The Burning Moon:
Ahh, Olaf Ittenbach, what is there to say about the German Auteur that hasn't already been written once or twice in some Finnish Blog about extreme cinema? Actually Ittenbach is much more celebrated than that - in the proper circles, that is. The German verspritzenkind (splatter kid) literally exploded onto the scene of SOV bloodshed in 1992 with The Burning Moon, a gore movie of epic proportions. Long out of print in its original, obscure VHS release, The Burning Moon now comes to us in a fine DVD from radically retro Intervision Picture Corp, and if you haven't yet, you can see what all the bloody fuss is about.
Disturbing DVD art in a fine, clear keepcase features the tagline, "Uncut. Uncensored. Unconscionable." Zack Carlson calls the movie "an anti-human masterpiece". While it's not exactly all that, it is filthy-gory and plenty of fun for those of you who don't believe in the sanctity of life. Not really a feature film, and not really an anthology, The Burning Moon burns 100 minutes following a rebellious teen as he's forced to stay home and baby-sit. The teen (played by Ittenbach) takes out his rage by telling his little sister two horrific bedtime tales.
These stories are, of course, beside the point. They both involve crazy serial killers, and exist solely to push the envelope as far as taste, decorum, and sheer brutality will allow. Ittenbach's film is certainly in love with violent death, but it's not actually as nihilistic as you'd expect. Ittenbach displays an obviously off-kilter sense of humor - the very set-up is a black joke - along with his protean ability to shred bodies on an extremely low budget. Heck, Ittenbach (who has since gone on to a very busy horror-hyphenate career) and his actors are even pretty decent while emoting, though most of the time you can tell their tongues are in their cheeks.
Of course, even with this somewhat late entry into the SOV world, the emphasis is solidly on creative and disgusting bloodshed. Not only does Ittenbach please, he blows the doors down with his finale, a ten-minute descent into hell that is legendary in its insistence on doing nothing but spreading guts around. There is plenty of over-the-top slaughter throughout the film, which keeps the pace from flagging. (We should make no mistake, this is certainly not a good film, so if you hope to judge it by any type of normal standard, you need to step off now.) Even if some of this exuberant gore clearly shows inexpensive seams, you can't argue with the joys of seeing a machete shoved through some dude's cheek.
But really, you'll want to stay for the end, which finally blasts you with that bit of sad hopelessness that imparts a tiny bit of seriousness to affairs. To get there, you'll go through hell (from the looks of it, Ittenbach's basement) which is chock-a-block with shuffling zombies gnawing on intestines, tearing flesh, and generally being blown apart by shotguns. This churns on in delighted contentment with itself for about seven straight minutes before a hellish pair of figures violently take some guy apart; corkscrewing eyeballs, drilling teeth, gutting, and literally tearing him in two. It's a bravura piece of carnage that doesn't always look totally real, but reaches unparalleled heights of practical effects savagery anyway. Sound good? Then this disc is Highly Recommended.
Intervision brings the real, old-school VHS vibe with this release. Even the studio logo screen looks like it was sourced from a 5th generation tape dub. The movie is in 4 X 3 fullframe, and pretty emphatically celebrates its low budget, shot on video roots. Occasionally the picture rises to a level of quality that hints at the fact that you're watching a DVD, but the source clearly dictates a videotape vibe: soft image, blown-out colors and light areas, etc. Just accept the fact that the movie never looked all that good, but now at least it's frozen in time on a non-degrading DVD disc which doesn't seem to have any compression or transfer problems - though it would be hard to tell.
Digital Stereo Audio similarly suffers from low-quality source audio, which is also not of much consequence, especially for non-German-speaking viewers. Subtitles get the job done, and the music featured isn't all that great anyway. On both counts, this is not even close to a reference quality disc. The mere presence of the movie on DVD carries almost all the weight.
In addition to the Trailer, we get a 47-minute Making Of Burning Moon documentary that looks to be assembled mostly from interviews shot not long after the movie was made, and BTS footage from the actual filming. It's pretty astounding to even have such a document for this type of movie, and for the featurette to be thoroughly entertaining as well is a real bonus. First, it's nice to see that Ittenbach isn't an evil reprobate, second, it's nice to see the level of skill displayed in filming - including the use of surprisingly sophisticated camera rigs, and third, it's a blast to hear Ittenbach talk about putting his performers through hell to get the right level of grue. Indie gore fans will really love this documentary.
I could go on about my personal history with Ittenbach's movies. It would probably make a more interesting review than what I've written, but this is all about Intervision Picture Corp throwing out this remarkable release. The Burning Moon is by most standards a bad movie. As a lovingly crafted SOV gorefest that reinvigorated the genre for serious sickos, The Burning Moon is almost without parallel. If you like your red stuff really red and meaty, you know the Germans do it up right. There are those among you who simply must have this DVD, but that group is relatively small, mitigating my enthusiasm enough to let Burning Moon skate by with just a Highly Recommended rating.
- Kurt Dahlke
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