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DER TODESKING

An authentically post-modern horror film from Germany’s wildest wild man Jorg Buttgereit.  It was the 1989 follow up to his sicko classic NEKROMANTIK (1987), and Buttgereit’s concerns here were far loftier...which is to say far artier.  The subject?  In a word: Death.   

The Package 
     Jorg Buttgereit proved with NEKROMANTIK that he’s not afraid to plumb the darkest depths of depravity, and DER TODESKING (THE DEATH KING) continues the tradition.  It showcases a far more thoughtful side than the anything-for-a-gross-out NEKROMANTIK or its 1991 sequel, and is far closer to Buttgereit’s third (and, sadly, latest) feature, 1993’s non-linear phantasmagoria SCHRAMM.  Like that film, the word for DER TODESKING is, fortunately or unfortunately, “interesting.”

The Story
     Divided into seven days, the story has something of a connecting thread in the form of an English language chain letter espousing the glories of death (“In six days God created Heaven and Earth and on the seventh day he committed suicide”), but this is just a ruse, as Buttgereit’s real aims are far more abstract.  Each day has a different character committing suicide in some manner, under control of the “Death King” who “makes people not want to live anymore.”
     On Monday, a man returns home from work, seals a letter, tidies up his house, shaves and takes an overdose of pills, expiring in his bathtub. 
     On Tuesday, a dude watches a Nazi exploitation video where a guy gets his dong cut off; the viewer’s girlfriend enters and he shoots her in the head...and later puts an empty frame over her brains splattered on the wall.  But this entire episode, it turns out, is playing on a TV screen in a room where a nondescript man has hung himself.
     Wednesday: a woman runs into a man on a park bench who launches into a brooding monologue about how his wife bled every time they had sex and how he killed her (or something) because of it.  The woman pulls out a gun and points it at him.  He promptly takes it from her and shoots himself in the head. 
     Thursday’s segment consists of shots of a bridge over which are superimposed a series of names, ages and dates belonging to people who have committed suicide from it.
     On Friday a woman spies a couple making out in an apartment window across from her who then disappear inside, apparently to have sex; a subsequent shot shows they’ve actually committed suicide. 
     In Saturday’s episode a woman straps a super-8mm camera to her shoulder and loads a gun.  The remainder of the segment consists of soundless POV footage of her shooting people at a concert. 
     On Sunday a shirtless, emaciated asshole beats his head against a wall until he dies.

The Direction
     As he proved with NEKROMANTIK, Buttgereit really knows how to make the most of his limited budget and 8mm film stock.  This film looks quite good, with a desaturated color scheme that fits the overall conception extremely well.  It also has a suffocating air of morbidity and despair, which is, of course, also integral to the subject matter.  The explicitly post-modern elements are striking, including a stretch during the end of the “Wednesday” man’s monologue where the picture flutters and seems about to break, and “Saturday’s” disturbing POV shooting spree, easily the film’s finest scene. 
     The segments are interspaced with loving close-ups of a decomposing corpse swarming with maggots.  There’s also a little girl who draws a stick figure Death King and informs us of his ultimate purpose.  Such elements are never explained, not unlike the film’s most boring, superfluous sequence, the names-superimposed-over-the-pastoral-bridge bit.  I also could have done without the sloooooooow pan around the room that takes up far too much of the “Monday” sequence—I can take experimentation, but excess pretension is never welcome. 


Vital Statistics 

DER TODESKING (THE DEATH KING)
Film Threat Video 

Director: Jorg Buttgereit
Producer: Manfred O. Jelinski
Screenplay: Jorg Buttgereit, Franz Rodenkirchen
Cast: Susanne Betz, Jorg Buttgereit, Heinrich Ebber, Bela B. Felsenheimer, Angelika Hoch, Baerbel Juette, Hermann Kopp, Michael Krause, Eva-Maria Kurz, Nicholas Petche, Mark Reeder, Hille Saul, Simone Sporl, Ades Zabel
 


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