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Cult Epics brings us finally the second installment in German horror auteur Jorg Buttgereit's 'Corpse F*cking Art' trilogy. Released in 1990, Der Todesking (The Death King) is sandwiched between Nekromantik and Nekromantik 2 in release order. Despite its full-frontal focus on death and decay, from your average horror viewer's standpoint Todesking couldn't be a more different experience. This sharp looking transfer is best approached cautiously. Considered Buttgereit's masterpiece, it's a harrowing and possibly demoralizing ride.
Running a brief 76 minutes, Todesking presents itself as a series of vignettes based on days of the week. On each day, we meet a poignantly sketched-in character that commits suicide. As a framing device, Buttgereit films a corpse, decaying, through time-lapse photography. That's about the size of it. Individual stories range widely from simple to bizarre. A man who loves fish leads a seemingly lonely, empty life, and chooses to overdose in his bathtub. A horror movie within a movie (within Todesking) finds an unknown person hung from the rafters. A park bench confessional leads to death. A mysteriously anguished man beats his head into a wall.
Unlike the Nekromantik movies, Todesking isn't particularly graphic, (except for shots of the decaying corpse) so fans lured in by Buttgereit's more shocking films may be nonplussed. However, the director's ferocious vision and creative filming motifs are in full force. To that end, the movie is not to be recommended to the weak-minded or suicidally depressed. Inasmuch as any of the director's works might gently be called 'fun', this movie is not among them. Strong, meditative, and brutally sad, it's to be approached with caution.
With a modicum of humor, the movie reaches out to you: A man browses a video store, considering My Dinner With Andre before opting instead for something like Ilsa: She-Wolf Of The SS, and it does have its nasty bits, mostly the bubbling, rotting organs of the disturbingly realistic corpse, and a scene of genital mutilation from the movie within a movie. And sometimes Buttgereit subverts our expectations of who might die, and why, while bravura cinematography, such as a rotating tracking shot of a man's apartment, or a queasy flyover shot of a 'suicide bridge', keep us intellectually engaged. Ultimately, Todesking is nearly impenetrable; its lonely, depressed characters serving as a grim reminder that we're all alone in this world, with our own thoughts of death.
If you, like me, were compelled to rent Der Todesking due to the disturbing trailer included with the Nekromantik movies, you found yourself surprised at the film's actual content. Much less a reel of putrescent atrocities, the movie is in fact a thoughtful, savagely beautiful phantasmagoria of the ultimate experience within our own minds. Whether we choose to (hopefully not) flip our own switches, or simply let nature take its course, we're all going to die. Our flesh will be consumed by maggots. Buttgereit hammers that notion home with style and grace. But maybe Buttgereit is actually issuing a different type of call-to-arms; maybe he wants us to engage life fully while we have it, bravely, without fear.
This release enjoys a new Director Approved HD transfer from the original 16mm negative, in a 1.33:1 ratio format, which, at least on my screen appears to be cropped on the top and bottom, resulting in maybe 1.66:1 or something. That aside, the transfer looks far better than any other version, with decent detail levels considering its 16mm origins. Colors are robust and natural, while the image is not nearly as murky as it has been in the past. There is plenty of film grain and some minor, non-distracting damage, but nothing in the way of compression artifacts or other troubling digital glitches.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound, both with optional English subtitles, are your audio options. Both highlight the beautiful soundtrack, and mix said soundtrack nicely with other audio elements. The 5.1 track adds some dimensionality, and definitely kicks up the music a notch. Decent stuff for upscaling of what was certainly a basic audio track in the beginning.
As usual, Cult Epics packs this release with a bevy of nice extras, although if you've picked up either Nekromantik BD, you'll find some overlap. First off is a lovely 'Corpse F*cking Art' Postcard that will surely have trouble making it through the mails. Popping the disk in your player, you'll get the option of viewing a New Introduction By Jorg Buttgereit (2015) before the movie. It's not too spoilery, so go ahead and watch it. The Commentary Track with Buttgereit and co-author Franz Rodenkirchen is absolutely worth an extra trip through the film. The two are funny, friendly, affable and informative in equal measure. The Making Of Der Todesking runs 15 minutes, and is an older featurette, so it must surely have appeared elsewhere, previously. Plenty of good BTS footage focuses mainly on just how they made that decaying corpse, and the repurcussions for doing so! A Still Photo Gallery is included, as are those Jorg Buttgereit Trailers that proved so creepy and alluring back in the day. A High Definition Documentary, Corpse Fucking Art, from 1993, runs 58 minutes, and it's here where things get tricky. The documentary includes the 15 minutes of this disk's 'Making Of Der Todesking', which we've already seen, plus significant, if not complete portions of making-of docs from both Nekromantik movies. On the other hand, it has more than, and expands upon, those previously seen bits of BTS footage, which really are quite funny and fascinating. I guess if you've already purchased Cult Epics' other Buttgereit releases, then you're a completeist like me, so it's a wash. On the other hand, maybe a new documentary incorporating those older elements with new interview footage would have been nice. English Subtitles and an isolated Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (beautiful, haunting) complete the package.
Though Buttgereit's Nekromantik films are certainly artistic and thoughtful, to the masses, they have more prurient/repugnant appeal than Der Todesking. That said, this thoughtful, brutally depressing feature is required viewing for heavy fans, if you know what I'm saying, just don't expect to be titillated, or nauseated (not exactly). Buttgereit completists need this in their minds in order to get a better understanding of the man's message. We're all going to die; live life like you mean it. Highly Recommended.