Der Todesking Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Cult Epics
Directed by Jörg Buttgereit
Written by Jörg Buttgereit and Franz Rodenkirchen
1990, 76 minutes, Not rated
Blu-ray released on June 9th, 2015
Hermann Kopp as Man (segment “Montag”)
Heinrich Ebber as Video Fan (segment “Dienstag”)
Michael Krause as Man in Park (segment “Mittwoch”)
Susanne Betz as Girl in Park (segment “Mittwoch”)
Angelika Hoch as Assasin (segment “Samstag”)
Nicholas Petche as Man (segment “Sonntag”)
The King of Death is a figure that makes human beings lose their will to live, plain and simple. We learn about him through a child’s drawing and see how his existence affects people through a series of seven vignettes, each set on a different day of the week. The episodes are linked by a unique framing device featuring time-lapse photography of a decomposing corpse.
Montag (Monday) finds an unnamed man putting his affairs in order before taking an overdose of sleeping pills and climbing into the tub. There is not a lot of dialogue, but the story is filled with symbolism and some impressive camera work. The pacing of this segment is deliberate and may test viewers’ patience, but the man is in no rush to off himself.
The second episode, Dienstag (Tuesday), is a clever piece with a nice reveal I won’t spoil here, but the majority of the segment invites audiences to spend a few hours with a guy who enjoys watching Nazi exploitation videos. This piece moves faster than its predecessor and is quite a bit more shocking in content.
In Mittwoch (Wednesday), we meet a woman enjoying a quiet, albeit rainy, afternoon on a bench by herself in the park. Her time is interrupted by a man with the need to overshare his problems. Her response to his morose monologue is fairly surprising, and his reaction is to be expected, given the type of film you’re watching.
There is a large bridge in Germany that attracts suicidal people and this is a location where many have met their end. Donnerstag (Thursday) is a solemn vignette that focuses on this bridge as a backdrop to a list of names, ages and dates of those that have leapt to their deaths. The segment carries the uncomfortable weight of a documentary shot in silent reflection.
Freitag (Friday) offers an interesting spin on voyeurism, as a lady watches a loving couple in the window of a nearby apartment. It appears the action is leading to the expected amorous conclusion, but the reveal is shocking (although some of the power is removed given the surrounding content).
The most powerful segment in this film is Samstag (Saturday), and is even stronger today than when it premiered twenty-five years ago. An active shooter scenario plays out in grisly detail as a woman straps a camera on her shoulder and goes on a first-person, POV shooting spree in a theater. The content is already disturbing, but the experience is enhanced by the lack of audio as death silently spills from the screen.
Sonntag (Sunday) finds a man suffering from debilitating depression. He may also have headaches or possibly auditory hallucinations, but cannot find an easy way to get the bad feelings out of his head...until he does.
German director Jörg Buttgereit is best known for his non-traditional love stories Nekromantik (1987) and Nekromantik 2 (1991) that presented a romantic spin on the topic of necrophilia. His efforts were met with international censorship, and this notoriety assured his place in the world of underground cinema. Between these two features, Buttgereit directed der Todesking (1990), a somber reflection on the art of Death. The title is a slang term mixing German and English, translated as The Death King.
As a cinematic storyteller, Buttgereit engages his audience through a series of elaborate camera moves that present each sequence in a unique manner. The first story includes an extended shot that depicts the final hours of a despondent man as the camera spins 360 degrees around his small room as he makes final arrangements. In the third segment, the film itself reacts to the words being spoken; as a character’s emotional state grows more agitated, the image is distorted as though caught in the gears of the projector. The presentation of the bridge sequence offers non-suicidal viewers a unique perspective as the camera floats across the open chasm of the structure. As I mentioned earlier, Buttgreit really hits a nerve with the active shooter scenario and the sequence ends on a strong note with the haunting image captured by a second camera.
Der Todesking is a difficult film to recommend, but there is a beauty in what is being shared, though not always in a pleasant manner. Some may dismiss the work as being too ghoulish or melancholy, but they are ultimately missing the point, as the director has a lot to say about the frailty of human life. His macabre showcase refuses to offer any explanation for the actions of the people we meet, but Buttgereit assures viewers in a recently recorded introduction for this release that this is purely an anti-suicide film.
Video and Audio:
Shot on 16mm and later blown up to 35mm for theatrical screenings, this release offers an all-new director-approved HD transfer of the original negative. The film is presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and looks fantastic. The improvement in picture quality over earlier releases is a real treat for longtime fans.
There are two audio options: the original 2-channel Dolby Digital stereo presentation and a newly expanded 5.1 Dolby Digital surround mix. I opted for the 5.1 and have no complaints since, like the video counterpart, any limitations stem from the source materials.
This is a German-language film and English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
Director Jörg Buttgereit provides a newly recorded introduction for this 2015 release, and it is nice to see that he remains enthusiastic for the material.
Buttgereit is joined by co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen for a laid-back audio commentary that is more conversational than not. The relaxed nature of the discussion is actually quite entertaining and informative.
The Making of der Todesking (16 minutes) is a self-explanatory piece mixing clips from the finished film with behind-the-scenes footage shot during production. The featurette is narrated by the filmmakers and focuses on how the project originated and some of the challenges in creating the beautiful decomposing corpse prop.
An extensive still-photo gallery plays as a slideshow (13 minutes) accompanied by the film’s soundtrack. Images include promotional photographs and behind-the-scenes imagery of the production process.
The highlight of the supplements included here is the wonderful Corpse Fucking Art (58 minutes), a documentary that details the making of Nekromantik, der Todesking and Nekromantik 2. Buttgereit is an interesting guy and it is fun to watch him in his element creating unique horror features.
A trailer gallery for Buttgereit’s films includes der Todesking and Corpse Fucking Art among others.
The film’s soundtrack is included as an audio option on this disc and this is the first release I am aware of for this material.