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“DER TODESKING” (Blu-ray/DVD Review)

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With a human skull placed right next to him, director Jörg Buttgereit tells us we’re about to see “a movie against suicide” in his introduction to the new Blu-ray and DVD of DER TODESKING—a film about seven characters committing suicide on each day of the week. And like Buttgereit’s other films that we’ve been covering as they fortuitously ooze onto disc via Cult Epics, DER TODESKING rubs your nose in the beauty and nausea of death and decay while greatly respecting you for bearing witness.

We previously examined Buttgereit’s work with reviews of NEKROMANTIK and NEKROMANTIK 2; DER TODESKING was shot between those two notorious classics, yet doesn’t showcase any acts of necrophilia. In fact, Buttgereit’s devilishly black humor that pervades his corpse-love tales is also almost missing entirely here; this is a more somber study in personal anguish. Our first image: an adult naked man in a fetal position, turning over on his back to lie prone against a black background. We will visit him again as he dies and rots—maggots writhing all through him with great vigor during time-lapse shots—in between each of the films’ ferocious and pitiful chapters.

DERTODESKINGDISCREVDetailing how the suicides are carried out or the circumstances that lead to them would leave you little reason to watch the film, other than to appreciate Buttgereit’s inspired and elegant camerawork and perfectly paired score by his usual musical contributors, both of which are again in full effect here. Buttgereit is an artist who clearly adores filmmaking as a craft, and his films are must-sees for young directors who want to see how to make magic happen with crumbs for funding. Herman Kopp’s music grabs you immediately and will not leave you for weeks afterward. It’s another brooding, witchy creation that blends electronic elements with strings and works almost supernaturally perfectly with the grainy visuals and tormented souls’ final moments. Other musical components by various artists are just as powerful and haunting.

Before we get to the excellent bonus features, here’s a familiar gripe: Once again, the menus give far too much away. Please, Cult Epics, don’t parade all the money shots through the initial menu. No good. You’re doing a disservice to the hard work you’ve put in, and ruining new audiences’ introduction to a film you clearly believe in. For those of you in the audience, try to avoid looking at anything other than the Play option when this appears on the screen.

The HD transfer from the original 16mm negative looks fantastic and doesn’t detract from the film’s effect, as was sometimes the case in NEKROMANTIK 2. The audio is also excellent, allowing that score to fully fill the room.

A commentary track features the always frank and jovial Buttgereit and his co-writer Franz Rödenkirchen, who also co-scripted the NEKROMANTIK films. It was while rewatching the film with this discussion that I picked up on some of the gruesome humor that seeps its way into the picture. Depending on your nature, you may also find a moment involving a fake Nazi exploitation film’s castration scene as oddly endearing as other video-nasty aficionados might. It is also here that the pair address the fact that a goldfish gave its life for the film, so now you know that Buttgereit once again isn’t above showing actual harm done to a living creature for the sake of story (he also points out that films which have the “no animals were harmed” assurance tag in the final credits were almost certainly catered productions in which people consumed animals). The duo share plenty of fascinating stories, keeping the discussion light and informative despite the hideousness and despair of the subject matter.

The vintage “Making of DER TODESKING” includes a voiceover interview with Buttgereit, production footage and the impressive DIY creation of the film’s decaying corpse. This mockup isn’t terribly convincing once it begins to fall apart, but it’s still a mesmerizing process to watch, as the “corpse” is totally bombarded with hordes of real and relentless maggots. No trick mealworms here—these are the genuine revolting larvae articles.

New and loyal Buttgereiet fans alike are sure to get a major kick out of the inclusion of 1993’s CORPSE F**KING ART. The hour-long documentary includes loads of great behind-the-scenes stuff and interviews from DER TODESKING and the NEKROMANTIKs. The real treat here lies in watching the creation of FX that have gone down in splatter history as some of the most graphic, gross and shocking ever made. It all further proves how hard the man, his cast and crew all work to achieve his visions, no matter how difficult, disturbing or dangerous. Obviously, spoilers are rampant—heads up, NEKROMANTIK virgins.

Rounding out the discs are the isolated soundtrack, a still gallery and trailers for Buttgereit-affiliated films and the 1983 serial killer film ANGST, which Cult Epics is reviving this year, looks horrifying and of which Gaspar Noé is a serious fan. Those who snag one of the 3,000 limited-edition Blu-rays will also find a rather hilarious illustrated postcard for CORPSE F**KING ART and a lovely silver foil O-card.

Buttgereit’s latest work is a segment in the anthology GERMAN ANGST, which just had its North American premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia festival. His creations definitely aren’t for everyone, but this writer welcomes the opportunity to be confronted by what should certainly be another thought-provoking yet stomach-spoiling experience from one of the most honest and fearless filmmakers continuing to walk the planet.

MOVIE: 3.5_skull

DISC PACKAGE: 4_skull

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Chris Haberman
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