AKA THE KING OF DEATH
Coming to Dual Format DVD and Blu-ray on 26th February from Arrow Video
It’s an odd phenomenon but for various reasons just describing something like this as a series of events doesn’t really seem appropriate. Maybe it’s because that by simply giving a synopsis so many things are left missing from the experience. On the surface this is a series of seven vignettes, one for each day of the week. On each there’s an unconnected incident involving depression and suicide; with the framing device being a rotting corpse and a child drawing the titular character. Less a horror movie and more a meditation on death and those drawn to the end of their own lives, there’s less to be said about the content than there is about the overall mood and atmosphere.
Some of the events are worth discussing of course, as we see lonely characters contemplating their own situations whether it’s a result of marital problems or living alone. There’s a whole lot of existential angst going on, and in most cases it doesn’t end well. In one instance there is no action at all, and we’re just left to ponder a list of names and occupations as the camera glides along a concrete bridge above a dual carriageway. In another a young woman reads to a much younger girl a book about why people might end their lives. It’s weirdly hypnotic but often meandering with as much focus on swirling perspectives as on troubled states of mind.
The first section (Monday) is probably the one which takes the most time to explore the situation, as a man with a fascination with fish (from biology charts to Jaws posters) making lengthy preparations to quit his job and make other much bleaker decisions. The passage of time is focused on here more than any of the later stories, although the use of dark, speckled 16mm photography is the same throughout and the different camera tricks are a recurring element. Tuesday is probably the only segment which offers any kind of twisted black humour as we follow a video store customer picking out a Nazi exploitation film to watch instead of going to a birthday party.
If each of these brief tales has anything individual to say then this second one is probably about the effects of movie violence and our perception of art – particularly the bizarre moment where he hangs a picture frame of a bloody stain on his apartment wall. There are many hints of subtext under the overarching theme whether it’s that life itself is uncaring and meaningless or that even apparently happy couples may be worse off than those living in isolation. But ultimately these are ideas that you can take or leave since death inevitably arrives whether it’s personified or not.
Other tales included give us food for thought regarding domestic bliss whether it’s a man sat in the rain talking out loud about his relationship problems or a women staring longingly from her apartment at a young couple she sees through an open window. It jumps from nihilism to sudden violence in ways that are pretty stark and grim, although with such a brisk running time not everything is explored as much as it could have been. Ideas about chain letters, mass shootings and random chances in life are touched on, and all the while an unclothed body becomes more and more decayed.
Beyond the repeating image of putrefying human remains there are many other recurring technical aspects to consider (I won’t say enjoy) including the oppressive soundtrack. The main theme feels like a riff on Mars The Bringer of War mixed with a lot of sampled violin and piano sounds, but there are also a lot of screaming noises and other weird effects thrown into the mix. The latest release from Arrow Video comes with all this on a special audio CD for your listening pleasure. Like the rest of the film it’s probably not going to be for everyone.
Some viewers will probably be put off long before all the film reel distortion and the head banging, but to be fair this isn’t as extreme as you might be imagining. There will be those who end up feeling like the man in the Sunday section flailing about as the camera circles his face, but this is certainly more of a mood piece than a film made for shock value. None of this is linked cohesively enough to call it a complete success, and some of the vignettes are too brief and without enough real plot for it to be considered an anthology movie. Fans of this director’s other features will certainly need to pick this one up, but other genre enthusiasts might be looking for something a bit more substantial.
DIRECTOR-APPROVED LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS FROM ARROW VIDEO
- Director’s approved HD transfer from the original 16mm negative
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original Stereo Audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles
- Limited edition packaging featuring new artwork by Gilles Vranckx
- Limited edition certificate featuring original artwork
- Replica “Brotherhood of the 7th Day” Chain Letter
- Der Todesking Soundtrack CD
- Limited Edition 60-page book
DISC 1 [BLU-RAY] & DISC 2 [DVD] – ‘DER TODESKING’
- Audio commentary by Jörg Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen
- From Bundy to Lautréamont – Jörg Buttgereit in conversation with journalist Graham Rae at the 2016 Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films
- The Making of Der Todesking – vintage production featurette
- Footage from the original 1990 Berlin premiere
- Corpse Fucking Art – 1992 documentary bringing together the making of featurettes of Nekromantik,
- Der Todesking and Nekromantik 2 Der Gollob (1983, 25 mins) – short film by Jörg Buttgereit, newly transferred in HD and viewable with optional director’s audio commentary
- Two short films by producer Manfred O. Jelinski: Die Reise ins Licht (1972, 27 mins) and Geliebter Wahnsinn (1973, 7 mins)
- Still Gallery Jörg Buttgereit
- Trailer Gallery
DISC 3 [CD] – ‘DER TODESKING’ SOUNDTRACK – LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE
- CD featuring the complete Der Todesking score
60-PAGE BOOK – LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE
- Exclusive perfect-bound book featuring new writing on the film from Graham Rae and Kat Ellinger, all illustrated with new artwork and original archive stills