It’s odd how things become more acceptable as time goes by, especially in the film world where perhaps what occurs in real life makes the censorship of art seem less necessary. Still who would have thought that Jorg Buttgereit’s quartet of German splatter movies, once vilified and in some cases banned outright would ever be available fully uncut and on sale especially in a country like England? Following on from Nekromantik (1987) Der Todesking (1990) and Nekromantik 2 (1991) Buttgereit took us ‘into the mind of a serial killer’ courtesy of Lothar Schramm aka The Lipstick Killer in 1993. I think it’s fair to say this was one of the most hard-hitting films dealing with a serial killer since John McNaughton’s Henry (1986) but it certainly wasn’t a film getting anywhere near as much attention, residing as it did in the underground cinematic sewer of its own filth. I was probably not the only person seeing it originally via a bootleg VHS picked up at a “movie fair” back in the day. As far as many are concerned information about it was scarce in the pre-internet days and travelled only via word of mouth courtesy of movie zines that looked at films dealing with what to many were taboo and even deviant subject matter. Schramm lived up to all that was expected of it, a gritty, degrading trawl that lived up to its tag line “Today I am dirty but tomorrow I’ll be just dirt.” This line was attributed to US serial killer Carl Panzram who although not a household name like others such as Jeffrey Dahmer who was a fixation of the director’s at the time of making this grizzly tableaux of hell; was not a very pleasant chap at all. It’s a good line in more ways than one and you need to prepare yourself before immersing into this scum ridden world, just watching the film is enough to make you feel very, very dirty.

Schramm (Florian Koerner von Gustorf) lives in a squalid apartment and makes ends meet by driving a cab. He is seriously disenfranchised from the real world and suffers a dissociative disorder making him see fleshy visions of his body falling apart. A leg, eye, teeth, brain are all causing him no end of misery and as for the case of Cronenbergian vagina dentata, well it’s no wonder he is not quite right in the head. Apart from him there is really only one other central character in the film, neighbour Marianne (Monika M), a prostitute who seems to have a friendly relationship with Schramm getting him to take her to a job and wait for her outside the house of some rich and sinister new clients and even going to dinner with him as a thank you. The plot although simplistic in essence is thrown askew by the director in a similar fashion to his previous works. Cameras tilt, swerve and deviate on obscure angles, sounds and motion are distorted and the plot unfolds in non-linear fashion. Scenes seem elongated and stretched but the clever thing is not a second of a frame is wasted and there is some serious artistry at play here as well as some very clever plot devices to look out for. We basically spend time in the home of Lothar dealing with his manias like an unwelcome voyeur. He entertains some Jehovah witnesses in possibly the most honest way possible and photographs and arranges the corpses of any victims straying into his lair in near pornographic reverence to their bodily forms. Whilst Monika is entertaining next door he masturbates into a rubber torso which is obviously purchased from a serial killers are us store rather than a sex shop as it has no limbs or head! He clears up any messes with perfunctory finesse and just for the hell of it gets a hammer and nails and goes all Jim Rose on a certain bodily organ of his own. Yes, you will wince but surprisingly the BBFC did not and let this scene through and the film fully uncut. For those who have not seen it before all I will say is the redemptive ending is far reaching for our cast and will remain in your mind long after viewing.

The soundtrack as with the Nekromantik films is integral and a constant companion to the exploits of Schramm. Max Müller & Gundula Schmitz have composed a score that like the imagery is near impossible to shift. It is similar in mood, tone and emotion to previous work by Kopp and Lorenz and takes us through everything from emotive and haunting lullabies to Teutonic death marches and slithery creepy and macabre sounds designed to unsettle. Luckily I had the original CD on German DEG label but Arrow have gone the extra mile here and included it on as a bonus disc.

Schramm will definitely divide audiences. I expect a lot of people who collect the label’s output to watch and decide it’s not for them, although whether they will be able to flog it on a well-known auction site who is blocking the Nekromantik’s from sale under their own censorious dictate remains to be seen. Others may find it just too arthouse and even boring, despite its scant 65-minute running time it is a film that needs to be watched properly to fully understand it and the truth is that it actually is a beautiful piece of work rather than an exercise in simple exploitation. Another thing that should be considered is the performance by von Gustorf. He bares far more than his mere soul here and it can’t have been an easy role to play in the slightest. Luckily he pulls it off (no pun intended) with conviction and sincerity. It’s interesting to note that today he seems to be producing his own work now. Not many could have got to the guts of a film like this although Carsten Frank in Marion Dora’s films such as Cannibal (2006) does spring to mind. There really is something rotten going on in the German movie underground that’s for sure. As for Monika M this and Nekromantik 2 appear to be her only appearances to date.

The print is as good as you could expect and thankfully still retains its grotty look, a nice upgrade from the Barrel Entertainment DVD for me. As with the other Buttgereit sets Arrow have gone the whole hog and done a wonderful job with postcard and polaroid stills and 60-page booklet, all that’s missing is a stick of lipstick. They have also included a Redux version which is simply the film with an 8-minute stop-motion Claymation short ‘Tomorrow I Will Be Dirt’ which continues the afterlife of Schramm courtesy of film-maker Robert Morgan. Clever and in tone with the film, this is interesting and certainly worth a watch. I just found the fact that it needed to be placed as a different version of the film when it was not done by Jorg a bit odd but as we now know apart from a small segment in German Angst (2105) this depraved filmic world is one that the director has since pretty much departed.

I pre-ordered this the second it was announced and kept an eye on the BBFC site to double check it would get through uncut. As it is out already and I have not had a chance to view the extras apart from those archival already seen I am just listing what is also included on the disc here. Rest assured as with the other box sets we have the ultimate edition of the film and there is probably very little left from the director not included in the sets. Will he ever make another film of this ilk? Well he has always been very protective and disenchanted by the bans and the fact that censorship has effectively seen so many bootlegs made of his films. Naturally this has meant a lack of money forthcoming to him for the hard work and effort that has gone into what has effectively been works of love and passion. Although gaining underground cult status man cannot live on blood alone. Perhaps with these new editions, money forthcoming from them and a greater appreciation for his work he may be encouraged to make something new. Only time will tell but if he does the question of what exactly he will do is always going to be an interesting one.

Also included:

Take My Body: The Journey of a Blow-up Doll – writer Kier-La Janisse on how she came to be the owner of a particularly interesting piece of Schramm memorabilia.

Jörg Buttgereit in conversation with Arrow Video’s Ewan Cant at the 2019 Offscreen Film Festival

The Making of Schramm – archival behind-the-scenes documentary

Mein Papi – Jörg Buttgereit short film available in HD for the first time ever and with optional director audio commentary

Jesus – Der Film (1995) – short film segment directed by Jörg Buttgereit

Two short films by Schramm producer Manfred Jelinski: Orpheus in der Oberwelt (1970) and Ein Ku’ze’ Film übe’ Hambu’g (1990)

Extensive image gallery Jörg Buttgereit Trailer Gallery

(Pete Woods)