In the charnel house history of the horror genre there exist surprisingly few films that attempt to do more than supply fans in search of a good bloody time with populist 'Popcorn' style entertainment. Much of our genre celebrates 'safe' fear, pleasing terrors wherein the status quo and conservative values of an overly simplistic ideal of Good vs. Bad are reaffirmed at movie's end. Oh, sure, the monsters (human or mythical) are allowed some time to bare their fangs and wreak havoc, but, before the last flickering celluloid moment, the killer is behind bars, the Outsider depicted as a deviant in a world otherwise safe in its rationalistic dependence on law and order.

Not so for films that strive to do more than titillate.

Far from simple exploitation, and miles away from popcorn terror, truly horrific cinema attacks those very ideals and philosophic rationales that are the foundation of society. Jorg Buttigerit has been tearing away the safety nets of cinema for years, thanklessly peeling back the raw scabs of our very dark, very tragic human condition and fingering the pulpy meat beneath. In such pieces as Nekromantik and The Death King, he mirrors his central plots of Outsiders finding meaning in pain and death with philosophic attitudes and general contexts that attack our most sacred assumptions of human nature and society. In Schramm he goes still further, ushering us into the internal doubt, torment, and sexual/emotional dissatisfaction of a madman who could easily be any one of us in our most helpless, frustrated states. Presented with respect and startling clarity by Barrel Entertainment, this special edition of Buttigerit's most intimate, artistically bold film resembles a 'quiet' scream -- full of understated terror and pain.

Employing an experimental, fragmented narrative style in which to tell an equally isolated, subjective delirium dream of fading life, Schramm focuses on the last pitiful, hazy moments of a dying man. The film opens as Lothar Schramm lies dying in a pool of paint after falling from a ladder while trying to paint over a bloodstain on his grungy wall. From this example of death lurking to claim us in the simplest of domestic activities, we are ushered into a nightmarishly honest glimpse of this lonely man's life. Forming the crux of an internally disquieting, disjointed narrative, the ensuing scenes convincingly depict the life of an outcast, exploring the motivations of a mind driven to murder and self-hate due to loneliness. From the blunt, realistically conveyed moments in his living room as he murders religious missionaries to dreams of dismemberment, from his desire to love Monika M., his prostitute neighbor, to the filthy naturalism of his pathetic masturbation scenes, this broken narrative mirrors (and further reaffirms) the chaotic nature of his mind. Of paramount interest is Schramm's inability to know other people -- or himself. Far from the typically, symbolically evil depicted in mainstream horror movies, Schramm resembles the Everyman walking the streets. His ambiguous, unremarkable life is one of the very elements that makes the film so very disturbing. . Neither good nor evil, he simply is. No fictional stereotype of cinematic evil here, only real, everyday, ignorant, and, yes, even sympathetic helplessness. Helplessness that turns to rage As Schramm speaks awkwardly to his neighbor, brings her to her 'jobs,' and masturbates to her noisy sexual encounters, he falls further and further into the slow burn of insanity . . .

Culminating in death brought about by a decidedly non-dramatic accident, the method of Schramm's death is reflective of how he lived. Similar to his madness and alienation, death seems to be just something that happens to this poor slob! Courting conflicting emotions of empathy, disgust, and depression, Buttigerit crafts in Schramm an unflinching, honest, minimalist portrait of a fragmented personality unable to die any better than he lived. As should be clear, this isn't popcorn horror. Nor is it the serial killer film everyone seems to call it. Violent murder, while included, is never the focus, nor is the sexual perversion. While these elements are crucial in developing a mood of hopelessness, they are only supporting characters beside Schramm's inner loneliness. A poignant memoir of estrangement, Schramm himself is the focal point, and the drab settings and painful moments of senility between him and those few people who comprise his life disturbingly realistic. An artist more concerned with expressing his own concerns than with courting popular opinion, Buttigerit's filmmaking approach is too honest to be considered 'fun.' Nor is it trying to be. Rather, this is dark cinema as it should be -- horror of the soul: ignorant, blind and final. A bleak antidote to the self-referential parodies or FX heavy Slasher film, Schramm is most disturbing when studying the quiet, terrible moments between the violence. Throbbing with harsh beauty, the film is a grimy marriage of content and form, and its director a poet of pain.

Barrel gives Schramm a clean 1.33:1 transfer from the original 16mm B&W negative. Impressive to behold, this in no way hampers the picture's purposefully drab, depressingly 'realistic' murk. Low on speckling or grain, the print is high on naturalistic atmosphere. Audio is in a German stereo remix or original mono (with optional English subtitles). The extras are almost as substantial as the feature, inviting us to share glimpses of the director's world, artistry, and personal life. Barrel features two commentaries, the first with J�rg Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen, and the second with actors Monika M. and Florian Koerner von Gustorf. The first track is a philosophical blitzkreig, exploring various nuances of meaning and symbol in the film, and heavy on technical insight. The somewhat more casual, personable mood in the second track provides a nice balance, with fascinating insights concerning the production. Providing social and cinematic context against which to place the movie, the video documentary, "The Making of Schramm" encourages greater insight into the challenge of filmmaking. Most captivating perhaps are the short films Mein Papi and Captain Berlin, the former of which particularly makes suggestions regarding Buttgerit's personal life. Mein Papi is an assemblage of footage that Buttgereit secretly filmed of his sickly father, and is extremely morbid yet touching. Less substantial is Captain Berlin, a short that says very little of worth in terms of the director's overall artistry but is fun regardless. Barrel follows these fearful festivities with Mutter Boxing, footage of a boxing match between actor von Gustorf and Mutter, another member of his band. This is followed by Die Neue Zeit, a music video of a Mutter song, accompanied by making-of footage. More enjoyable is a LARGE photo gallery and the expected trailers for all of Jorg's films.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Barrel
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review