German director Jörg Buttgereit became instantly notorious in extreme cinema circles in the late 80s with Nekromantik, which luridly depicts a love triangle between a couple and a corpse. Made when Buttgereit and his crew were barely into their twenties, it’s a similar tale to that of Sam Raimi with The Evil Dead. Like Raimi, the young director made limited resources a virtue and while it’s had nowhere near the acclaim of Raimi’s classic, it’s perhaps equally infamous. Buttgereit continued in this extreme vein, carving his way through the darkest taboos of humanity, and culminating with Schramm in 1993.
Billed as taking us into the depraved mind of a serial killer, the film sees Lothar Schramm (Florian Koerner von Gustorf) ‘The Lipstick Killer’ slowly dying after an accident at his home. As he bleeds his last his life flashes before his eyes, a cacophony of childhood memories and his depraved deeds.
There should be no way in which a film featuring a man graphically nailing his own tadger to a table can be boring, but Schramm achieves this with ease. It’s clear that Buttgereit is attempting to marry the crazed juvenile nastiness of Nekromantik with the more thoughtful, ‘artistic’ direction he took with The Death King (easily his finest film) a few years previously, but it isn’t a patch on either.
Schramm may run at a compact 65 minutes, but still manages to feel wracked past its limits. The violence, gruesome as it is, is actually fairly sporadic. Instead, much of the story is taken up with Schramm’s fascination and strange sort-of courtship with the sex worker next door (Monika M. from Nekromantik 2). These scenes may have the intention of providing something of a human dimension to a monster, but scenes of basic interaction like this aren’t Buttgereit’s strong suit. Even less successful are the frequent cuts to random snatches of running children. Presumably these refer back to Schramm’s childhood. They may even hint at a childhood accident, as the killer hallucinates that his leg has been mutilated, or even severed.
It’s laudable that Buttgereit tried to do something different with the gore film, and attempt to galvanise his plot-light story with an arty sensibility, but it just doesn’t work. There is some horrendous imagery that make it just about worth a watch for curious extremity buffs. As for getting us into the mind of a serial killer, Lothar Schramm remains an opaque slab of malevolence with nary a chink to peer through. You would be much more advised to turn your attention to John McNaughton‘s haunting Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which is just as uncompromising, but superior to Buttgereit’s effort in every way.
Available on Blu-ray Mon 12 Aug 2019