“8 ½ Doors of Death” Presents:
Film Review by Jerome Reuter
Synopsis: The infamous “lipstick killer,” Lothar Schramm, lives a life of isolation and sexual depravity. Haunted by visions routed deep within his psyche, he struggles to keep his identity hidden from those around him.
Serial killers. They repulse us, yet we can’t help but be fascinated by the creature who kills out of compulsion. Both HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986) and MAN BITES DOG (1992) gave us firsthand glimpses into what makes them tick, but with very different interpretations. In what was his last horror effort for years, German auteur Jorg Buttgereit showed us his vision of this complex subject matter with SCHRAMM (1993). One of the darkest examples of post-modern horror ever fashioned, its reputation as one-of-a-kind remains intact.
Buttgereit has never been a stranger to exploring the many facets of death. In NEKROMANTIK (1987), as well as its sequel, NEKROMANTIK 2 (1991), he displayed the tumultuous marriage between sex and death in a form of perverted beauty. In DER TODESKING (1989), he delved even deeper into the subject, from suicide to murder, and openly mocking the way they’re presented within horror in general. SCHRAMM is a different kind of film, while it still explores the darker aspects of human nature; it’s a slight contrast from his previous works. The tagline of “into the mind of a serial killer” is straight to the point, and accurately describes the content contained therein.
The character of Lothar Schramm (played by Florian Koerner von Gustorf) is a composite of personality traits possessed by different serial killers. It’s been well-documented that many of them lack proper social skills, and possess many self-destructive personality traits. Both of these factors play a role in Buttgereit’s fictional killer. Schramm is cut off from the outside world, and practices violent genital mutilation on himself. (a ’la real life serial killer Albert Fish.) Much like Jeffrey Dahmer, the persona he projects to the outside world is one of a kindly neighbor. It’s these traits that ground the story in reality, and remind us as that fact and fiction aren’t so different from one another.
It’s Schramm’s humane qualities that generate empathy for his character, such as in the friendship he forges with Marianne (Monika M.), a prostitute who lives next door to him. Their association is rather peculiar, when looked through their opposing viewpoints of one another. Marianne only sees the persona that Schramm projects to the outside world, unaware of his inner nature. At one point, she’s hired by some businessmen to perform for them, and Lothar is asked to accompany her for protection. Upon arrival, they have her dress in an outfit that resembles a uniform worn by the Hitler youth. Much like he did with the “Ilsa” scene in DER TODESKING, Buttgereit openly mocks the fetishism some find in Nazism, and its sadistic nature. Relegating it to a lowly form of entertainment, and a taboo for those who are beyond the pale.
While Marianne cannot see into the dark fantasies and inner workings of Schramm’s true nature, his obsession with her is a double-edged sword. On one hand, he’s willing to keep up his charade and play the role of kind-hearted neighbor. On the other, her profession plays into his damaged psyche and perverted nature. Two scenes illustrate this dark aspect of their relationship. While listening to her entertain a client through his apartment walls, he fornicates with a plastic doll, as he’s unable to forge any sort of human contact. A similar scene plays out later in the film, when he drugs her with a glass of laced cognac, and pleasures himself in front of her unconscious body. While doing so, he berates her viciously for her line of work, all the while almost breaking into tears. This whole angle furthers the empathetic reaction the audience is supposed to feel for Schramm. Beneath it all, he’s a tortured individual.
All character study aside, the narrative itself is presented in a dismantled fashion. True to form with the rest of his filmography, Buttgereit defies the conventional, and presents a dissonant story that has its roots ground in reality, yet is lucid and surreal enough to seem otherworldly. In order to display what’s happening in Schramm’s head, we’re presented with his dreams and hallucinations, which seem to represent the dominant aspects of his personality, constantly at odds with one another. That’s what Schramm’s story is; his personal struggle with the psychosis that plagues his existence. If this isn’t one of the best examples of psychological horror, than I’m not sure what is.
Before his execution, Ted Bundy had an interesting remark about serial killers, “There will be more of us tomorrow.” This isn’t the hollow threat of a condemned killer; it’s a fact, and one that’s been proven time and time again. SCHRAMM reminds us that there is more to human nature than what we perceive on surface.
© Copyright 2017 by Jerome Reuter