Thursday, June 25, 2015

Tanz der Kürbiskӧpfe (1996)

I have a fascination about Andreas Bethmann’s late-90s, S.O.V. horror film, Tanz der Kürbiskӧpfe (literally, Dance of the Pumpkinhead) (1996). 
Tanz begins with two dudes sitting by a moonlit fire and drinking beer, under a tree where a decrepit Jack O’ Lantern sits above.  They start bullshitting and are visited by an old man who stops by their fire and is welcomed with a beer.  The old man tells them a story, probably an evil legend, about the location where they are sitting.  Cut to a dungeon where a young woman is bound in chains, and a mysterious figure brandishing a spiked dildo defiles her.  After the credits, a daylight sequence begins in a cemetery where a junkie kneels at the foot of a grave to have a fix.  He is accosted by the old man from the campfire scene at the beginning of the film.  The junkie cooks, fixes, and passes out; and Tanz cuts to the bus stop where a young man passes and notices a sexy woman waiting.  He stops to linger at her; the camera strobes; and he has a fantasy about the woman:  she gyrates slowly in her underwear before spilling blood out of her mouth.  The young man goes back to his house and reads a pornographic magazine.  His girlfriend arrives, presumably from work, and the two have an argument, resulting in the young man leaving.  Cut to the street during nighttime and a young couple emerges.  One of the young men from the opening campfire scene appears with his girlfriend and he is carrying a pumpkin on his shoulder.  They have costumes on, as it is Halloween.  They each drink a bottle of beer in the street.  The young woman has to take a piss, so the couple ducks into the cemetery.  The young man puts the pumpkin on top of the wall.  The young couple pisses in each’s respective spot, and while their pissing is going on, a skeleton in the cemetery emits smoke from its eyes and mouth.  This smoke possesses the pumpkin on the wall of the cemetery, and the pumpkin becomes a Jack O’ Lantern.  It flies around the cemetery and finds the junkie at the base of the grave.  The junkie wakes up and is promptly decapitated.  This is just the beginning…
I believe in order to appreciate Tanz, as a prerequisite, one has to love weird cinema, be willing to cross the S.O.V. threshold, and relax a little bit when anything amateurish or logic-defying occurs on screen.  I met this criteria years ago, and as a reviewer, I feel Tanz is my bread and butter.  Tanz der Kürbiskӧpfe feels like Andreas Bethmann’s homage to John Carpenter, in the same way a wayward son is towards his distant father.  The campfire scene is reminiscent of the opening scene of The Fog (1980) where John Houseman’s Mr. Machen tells an evil legend which unfolds over the course of the film.  The music of Tanz seems a synthesis of Carpenter’s scores for both The Fog and Halloween (1978) except the score for Tanz is more ambient and removes the rhythmic tempo of Carpenter’s scores.  There is a lo-fi elegance to the scenes where the possessed pumpkin flies around:  against the grainy backdrop of the video quality, the camera glides around the tombstones, accompanied by the score.  The pumpkin is actually in the foreground of the screen, somehow mounted to the camera.  In an amazing scene, almost an exegesis of Bethmann’s screenplay, a man (presumably this is Bethmann) sits in front of his television in his apartment watching Carpenter’s Halloween.  There is a knock at the door, and the man answers, greeted by a door-to-door salesman selling sex toys and pornography.  The young man buys a videocassette, and the salesman ascends the stairs of the housing complex.  He enters the door of a darkened attic where he encounters his death.  This meandering route to arrive at a gruesome murder scene is Bethmann’s deus ex machina.  In fact, the junkie in the cemetery is only present in the film to fix and pass out to awaken at night to become a victim. 
I also love the amateurish scenes in Tanz.  When the old man receives his second beer during the opening campfire scene, he toasts the two gentlemen and also to the camera.  When the sexy woman from the bus stop gyrates during her fantasy sequence, she seems to be on the verge of busting out laughing before the blood spills from her mouth.  The young girlfriend, abandoned at home by her boyfriend, is visited by the Jack O’ Lantern in a sublime scene.  She defends herself from an attack with a butcher knife but as she is stabbing, she is grinning, perhaps at the thought a pumpkin is attacking her.  The dungeon sequence where the bound woman is defiled with the spiked dildo would be offensive or provocative, if only for the fact that the special effects look like a Barbie doll set.  Despite being amateurish, however, the majority of the special effects in Tanz are quite good and credible. 
I can see myself watching Tanz der Kürbiskӧpfe during Halloween.  Tanz is also the kind of film that is only going to interest those who seek it out.  For those that do, have fun.

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