Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dämonenbrut (2000)

I’ve always been aware that Germany has produced, at least for the last two decades, quite a number of gore and splatter flicks and I’ve always had the least interest in watching them. From what I can glean from English-language reviews of the cinema, its particular attraction lies almost solely in its depiction of gore; and there is quite a fan base for this underground phenomenon. However, generalizing any type of cinema is often inaccurate and unfair, so with an open mind, I watched Andreas Bethmann’s 2000 film, Dämonenbrut. The version here under review is the 2006 “Director’s Cut,” which is approximately ninety minutes, and is included on a region 2, DVD set from German label, X-Rated Kult. My attraction to the film was its top-billed actress, Katja Bienert, who, after making a series of films with Jess Franco in the 1980s, according to her IMdB credits, went on to work in German television. Dämonenbrut, in some ways, marks her return to cinema. I literally fell in love with Bienert when I first saw her in Franco’s Diamonds of Kilimandjaro (1983). Young Bienert had one of the most beautiful smiles that I had ever seen and radiated true natural beauty. She elevated a film with a simple yet confused plot; and with Franco’s subjective, disjointed, and poetic camera, Diamonds of Kilimandjaro ranks as one of my favorites from Franco. It’s an obscure title, even among Franco fans, but Bienert’s performance makes it well worth seeking out. An island exists off the coast of Italy that is avoided by all sailors, because of its inhabitants. The inhabitants of the island have now grown restless and are eager to “enter” into the general population. A military vessel, commanded by Mike (Chrisz Meier) (who is accompanied by his fiancé, Maria (Bienert) and his crew), crashes during a storm while near the island. Meanwhile, back on the mainland, a couple is fucking. Afterwards, the young woman goes to shower while her lover rests on the bed. While he is staring at the crucifix on the wall, the wall begins to bleed and the cross inverts. The lover is murdered brutally by an unknown force. When the young woman returns from her shower, she finds her dead lover and is attacked. Cut to daylight and outdoors with Magdalena (Marion Ley) and her two criminal associates, Riccardo (Thomas Riehn) and Antonio (Carsten Ruthmann). Riccardo and Antonio rob a bank and take a hostage (Anja Gebel). After the robbery, the trio and their hostage plan on hiding out at the uninhabited island, despite a warning from black-cloaked old man. Maria and Mike both awaken to find themselves on the island. They are separated from each other but not for long. The short and skinny: Dämonenbrut is low-budget and shot on video. There is quite a bit of graphic violence and gore, a very large quotient of frequent female nudity, and tentacle sex (a la Japanese hentai animation). These attractions typically sell themselves, and curious audiences can usually seek them out with little impediment. Would you like to know more? Bethmann knows his European cult cinema. I mean really knows. The premise of Dämonenbrut seems an overt nod to the film within the film Dèmoni (aka Demons (1985); directed by Lamberto Bava). There is a scene where Marion Ley’s Magdalena finds a stone tablet near the ruins on the island which has an inscription that reads as a warning. Like Jess Franco’s cinema, Bethmann keeps his actresses primarily in their birthday suits whenever and wherever possible. At its essence, Dämonenbrut is a very pure and effective exploitation film, a nasty and perverse one at that. Despite its over-the-top graphic content, one of the aspects of Dämonenbrut which has stayed with me in reflection is the film’s filmic purity. Film makers across the board and around the world often have trouble creating interesting and efficient exposition for the first act of their films. Often expository dialogue is employed, and nearly always it comes off as artificial and contrived. Why do two people have to relate things to each other that each already knows? For the audience’s benefit, of course. Bethmann actually has his characters deliver dialogue in monologue. Like people talking to themselves. For example, when Mike washes ashore of the island in his life raft, he says aloud to himself, “This must be the island that I couldn’t find last night on the map.” Or this example, Bienert’s Maria attempts to wade through the water, near the edge of the island. An invisible barrier stops her. Although, it is obvious that she cannot proceed forward, she says aloud, again to no one around, “I’m unable to move beyond this barrier.” Delivering exposition in this manner is no less artificial than delivering exposition through conversation. Bethmann’s use is so rare that it actually comes across as kind of brilliant: why waste time with attempting to make exposition seem organic through conversation and just cut to the chase with a few seconds and one line? Bethmann did his own practical special effects for Dämonenbrut, and they are actually done very well and are effective. In fact, I would say that they are on par with other special effects for low-budget horror films such as Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste. One of the things that Bethmann really does effectively, as did Sergio Stivaletti in Dèmoni, is to focus on eyes. Perhaps this speaks more to my own fears and quirks, but there is nothing more demonic than soulless yet colorful eyes. In fact, Bethmann breaks a rule quite often that I have for monster makeup: never put creature makeup on the most attractive people in the cast. This is a ridiculous rule that I have, and I’m glad that he breaks it. There are at least a couple of scenes with a quick cut where Bethmann drastically changes the tone of the scene with a reveal of the change in a character’s eyes. Save Bienert, the acting in Dämonenbrut is not very good, and this is perhaps my biggest complaint towards the film. Now for the sensational. There is quite a bit of offensive material within Dämonenbrut, and if you do a modicum of research on the film via your favorite search engine, you will get a more accurate description of such. I say only this: tentacle sex. I will say it again: tentacle sex. Bethmann is very much a talented and competent film maker as Dämonenbrut (at least its “Director’s Cut”) is swiftly-paced, well-composed, and frequently compelling. As with any low-budget film, props and costumes and makeup often look less than credible, but primary audiences attracted to this film will not see this aspect as a deterrent. I certainly relished the opportunity to see Bienert again, and she really steals every scene that she is in. Unbelievable.


Alex B. said...

That shot of Bienert looking out from behind the bush...lovely. Diamons of Kilimandjaro is a fun light-hearted film.
I saw Bethmann's ANGEL OF DEATH which is dedicated to Jess Franco and Joe D'Amato. A terrible+overlong film, with ultra-cheap style, techno soundtrack and lots of gore, as expected.
Judging by the stills,Dämonenbrut is a bit more advanced. But dear me, shot-on-video tentacle fucking - I'm not sure I could handle that :)
I really appreciate what Bethman does as DVD distributor, but am not much into his directorial work. Still, am curious to check out Rossa venezia with cameos by Jess and Lina.

Hans A. said...

@Alex--I want to see Rossa Venezia, too, if not just for Lina and Jess but maybe as a giallo homage. I've seen Bethmann's Exitus Interuptus II, which is one of his latest films. His technique and style has evolved quite a bit; and he uses better cameras and has better set design. Have you seen Franco's Killer Barbys v. Dracula? It's not very good, but Bienert reunites with Franco, and she has a pretty cute role.

Alex B. said...

No, haven't seen Killer Barbys v. Dracula, but I will soon:))
If some more Bethmann comes my way, I will give it a try