"Today I am dirty, but tomorrow I'll be just dirt".

Jorg Buttgereit's classic from 1994 tells the story of the last days of the notorious (fictional) 'Lipstick Killer' - Lothar Schramm.

The film is presented in a distinctive non-linear style - in fact, it's told almost entirely in reverse. The film opens with the newspaper headline announcement of Schramm's death; we then see an unconscious Schramm lying in a pool of white paint in his sparse apartment. The following scene explains to us just why Schramm was up on a step-ladder smearing white paint over the blood stains on his wall in the first place. And so on ...

If you've seen Chris Nolan's 'groundbreaking' MEMENTO then you'll know how well this format can work: at first needlessly confusing, but ultimately rewarding and begging of a second viewing. Just bear it in mind that SCHRAMM came several years earlier than Nolan's celebrated effort!

But where SCHRAMM differs thematically is in it's regular revisits to the title character's present incapacitation, making SCHRAMM appear at times less of a story-told-backwards, and more a study into the mechanics of someone who, on his death-bed, is searching for a reason to the madness that has punctuated his final week on Earth.

Schramm lives alone in a run-down tenement block. He has a special relationship with prostitute Marianne who lives across the hallway from him. She trusts him as a friend and guardian - she even requests that he escort her to a highly paid appointment that she holds particular reservations about. Of course, our anti-hero obliges. He's a gentleman, after all!

Meanwhile, in the comfort of his squalid apartment Schramm listens in on Marianne's afternoon romps, while fucking an inflatable torso. In his mind's eye however, he has romanticised visions of being her partner. These visions of unrequited happiness continue to haunt him as he lies dying.

And so Buttgereit's movie retraces Schramm's final days, through his melancholic perception of events.

Marianne is dined by Schramm, while being subject to ridicule and abuse at the hands of her customers. Schramm (get this!) drugs the object of his desire, then masturbates over her while she sleeps - only to punish himself afterwards (or beforehand, if you're confused by the film's narrative!) by hammering his penis to a table!!

The storyline to SCHRAMM may be sparse, and you may be tempted to think that any film offering it's ending at the beginning and then working back-over would amount to a redundant viewing exercise. You're wrong.

SCHRAMM is superbly written (by Buttgereit and Franz Rodenkirchen - the team responsible for NEKROMANTIK!) and Buttgereit's direction is especially impressive as he manages to toy with conventional audience expectancies, while keeping the narrative coherent and - most importantly - interesting. Full kudos to the music of Gundula Schmitz and Max Muller too - very atmospheric.

That the film is told in reverse does not spoil the building tension in the plot at all, and even if the more astute see where it's all leading - you're sure to have fun getting there!

SCHRAMM is one of the finest genre efforts in the last two decades. I also personally hold it alongside DER TODESKING as Buttgereit's crowning achievement. Yeah, NEKROMANTIK's cool ... but this is so good, you almost forget about key scenes such as the dentist dream sequence (great eye gouging), or the merciless slaying of the two Bible-bashers!

And the disembodied vagina that sprouts yellow teeth - well, that's gotta be seen to be believed!!

SCHRAMM is a low-budget exercise in genre film-making, shot on 16mm film in German. It's also rife with violent and sleazy moments, yet the overall feeling it will leave you with is something artistically satisfying and an agreeable change from the norm.

In fact, it's a travesty that SCHRAMM never won the director any greater accolades than directing the odd episode of LEXX ...! This film deserves more recognition not only for it's undeniable genre-pleasing shock value, but it's artistic merit. Buttgereit's talent shines through in all departments!

Barrel's presentation and packaging of the film, then, is utterly spectacular.

Digitally transferred from the original 16mm negative, this is the best you'll ever see SCHRAMM looking. There's even an option to hear the original mono soundtrack mixed into stereo (which sounds mighty fine)! Naturally, newly produced removable English subtitles are also a feature.

Extras are fantastic:

Not one but two audio commentaries (both in English): the first is from Buttgereit & Rodenkirchen - the second from Florian Koerner von Gustorf and Monika M - the talented, brave pair who play Schramm and Marianne respectively.

A Making Of documentary offers 30 minutes of on-set interviews and priceless behind-the-scenes footage. Highly amusing, and as always with such dark material, it's a relief to see how lightly the cast and crew actually approached such a daunting script.

There's two short films from the director - CAPTAIN BERLIN was previously featured on the Blood Pictures R2 release of NEKROMANTIK, but is presented here with English subtitles. It's still shit. MEIN PAPI, on the other hand, is a solemn 7 minute work that ably exposes a hereto unseen maturity and emotional depth to Buttgereit's work - it's moving, and demands to be seen.

There's a music video for the German band Mutter (in which Gustorf is the drummer), which looks to have been shot in a single take. The stills gallery is great - very thorough (well over 100 stills, about 15 mins worth), and the liner notes by both Buttgereit and David Kerekes are well worth a read.

You also get trailers (as on Barrel's NEKROMANTIK disc) for NEKROMANTIK, NEKROMANTIK 2, DER TODESKING and SCHRAMM. Oh, and a boxing match involving Gustorf against another member of Mutter! Don't forget to check out the welcome 'Easter Egg' either, on the Director's Filmography page - just highlight Jorg's bloody hand!

Offering a four-page booklet and 31 chapters (hey, the film only lasts 65 minutes!), it's safe to say there will NEVER be a more definitive release of this cult classic.

Barrel may fall foul of our impatience on occasion, but SCHRAMM (which actually hit the stores circa May 2001) should serve as a reminder to everyone that what they do release is nothing but the very best that you could ever expect - and well worth the wait. So, bide you time and look forward to what will positively be the ulitmate, definitive releases of LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET and NEKROMANTIK 2 (2 disc collectors editions - no way?! How spoilt are we?!!!).

And SCHRAMM? If you don't already own it, buy it! A classic extreme film given the release we all knew it deserved but never dreamed it would receive. Wow!

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Barrel Entertainment
Region - All (NTSC)
Not Rated
Ratio - original fullscreen
Extras :