called ‘Berliner Schule,’ which is a movement that gives a good indication of the sort of metaphysical malaise, collective social alienation, racial and cultural deracination, and overall self-loathing that has led to so many Germans being completely happy with their nation being overrun by brown barbarians that are not exactly too fond of static and plotless kraut art cinema.  Surely, unlike the German era fantasy films of German-born homo Hebrew Roland Emmerich—a master hack that was once nicknamed ‘Swabian Spielberg’ due to the Schwaben region around his native Stuttgart and his fetish for making childish generic genre garbage—most notably Joey (1985) aka Ghost Chase, Der Nachtmahr is a consistently foreboding flick with a certain unmistakable Teutonic flavor, albeit a somewhat mongrelized one that reminds the viewer of S.Spieberg's pernicious international influence.  Undoubtedly, Spielberg's morally dubious, spiritually retarded, and sexually autistic films have played an imperative role in creating the sort of decidedly dull and deracinated infantile teens depicted in Bornhak's film.  While Der Nachtmahr might be vaguely Spielbergian in terms of cute yet grotesquely friendly monster, the film is, on closer inspection, ultimately as traditionally Teutonic as the strange tales of H.H. Ewers, Expressionistic poetry of Gottfried Benn, the classic West German fantasy flick Die unendliche Geschichte (1984) aka The NeverEnding Story directed by Wolfgang Petersen, and even the dark folklore of Brothers Grimm. Indeed, Bornhak might not be the next Hans-Jürgen Syberberg or even Niklaus Schilling, but he does have enough artistic prowess and originality that he managed to sire a genuinely hypnotic and enthralling piece of neo-romantic cinema that involves teenage girls barfing and pissing in the streets, which is certainly no small accomplishment.

-Ty E