Tenderness of the Wolves (Arrow Video, NR)

Tenderness of the WolvesIt always winds up landing in a no man’s land: not arty enough to be an arthouse flick, not gory enough to be an exploitation movie.

 

 

 

 

Tenderness of the Wolves 500

Similar to how the American serial killer Ed Gein inspired many horror movies (Psycho, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the Buffalo Bill character in The Silence of the Lambs), the 1920s-era German serial killer Fritz Haarmann, who is attributed with murdering at least a couple dozen young boys over a period of about six years, has ignited the creative flames of many German filmmakers over the years. Best known of these loose adaptations of his story is Fritz Lang’s touchstone 1931 film M, perhaps the first-ever serial killer-type genre movie, but another well-studied treatment of the material is Ulli Lommel’s 1973 film Tenderness of the Wolves, which just went through a major restoration and is being released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video, replacing the long out of print Anchor Bay disc from 1999.

Tenderness of the Wolves has long played up its connection with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who produced the film and plays a small role in it, and, indeed, on some levels it feels like what one would expect if Fassbinder had directed a gothic horror movie. The difference is, Fassbinder made virtually no bad movies in his 40+ films, where Wolves holds little interest. The main thing that calls him to mind, aside from his actual presence in the film, is that the cast is made up almost exclusively of Fassbinder-associated stars: Why Does Herr R. Run Amok’s Kurt Raab (who also wrote Wolves’ script and served as Production Designer), who plays Haarmann; Fassbinder’s ex-wife Ingrid Caven; Ali: Fear Eats the Soul stars Brigitte Mira and El Hedi ben Salem (not to mention having been shot by Ali’s cinematographer Jürgen Jürges); The Bitter Tears of Petra Van Kant’s Margit Carstensen; etc. Hell, even Lommel himself served as an actor in a handful of Fassbinder flicks.

It isn’t hard to see what Tenderness of the Wolves is trying to do—implicate the society which allowed someone like Haarmann to go about his business for so long; build up tension that pivots on a shocking scene that comes at an unusual point in the movie—but it always winds up landing in a no man’s land: not arty enough to be an arthouse flick, not gory enough to be an exploitation movie. There are some good performances and Jürges’ camerawork is a delight, but on the whole the movie lacks any kind of push toward making it memorable for reasons other than its connection to Fassbinder.

Arrow Video has been positioning themselves as the Criterion Collection of genre movies for some time now, and this happily means that their release is full of contextual information—where we’ve all gotten used to the skimpy three- and four-minutes “interviews” and “featurettes” we get as “special features” on most discs, which serve only to insult our intelligence, here Arrow offers 15-25 minute interviews each with Lommel, Jürges, and actor Rainer Will, plus a commentary on the film from Lommel and the usual assortment of stills galleries, a trailer, and that kind of thing. While Jürges and Will offer some interesting information, both Lommel’s commentary and his interview are fairly worthless, in large part because he’s constantly setting off your bullshit detector. He’s often contradicting what he or others say in other parts of the special features (at one point he says Fassbinder has a surplus of money which he gave the spare of to Lommel to make this film, but then says that it was shot during a break on Fassbinder’s Effi Briest because Fassbinder had run out of money; Lommel says this film was Jürges’ first as DP, Jürges says it was his second, etc.), and apart from this, he’s enough of a self-aggrandizing egotist that he’s never much fun to listen to, regardless of how true or not his stories may be.

Apart from the filmmaker interviews, there’s a 40-minute interview with the well-regarded British horror film expert Stephen Thrower, but even his piece falls noticeably short. Much of it is very repetitive in content, and worse is he spends a good 15 minutes talking about how bad Lommel’s films of the past 15 years have been before admitting that he hasn’t actually seen any of them. The booklet included with the film features an essay by Fassbinder expert Tony Rayns, which piece I’m guessing is of more usefulness than anything on the disc, but alas the review copy I received did not include said booklet, so I can’t say for sure.

If you’re a Fassbinder completist (a hard thing to be, given his huge amount of output), or are a fan of the Peter Lorre/Max Schreck/Udo Kier type of German horror movie villain, this movie’s definitely worth checking out at least once. Just don’t expect it to be on the level of quality of any of those other films, though. | Pete Timmermann

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