Der Samurai (2014) Review

DS1 (1)Der Samurai (2014)

Dir: Till Kleinert

Written by: Till Kleinert

Starring: Michel Diercks, Pit Bukowski, Uwe Preuss, Kaja Blanchnik, Christopher Kane

Running Time – 80 mins.

UK Première: Frightfest 2014

Small town policeman, Jakob (Diercks), is dealing with a wolf terrorising the town when he receives a mysterious package. When he goes to deliver it, he discovers a man wearing a white dress and lipstick, hiding in an abandoned house. The package contains a samurai sword and Jakob soon finds himself in a disturbing battle of wits against The Samurai (Bukowski).

With the striking image of a man dressed in a wedding dress and brandishing a samurai sword on its poster, Der Samurai instantly has your attention as to just what on earth such a film could be like or even about. To go into any great detail regarding the plot would be equivalent to revealing the method of a magic trick, director, Till Kleinert, has created something truly unique and very special here. If ever there was a film that needs to be experienced rather than just seen, it’s Der Samurai.

The action all takes place of the course of one night in real time and it is astounding just how much ground is covered of varying subjects and ideas throughout. Embracing a Brothers Grimm style, this twisted fairytale can be said to embody a perfect representation of discipline fighting against chaos as well as the Cherokee legend of the two warring wolves that lie inside every man. To be blunt, the film is evocative of David Lynch if he had directed The Dark Knight.

DS2Kleinert has stated that he took experience from passing sleepy European towns on the train and wondering what mysteries they concealed. The sense of a compact small town creates a wonderfully claustrophobic atmosphere, everyone seems to know everyone and their business and anything that breaks away from the normality of their existence is regarded with deep suspicion and disdain. This is where the homoerotic subtext to the film really comes to the fore in terms of getting a better understanding of the lead character in Jakob and how he is regarded by the townspeople.

Diercks plays Jakob fantastically as a mild-mannered and fundamentally good guy, caring for his dementia-suffering grandmother, who finds himself repressed, isolated and frustrated at the small town rigid mindset shared by seemingly all except him. From his interactions with the other townspeople, it is evident that he is marginalised for being different and not fitting in with their behaviour. This is slowly revealed to be as a result of his unsure sexuality which is only truly brought out of him come the arrival of the Samurai, his polar opposite of character. It is fascinating and so well captured in his performance that the audience sees Jakob desperately attempting to upholding the law and order but is constantly dropping his guard to the Samurai’s magnetism. He is so enticed by the excitement of the danger of the unknown and the break from convention that the Samurai represents to him. He is given so many chances to stop the Samurai and yet he doesn’t. The film is almost capturing his proper awakening into deciding on what sort of person he really is which is both haunting and unshakably engaging.

DS3Kleinert is so expert at showing and not telling with his characters. A great deal of character development and history is done solely through allusion and subtext. Certain tweaks in the character’s behaviour or even simple surrounding objects are given huge significance to delving a little deeper into a film that has so much rich intrigue beneath the surface.

To perfectly counter-balance Diercks more restrained performance, Bukowski’s nameless Samurai is a limitless battery of danger and unpredictability. He is never once given any back story and no logic is ever really given to his actions, he is pure and simply a bold agent of chaos set to shake the foundations of the sleepy town to its core. When the camera zooms in on his menacing features, it is often difficult to not look away in simple intimidation at how powerful and threatening a force of nature his character is. Not once do the audience ever feel safe in his presence and yet, much like Jakob, it is impossible to not be drawn into his frightening erotic dynamism. Perhaps the greatest facet of Bukowski’s performance, is the fact that is able to make the initially risible image of a man in a wedding dress and makeup holding a samurai sword so terrifying with his wolf-like predatory instinct.

The visual presentation of the film is nothing short of breathtaking. The camera has a beautiful haze-like quality and liberally uses harsh red lighting that further presses the idea home that this is all somehow magical and possibly, isn’t real. Amongst the film’s many stand-out sequences include a brutal bloodshed viewed from a fascinatingly bizarre upside-down angle, a hugely Twin Peaks-eqsue club scene and a gorgeous shot of the police car headlights. The lights are barely visible through an impenetrable mist and surrounded by the dense forest that hides so many secrets and mysteries.

DS4There are images that are forever burnt onto the retinas of those who see the film and the impact endures. The iconic image of the Samurai himself is matched with a beautiful near final shot of blood splattering combined with fireworks, the twisted grin of the Samurai as a post-credits extra and the hypnotic and surreal dance the leads perform by a bonfire surrounded by corpses. The violence is often highly extreme and yet pulled off with astounding grace and flair without ever showing off.

An intoxicating, darkly erotic nightmare with two incredible lead performances that balance out as a perfect ying/yang partnership. Pure European Marmite cinema that’s certain to leave many completely cold whilst others are utterly enraptured and haunted by it.

Rating: 10/10

Eurohorror Spotlight #11: Rammbock aka Siege of the Dead (Germany, 2010)

 

Eurohorror Spotlight #11: Rammbock aka Siege of the Dead (Germany, 2010).

rammbockDirector: Marvin Kern

Starring: Michael Fuith, Theo Trebs, Anka Graczyk

We see a middle aged man, Michael (Fuith), ‘practising’ how he will give back the keys of an apartment to his now ex girlfriend Gabi who dumped him after 7 years. As he goes into the building he hears a man screaming and what maybe gunshots. He goes in but Gabi is not there, just a anti social plumber. Plumbers mate, young boy Harper, is attacked by the plumber who seems to be a zombie suddenly. They manage to get him out the flat and lock themselves in. They hear noises outside, look out a window to see zombies attacking other people. Checking the TV news channel people are being urged to stay indoors as the people of Berlin turn into crazy flesh hungry zombies. They spend the night there but in the morning they fear for the worst when all TV stations display the Test Card – nothing is on the air. Michael and Harper communicate with the residents by shouting out of the window as they try to figure out a way of escaping without being attacked.

rammbockpic1Released in the UK as Siege of the Dead but in the rest of the world as Rammbock, this is a fantastic little movie. It really is little too: the runtime is just 62 minutes. Many may be put off by a DVD claiming to be feature-length when its only just longer than an average episode of Top Gear or Homes Under the Hammer but those who look beyond the short length of this title will be in for a treat.

It’s not high on original ideas for plot but it does have a lot of nice little touches throughout its scenes that make it a little different from the pack. The trapped in an apartment building-attacked-by-zombies plot device has been done by the likes of REC (many times in the case of that franchise) yet Rammbock is more sombre and not as ferocious as its Spanish counterpart.

As is the case in movies of this nature there is no real explanation for how or why the zombies come to be although it won’t matter as the rest of the actions makes up for it (again, typical of the genre). The character of Michael is determined to fight on for the sake of his doomed relationship to Gabi while the young Harper goes along with whatever will keep him alive. The story seems to be implying that love is the ultimate driving force (more so when Harper falls for a young lady who lives in the building) and as long as you have that then zombies, and their lack of emotions, can never truly conquer the living.

RammbockMichael Fuith (Michael) and Theo Trebs (Harper) have most of the run time to themselves and they are both good actors. The film calls for them to display various emotions, sometimes in the matter of minutes, that they both do well. Fuith has gone on to appear in the recent Blood Glacier while Trebs, just 16 when Rammbock was made, has appeared in numerous German TV series.

A fun, compelling and often emotional zombie film that is short and high impact, a worthy Eurohorror to track down.

8 out of 10.

Available on DVD with English subtitles under both names Rammbock and Siege of the Dead.

 

Blood Glacier (aka The Station) (2013) DVD Review

GLACIER 001BLOOD GLACIER aka THE STATION (2013) DVD

Review by: Dave Wain

Stars: Gerhard Liebmann, Edita Malovcic, Brigitte Kren, Hille Beseler, Peter Knaack

Written by: Benjamin Hessler

UK Certification: 15

UK RRP: £12.99

UK DVD Region: 2

Runtime: 93 minutes

Directed by: Marvin Kren

UK Release Date: 27th January 2014

German Language with English Subtitles

I must admit I’m a sucker for films based in an isolated environment. The confinement, the psychological fragility it imposes and the adverse conditions all tend to add to the atmosphere of the movie. From the original Thing from Another World (1951), to Carpenter’s remake (1982) to Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter (2006). In Blood Glacier we find ourselves in the German Alps with four technicians and scientists (and a dog) in a research station. We’re told at the start that in 2013 the last sceptics fall silent and that climate disaster is worse than imagined. Antarctica’s ice will be gone within a decade, alpine glaciers will disappear and although the consequences are unclear the idea that life will change forever is certain.

GLACIER 002Janek (Gerhard Liebmann) is the most grizzled of the people at the station. Normally people volunteer to attend the facility in year-long secondments, but Janek is on his fourth stretch. On an exploratory walk to discover why an outlying station is no longer sending a signal, Janek along with a scientist stumble across a mysterious organism which due to the receding ice is now exposed. Baffled at what it is, how it originated and most importantly why it is there, a mood of concerned trepidation washes over the camp.

When late one night a mutated fox complete with mandibles is spotted by Janek he raises the alarm to the others. As he’s the only witness to this gross creature and with him favouring a drop of a little something to ease him to sleep, the scientists are initially very dismissive of his story. With an impending visit from the Health Minister (Brigitte Kren) to think about they figure that they have more important things to concern themselves with. However the discovery the next day of a mutated insect leads the team to retract their cynicism about Janek’s observation, whilst the realisation of what’s actually occurring begins to dawn on everybody.

It’s easy to offer comparisons (as the cover sleeve does) to The Thing and Assault on Precinct 13 in describing Blood Glacier, but I think that’s largely unfair as this film is good enough to stand on its own merits. Underlining its ecological aspects early on gives it a credible narrative, but more important than that is its casting of weathered European actors which distances it from the age obsessed Hollywood botox factory into something far more conceivable.

GLACIER 003The use of largely practical effects is as always a bold decision that works admirably, whilst the setting of this Austrian funded film is enhanced by director Marvin Kren getting the most out of the lush mountainous settings and drool inducing vistas. In a market where the term ‘creature feature’ is something that has been cheapened to the point of mockery with endless CGI infused Mega Shark vs Mutated Sea Bass style film, Blood Glacier grabs the sub-genre by the balls and gives us something very memorable indeed.

7.5 out of 10

Eurohorror Spotlight #2: Urban Explorers (Germany, 2011)

ue1Eurohorror Spotlight #2: Urban Explorers (Germany, 2011) (aka The Depraved)

Director: Andy Fetscher

Starring: Nick Eversman, Nathalie Kelley, Max Riemelt

The spotlight shifts from Norway to Germany as the series continues its look at some European horror films you may have missed over the years…

Plot:

A group of tourists are having a wail of a time in Berlin, Germany. They meet up with a shady man who claims he can get them access to a subterranean network of tunnels built by Hitler and his Nazi Army during World War II. Late at night he takes them into the tunnels, at a cost of course, with the promise a recently discovered room contains little seen Nazi artwork. But first they must travel through the many lengthy tunnels in order to arrive at the room. They find it and marvel at how wonderful these forgotten paintings are. Upon returning to the ‘outside’ the guide falls down a shaft and is seriously hurt. Two of the tourists go for help while the others stay with him. While waiting for medical assistance a scruffy looking man appears out of nowhere claiming he can help them…

A fun modern German horror movie that feels more as if it is an American ‘teens-in-peril-somewhere-bad’ tale Urban Explorers is well polished and will hit the right note with genre fans.

ue2The plot can seem a little stretched and silly at times but that often happens in horror movies (or a lot worse) but the acting and direction make up for it. Eversman is strong in his role of Denis which is a massive compliment for him considering this was made the same year he ‘starred’ in the woeful Hellraiser: Revelations. He offered an ‘interesting’ performance in that, certainly. But in Urban Explorers he makes up for it as his character suffers some nasty incidents brought on by the ‘scruffy looking man’. Kelley’s role endures similar unpleasantness and screams a lot but she does it well.

Not much in way of ‘gore’ happens during the movie although when it does it is grisly. One character (wont reveal which for spoiler-averting purposes) has the skin of their torso sliced open at the waist, all the way around. The skin is then yanked up and over their head as if a t-shirt is being removed. Its fitting the madman carrying this out describes the act as ‘taking the t-shirt off’. Kelley has an ear mutilated as well as having plastic bags forced over her head then removed just as she is about to pass out due to a lack of oxygen. She suffers this type of abuse a couple of times and it is sadistic to say the least.

The end of Urban Explorers will bring to mind British horror Creep (2004) and takes the action away from the underground tunnels the hapless victims find themselves being stalked in. The setting of the tunnels is a great idea yet isn’t fully capitalized upon. The movie was actually filmed within these long abandoned passageways beneath Berlin so that does add a level of authenticity to what is on-screen.

ue3If you want to explore German horror movies and don’t know where to start, Urban Explorers is a good introduction to the sub genre.

It is in German at times but English for most of its run time. Subtitles are provided for non-English dialogue.

7 out of 10.

Available on DVD & Blu-ray in the UK as well as being streamed on iTunes.