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“SCHRAMM” (Blu-ray Review)

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Expertly designed to cause discomfort, 1993’s SCHRAMM was the final feature-length film by notorious taboo-shatterer Jörg Buttgereit—a polite yet ferocious German director you may have read about here, as Cult Epics has been releasing one Blu-ray after another documenting his feared and revered career.

Putrefying in content, and pulsing with insightful production materials and other “goodies,” each disc has been quite the ride for your dear writer—who, even as a Buttgereit fan, has to admit that it takes a lot to endure the man’s art. Especially once you’ve turned out the lights at night and are alone with your thoughts. Cult Epics previously issued NEKROMANTIK, NEKROMANTIK 2 and DER TODESKING, and a boxed set containing those and this latest release is also now available under the title SEX MURDER ART, which includes all the previous bonus features and short films, soundtracks to his four features compiled onto two CDs in their own separate sleeves and a 40-page booklet of interviews and photos, from both in front of and behind the camera.

Now, back to SCHRAMM (also out on DVD) and its subject, the unfortunate Lothar Schramm… The film opens with a quote from American serial killer/rapist Carl Panzram, whose horrifying upbringing surely led to him terrorizing the 1920s and his eventual hanging in 1930. We’re then immediately kicked mid-waist into the world of the eponymous cab driver, played by previous Buttgereit collaborator Florian Koemer von Gustorf. Schramm, a fictitious character living a double life as a psychopath dubbed “The Lipstick Killer,” is a doughy, balding, middle-aged white male—a profile that, eerily, makes too much sense.

SCHRAMMBLURAYREVButtgereit wants us to peer into the mind of a serial killer, and opens that door by having his lonely murderer slip off a ladder while painting over blood spatter he recently caused in his small apartment, cracking his coconut on the hard floor. This leads to a succession of memories and fever dreams we witness as he dies, 60 minutes of flashbacks to his life—some grounded in reality, some severely compromised by the trauma his already pained brain has endured over years of sadistic impulses and self-hatred. They include an eyeball extracted from a dentist, a pocket-sized, toothy and quite lively vagina and a moment of self-mutilation that has rightfully earned its disturbing status among even the most hardened male viewers of any form of confrontational cinema.

Monika M., the fearless actress and musician who played the lead necrophile in NEKROMANTIK 2, here portrays a prostitute living next to Schramm, whom she befriends. Their sad and brief relationship is painstakingly shot on 16mm film (the transfer is derived from the original negative) with the same severe amount of care with which Buttgereit previously imbued humor into his filmic forays into human anguish and forbidden passions. Here, Buttgereit does not employ humor—not at all. Even he seems uncharacteristically put off by explaining the project during his introduction on the disc.

In a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette, on the other hand, everyone involved appears quite happy to be aboard, as is usually the case with a Buttgereit project. Von Gustorf is a sort of class clown who doesn’t appear to be taking much of the project seriously, despite agreeing to gain quite a bit of weight to play the killer, and gives his initial interview bare-chested, naked legs crossed, his lap covered with some fabric that could be a towel. The levity continues as we’re given a blessed look at how everyone on even a Buttgereit film can have fun under much duress, working hard, especially when dealing with such upsetting material. There are jokes about how the blood will look and perform, how severed limbs will register…

This segment has been available for quite some time, and like every other making-of piece covering Buttgereit’s work, it should be seen by all aspiring filmmakers, regardless of their interest in genre. There is no bullshit here—no hamming it up and “Oh, she was great!” You’re watching people work hard to create something that the majority of the world doesn’t want to see—and they know it. Even the effort put into the gruesome FX is nakedly on display—you are completely in on it. “It’s probably important,” von Gustorf says, shifting the dark fabric on his lap, “that shooting this 60-minute movie has already taken us about a half a year. So it’s obvious that we are dealing with real tough pros. And that’s something I really appreciate…as opposed to having to work with just pros.” By the end of the feature, we learn that everyone did take the entire process very seriously and had a lot of respect for each other—and rightfully so. And that Von Gustorf wore a very silly pair of swim trunks during most of the shoot, though most likely he had on a pair of panties his character wears in certain scenes during the interview.

Commentaries are provided by the ever-honest and humble duo of Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen on one track, and the ever-entertaining von Gustorf and ever-charming Monika M. on another. The soundtrack, included as its own feature and created by Max Muller and Gundula Schmitz, is its own beast. The duo created a wonderfully haunting, beastly background to the onscreen action. More of Buttgereit’s short films are included, on par with the previous Cult Epics releases. Here, we have HORROR HEAVEN with an optional commentary by Buttgereit, BLOODY EXCESS IN THE LEADER’S BUNKER and MY FATHER.

We’ve had a bit of fun here, but it’s important to address the film and not just the production. It’s a frustrating and challenging movie, and may deserve some of the critiques leveled at it in the past. Time does have a way, though. As terrifying as it is to realize that the most frightening creatures of our species maneuver among us without masks, it’s even more traumatic to at times feel sorry for them—usually only after the crimes have been committed, the culprit caught and we have learned how and why they happened in the first place. That is what makes SCHRAMM a real bitch to deal with. It’s not only a little too true, it’s also lacking that coat of lacquer that lets the beads of viewer sweat fall away after watching similar productions with real budgets. There’s also the fact that SCHRAMM feels sorry for Schramm—and also for us, since we’ve read about his kind far too many times.

OVERALL RATING: 3.5_skull

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Chris Haberman
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