Uwe Boll must certainly be one of the most controversial and hated directors around currently. His numerous film adaptations of video games are almost universally shunned by gamers and film fans alike. When you add to this his childishly humorous response to criticism, like for instance challenging his five harshest critics to a ten round boxing match (the invitation was also opened to Quentin Tarantino) or promising to retire from the film business if a online petition asking him to do so got 1,000,000 signatures, he comes off as either one hell of an arrogant asshole or a comedic genius.
To date I have not had the pleasure of witnessing one of Boll’s so-called celluloid atrocities, so I decided to remedy that situation and see what all the fuss was about. I selected two films from his oeuvre to watch, one from each end of the spectrum – Amoklauf (1994) and Seed (2007).
I’ve actually had a copy of Amoklauf sitting around for a year or so but have never got round to watching it. It came highly recommended by a friend as a disturbing serial killer flick somewhat akin to Jörg Buttgereit’s Schramm so I figured I’d probably dig it. And indeed I did. This film is a bleak nightmare. It’s essentially a grim day-in-the-life of a serial killer; he mostly sits around in his grimy bed-sit watching and re-watching videos tapes of The Price is Right, slaughterhouse footage, pornography, and executions (though this footage is simulated & stolen from the first Faces of Death film). There is very little dialogue aside from his sporadic overdubbed monologues on the scum that is the human race.
This film exerts a deep sense of nihilistic realism in its sparse settings and genuinely unsettling tone. When the killer strikes it’s with a stone cold blade and expression. A female neighbour knocks on his door while he’s watching his porn tapes and he violently stabs her in the chest, lays her down on the floor of his room and continues to masturbate to his video, casting the occasional glance in her direction to observe her excruciating demise. This merging of sex and death is a characteristic also present in the films of Jörg Buttgereit.
Boll’s fantastic use of slow-mo and extreme close-ups combined with a swelling orchestral score make this almost an avant-garde piece of art, particularly during the final quarter of the film when our nameless killer begins randomly shooting into a crowd of people in a park with close-ups of a female’s eyes as they slowly drain of life while the music dramatically marches on… superb stuff!
Now on to one of Bolls most recent films, Seed. This is supposedly his entry in the incorrectly named and (to me) non-existent “torture porn genre”. The film opens with our anti-hero serial killer Max Seed watching some graphic scenes of real animal cruelty, namely footage of foxes being brutally killed on a pelt farm. These shots are taken from PETA’s film archive and supposedly Boll has promised to donate 2.5 of his net profits from the film to PETA. We soon learn that Max Seed has now been captured by the authorities and is about to be executed via the electric chair.
After some flashbacks to some of Seeds previous victims via video footage he shot of them and some boring police procedural stuff, Seed finally hit’s the electric chair. Although he has the thousands of volts run through his body three times he just wont die, so the police decide to bury him alive… which is a bad idea. As the already predictable formula proceeds, Seed digs his way out of his grave and slowly picks off all the cops who had a hand in burying him, the last on his list being Detective Matt Bishop whose wife he nailguns in the head then forces Matt to commit suicide while his daughter watches.
This flick is part of the recent unoriginal trend of attempting to recreate the feeling of the horror / exploitation films of the 70s; Max Seed is your basic Leatherface-clone, there’s some gratuitous gore (though sadly it’s mostly of the CGI variety), and prolonged torture scenes, but in the end it all ultimately adds up to a hollow story and some pretty tired shock tactics.
Though Boll claims the animal cruelty scenes are there to “underscore the film’s nihilism” its extremely obvious they are purely there to add some controversy. Although there is similar footage in Amoklauf, it seems at home there due to the overall atmosphere of the film, whereas here it comes off as pure exploitation.
The one scene I did find particularly enjoyable was the protracted (around 4-5 minutes) claw-hammer / axe torture scene where Seed slowly bashes an old woman’s brains out until her head is mush. It reminded me somewhat of the infamous fire extinguisher scene in Irreversible. (A note of interest for German splatter fans: Olaf Ittenbach is Second Unit Director and handles the special effects.)
So to sum up my encounter with the notorious Uwe Boll – Amoklauf is a brilliant piece of grim & gritty low budget filmmaking and Seed is a prime example of cashing in on a trend. Sadly it seems Amoklauf will be Boll’s one and only “masterpiece” as not long after this he seems to have jumped headfirst into making big budget trash.