VICE MOVIE CLUB - THE BURNING MOON
We started a movie club. The formation entailed purchasing a leaking sack of multi-colored popcorn kernels and bribing Jeff Wells' gay barber for lumps of his hair, which we consequently burned to obtain the notary of Satan. I then contacted a number of select filmmakers and writers, issued them black leather jackets, and suggested, "Hey. Watch this. Look out!" With the exception of comedy savant Bobby Hacker and the Drafthouse's Zack Carlson, the collective reply was, "The Burning Moon? Never heard of it." And "You sure this is any good? " and "I'm busy editing."
The skepticism was not surprising. The Burning Moon has an overcompensating title, typical of 90s horror releases and obviously meant to suck $5 into the sad creases of a VHS rental box. But The Burning Moon is one of the great undiscovered, underdocumented cult diamonds. Released in the early 90s, the German effort belongs to the woefully small, hard-to-categorically-fuck-up niche that is the horror anthology film. In place of a Cryptkeeper or a comic book blown open by a fated Devil's Night gust, the film's narrator is a chubby, nihilistic teen punker who reads bedtime stories to his kid sister while on heroin. The film's grainy, no-budget quality creates unguarded expectations that are quickly destroyed by no-holds-barred gore and kills that are cartoonishly liberating and disturbingly believable. The dialogue, albeit as translated, frequently skates a ride on the shortbus bumper of The Room and Troll 2, yet its arguable if said absurd exchanges can be credited to the black pitch attitude and humor of its writer/director. Here is what movie club contributors had to say....
MICHAEL KOMAN - EXECUTIVE PRODUCER/WRITER OF ADULT SWIM'S EAGLEHEART
I'm not sure how to classify The Burning Moon. In America it would fall into the splatterfest sub-genre of quasi-religious torture porn, but in Germany I think it’s considered a romantic comedy. In fact, the best description of this movie might be that it’s the German Say Anything. Instead of John Cusack serenading Ione Skye with "In Your Eyes," the director and narrator, Olaf Ittenbach, does heroin and tells his sister two unbelievably disgusting stories about the evil nature of the universe... before stabbing her and killing himself. But both films are better than Elizabethtown. Zing. Even though I work on a television show that occasionally makes fun of cartoonish violence, this movie is so far from anything I’m familiar with that I don’t want to be a snob and call it bad. It might be a good version of whatever it’s trying to be, the way Napalm Death may be the best grindcore band. Or the way his nose might be Tommy Lee Jones’s smoothest feature. Do you see what I’m driving at? I don’t. I will say that my girlfriend walked by just as a man was being ripped in two at the crotch and I felt the need to yell, “Don’t look!” with the same urgency one would use if someone held up a Mohammad caricature in a crowded mosque. To be fair, I think I enjoyed this movie more than I hated it. The sequence in which a woman named Julia goes on a blind date with an escaped psychopathic/mental patient who slashes and dismembers everyone she lives with before having his head blown off by the Eastern European version of Tom Selleck was genuinely fun to watch. The scene in which the escaped murderer throws the decapitated head of a prostitute at an impatiently honking driver actually had me rooting for the murderer. I just wish there had been a little more of that delightful comic relief.
ZACK CARLSON - EDITOR/AUTHOR OF DESTROY ALL MOVIES - PROGRAMMER AT THE ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE
Satanism. Disembowelment. Sexual assault. The blood-spattered codpiece. By the time Olaf Ittenbach's anti-human masterpiece debuted in '92, shot-on-video horror was a decade-old art form. (Note: The film had its US video release in '97, but IMDB lists that year as the original release date. Those dudes are inaccurate!) This largely American, welfare-caliber subgenre had been pioneered by fun-loving splatterfans. And thanks to a burgeoning independent VHS market, many of the frugal fad-riders were initially able to turn quickie stab-by-numbers productions into profitable ventures Few titles aimed above the waistline. And fewer still took themselves seriously enough to carry an impact. In the midst of countless belching aliens and bikini demons, German opus The Burning Moon invaded video shelves with a vicious wrath. Where most horror films feature a recognizable threat (i.e. zombies, psychopaths, werewolves, etc), Ittenbach's three-story anthology broadly pits man against the world, every inch of it drowning in rage and darkness. From the opening segment, there's no reprieve from exploding heads, heroin needles, burning crucifixes and slaughtered children. A family weeps at an open casket funeral where their daughter's head has been caved in by a bullet. Power tools drill through clenched teeth, men devour their own entrails, and any potentially sympathetic character quickly finds his or herself penetrated by some unholy thing in some unmentionable place. In one less offensive moment, a young man tells his date, "I want you to absorb all my love juices." Though the film appears to have been shot on a borrowed public-access TV station's camcorder, the production values are genuinely impressive. Ittenbach infuses each installment with effective camerawork, professional lighting, and—most of all—credibly meaty effects. A particularly notorious segment appears to have actually been shot in Hell and features a filthy 10-minute panorama of cannibalism and torture. The scene's exceedingly creative brutality culminates with a mercilessly slowed shot that's more nauseating than anything in gore cinema's past or future. The movie is clearly a product of its creator's boundless hatred towards humanity. There's zero doubt that Ittenbach was destined to either make this film or rape wolves. His misanthropic fury is the framework for every word and image, and shapes a compellingly claustrophobic display of unapologetic violence. His follow-up feature was a comedy.
KATIE NOTOPOULOS - CREATOR OF SORRY I MISSED YOUR PARTY
Egads, this movie was quite the SOMETHING. This stabbing-centric horror movie was made in 1992, but I was sure it was 1987 the whole time I was watching it, because it looks super-super 80s. The main character is a deadbeat druggie teen who dresses like a gay member of The Replacements: ripped jeans, white hi-tops, grubby t-shirt, and a single dangling earring that looks like it came from a grandmother's estate sale. A second notable character is a teen girl with an extremely Euro perm who wears hi-waisted ethnic print Zubaz pants with a belted sweater. At one point, she turns the pockets of her Zubaz out like the Monopoly Guy, indicating to the viewer that she's left her wallet in a serial killer's car. That part is awesome. Because who wouldn't want to imagine the Monopoly Guy wearing 80s gym-rat pants? Other than that, this movie is just tons of stabbing. Stabbing, stabbing, stabbing, and occasionally someone getting their legs pulled off his body by Satanic henchmen (don't worry, no Zubaz were ripped).
TODD ROHAL - WRITER/DIRECTOR (THE CATECHISM CATACLYSM; THE GUATEMALAN HANDSHAKE)
The Burning Moon starts out as a German Mongoloid version of Trainspotting, slips into some serious Creepshow territory, rounds second base as it becomes a grindhouse double-feature and then slides into home with an extended vision of hell--complete with a man’s crotch being ripped apart. Fuck Blockbuster Video for always carrying Ghost Ship, Scalps, Faces of Death, and not this. THIS MOVIE COULD HAVE EASILY MADE FOR THE GREATEST NIGHT OF HIGH SCHOOL CINEMA: a pissed-off dude sits in bed with a Slinky and decides to shoot heroin; a psychopath tells the girl he loves "Julia, I want to have kids with you, I want to penetrate you. I want you to absorb my love juice."; a man gets a knife to the face. And one of the greatest inexplicable lines of dialogue occurs at random, possibly spoken by a character hiding in the bushes: “If I had a wife." I won’t forget this. As I watched, I made plenty of screen captures. Some of these could easily be placed in galleries as complete works of art in their own right. My Christmas shopping is done. I’m taking this shit to Kinkos.
BOBBY HACKER - FILMMAKER/ACTOR (CARS)
Ah. Yes. The Burning Moon aka a little “fuckbomb” by German writer/director Olaf Ittenbach. Don’t get all "cine" on me and call into question Herr Ittenbach’s rotting body of work post-BM. I know it's really nothing to write home about. And I can’t imagine Ittenbach ever accomplishing anything past a regurgitation of his greatest achievement here. The film's structure consists of two vignettes peppered by the oddest, angriest, most genuinely disturbing framing device in any anthology piece I’ve seen. I'm referring to the film's "storyteller" segments, which are easily my favorite chunks of the film outside the infamous “Hell Sequence" at the very end. These parts are set in 1991-92 Germany, though it's easily mistakable for Germany '82, a time of transitional, feathered bangs and unintentionally "distressed" denim. Ittenbach plays the "protagonist" of the piece--see my side-by-side above--and a dead ringer for uber-alt-anti-comedian Tim Heidecker. (Let me add that this observation is a layer of frivolous enjoyment all its own.) In a perfect world, I believe Tim and this characters are distant relatives who email every now and again, sharing experiences over an open ocean of two very dissimilar cultures. So, the movie begins with “Von Heidecker” ordering a beer during a job interview, revelling in a West Side Story-like gang fight spectacular, and then beating the shit out of his mother. What follows can only be described as a snuff film with the aesthetic of an industrial instructional video. Somebody once mentioned to me that the worst thing a person could ever do was, “Throw his or her mother's severed head at a cop car." By being a movie, The Burning Moon falls just shy of that act. That's why you have to love it.
PAT HEALY - ACTOR (RESCUE DAWN; THE INNKEEPERS) - SCREENWRITER (IN TREATMENT)
Ever wonder what Creepshow would be like shot on VHS and narrated by a homicidal German Rainn Wilson-clone all hopped-up on junk? Me neither. But I was reluctantly provided the answer in The Burning Moon, which features not only an actual moon on fire but a decapitated melon hitting a car hood, an eyeball down the throat, buku mutilations, severances, and stabbings. The narrative coherence is that of a nine-year-old with a learning disability recounting the plot of A Clockwork Orange. And that's just the first story, "Julia's Love," about a deranged mental patient on the loose. Later, in "The Purity," we're treated to a rapist priest who likes to furiously pump his white man ass up and down before putting a bullet in the skulls of his victims. And then he gives funeral mass! Ultimately, the plot devolves into psychopathy so depraved that a pitchfork to the balls is like a breath of fresh air. If you aren’t already sold, please note that there are more suicides on display here than a Dr. Kervorkian sizzle reel. This movie has something for the deranged Fango-teen and the guilt-ridden religious nut in us all. Enjoy with some Sauerbraten and a nice Gewurztraminer!
ANNETTE LAMOTHE-RAMOS - VICE FASHION EDITOR
First thing I noticed about this movie was that I was horribly mislead into thinking it was going to be anything like The Secret of NIHM. That said, I really liked the bitchy main character Peter and how he could just slap his mom around without getting into any serious trouble. I was also really into that lime green heroin he injected into his arm that provided him with the strength to tell long, drawn out horror bedtime stories to his little sister Annette in such extreme detail. Neither of the tales made too much sense to me and the acting was absolutely terrible, but still I enjoyed the film, really. Even though all I learned from it is that Germans are fat, they dress bad, and they take for fucking ever to kill.
SHAWN WINES - FILMMAKER (THE FALLON EFFECT)
Holy fucking shit. It takes forever to watch a movie when you're rewinding it every two minutes trying to figure out how they got the decapitated heads to fly so far. The movie started like an awkward German Encino Man, then suddenly everything became amazing. Graphic dismemberment after dismemberment. Blood gushes by the gallon. Giant knives. Rape. Fire. Corkscrews. Odd religious symbolism. This is everything you want in a movie shot like motel porn on the first day video cameras were invented. Every ridiculous, bloody hacking of a random (mostly innocent) German person is perfect and better than the one before it. Every time you think there's no way they can top the grandpa-with-an-ax scene or the gunshot-that-makes-head-explode scene, they somehow do. And then some. By the end, The Burning Moon felt like those PETA documentaries about how KFC tortures chickens, but with Germans instead of chickens. And the best part is how genuine it all is. None of the actors being asked to toss severed heads out of sunroofs or swallow eyeballs appears to know he or she's in one of the funniest movies ever. I wish I had a VHS I could pass around. It feels wrong to reduce the movie to a DVD-Rip on a laptop screen. I attempted to take screen grabs of my favorite parts but by the last 20 minutes it would have been every frame of the movie.
MR. BEAKS - EDITOR/WRITER AT AIN'T IT COOL NEWS
When the Germans make a horror movie, *they make a fucking horror movie.* Olaf Ittenbach's anthology flick is built around a corker of a framing device: a smack-addled teenager, forced to babysit against his will, terrifies his kid sister with a couple of unrelentingly sadistic bedtime stories. It's basically The Princess Bride with Peter Falk's part being played by John Wayne Gacy wearing Peter Falk's flesh. The first tale, "Julia's Love," is a hilariously bonkers Halloween riff in which an escaped psychopath goes looking for love in a small town. The second yarn, "The Purity," is a decidedly *not* hilarious amorality tale about a Satan-controlled priest whose rape-and-murder spree gets pinned on the town's kind-hearted simpleton. "The Purity" culminates in the most brutal beating death this side of Irreversible *and* a prolonged vision of hell that would scare the sin out of Charles Manson. The DIY aesthetic gives Ittenbach's film a passion-project zeal. It abruptly shifts from blood-drenched black comedy to... however the fuck you want to classify the final 15 minutes. Whatever he's trying to inveigh against here (drugs, religion, coddled little sisters), it sincerely pisses him off. I hope. Otherwise, he's just a cruel piece of shit. The film is essential viewing for gorehounds and people who thought Aronofsky pussied out at the end of Requiem. If you can't handle the rough stuff, at least give it a go through "Julia's Love." Just *please* don't make the cop's hero moment an internet meme. It's better--and you're better--than that.
MICHAEL TULLY - FILMMAKER/ACTOR (SEPTIEN; SILVER JEW) - EDITOR/WRITER AT HAMMER TO NAIL
For those of you out there who have been dying to know what it would feel like to get rained on during the same muddy shitstorm by a German snuff film and a karaoke video, then this 1992 Olaf Ittenbach splatter-fest is for you. The list of movies that sprung to mind while watching what, quite honestly, should be my first-and-last Ittenbach picture was endless: Combat Shock, Driller Killer, Straw Dogs, Bad Taste, Halloween 2, The Kingdom, etc. But if I had to choose The Burning Moon’s truest doppelganger it would be Chester Novell Turner’s 1984 underground classic Black Devil Doll From Hell. It’s that cruddy-ass videotape, man—VHS in both cases—that separates these films from the rest of the pack. It's what gives them that disturbing, made-by-an-actual-serial-killer vibe that one thankfully doesn’t encounter very often. Ittenbach is most likely a twisted genius. Honestly, at this stage in my life, all I could see was the twisted.
JULIA VICKERMAN - ANIMATOR (PUNY ENTERTAINMENT; SUPER; YO GABBA GABBA!)
I'm of the opinion that this is the most medically accurate depiction of gore and human violence in all of cinema. In most films, it's frustrating when it takes actual effort for a character to saw through a humerus or to hack off someone's head. We all know this is not true to life. In The Burning Moon, mirroring the reality we all share, the energy required to remove a man's head with a dull kitchen knife is equal to the amount used by a three-year-old to pet a dog. It's just physics. Fingers, skulls, spinal columns: all require but the gentlest touch of a knife to sever completely. Why do so many filmmakers mess this up? Don't even get me started on The Burning Moon's irrefutable depiction of blood. It's so authentic you will start unconsciously clapping at the sight. The vibrant strawberry color. The diluted, runny quality. The staggering volume produced by any and all wounds. I would not be surprised to find that the director's budget primarily went toward the purchase and slaughtering of real humans. Every player is a pressurized geyser of fluid waiting for the puncture. If a character enters a scene without a wound, you'll find yourself wondering why. Five minutes later, all is right. I recommend this film most to prospective medical students who appreciate accuracy when it comes to the inner-workings of the human body.
MATTHEW CARON - MUSIC VIDEO DIRECTOR (SUCKERS; TOTAL SLACKER)- MISHKA NYC
I watched this film with my girlfriend and a six pack of beer. When it was over she Tweeted that “The Burning Moon took a big burning, foggy shit on my chest." I have found it impossible to come up with a better encapsulation of what it feels like to watch The Burning Moon. I think more couples could benefit from watching this rancid turd of a movie. If you can make it through The Burning Moon without your relationship buckling under feelings of shame and disgust then you have found a soulmate capable of dealing with anything (even the prospect of changing your colostomy sack, should that ever be necessary). I also feel I ought to mention the scene where a farmer cries “Neiiiin!” in a weird, nearly falsetto voice. It really stuck with us. We say “Neiiiin!” all the time now. Previously we would say “Noooooo!” to each other like Mishka, the talking dog from YouTube. [Matthew made a quick YouTube video combining the two clips, see below]
JESSE BULLINGTON - AUTHOR OF THE SAD TALE OF THE BROTHERS GROSSBART
The Burning Moon opens with an appetizer of overwrought youth-in-revolt framing device. To its credit, however, this is not presented sympathetically. Our disaffected “teen” protagonist sports torn white jeans, an ugly earring, and a mullet, and so we know to hate him before he even engages in gang warfare and mother beating. Certain palates may appreciate the mold these period details add to the cheese plate, but I find that when the veins run this thick the effect is one of sour dustiness. A grit is left in the teeth rather than the bittersweetness that melts into something pleasant. The practical effect of the titular burning moon is a refreshing dash of creativity in an otherwise unpleasant hors d'oeuvre.
The first course, “Julia's Love,” proves disappointing in its predictability. And even the iterations of meat and marinara that the chef has built his reputation on occasionally fail to impress with either exceptional skill or laughable lack thereof. Heartburn begins to set in. This inevitability is only mildly counteracted by the Lagunitas Wilco Tango Foxtrot that The Burning Moon has been paired with. The apropos brown ale’s respectable 7.3% ABV and rich maltiness encourages one to savor the expository speeches the characters deliver in favor of traditional dialogue, as well as the sundry ludicrous plot contrivances. The chef’s admitted ingenuity for all things gore-related, including several novel shots and angles, does not seem to extend into the bland milieu or tired story. The plate is left on the table long after any interest in the contents has waned; and after a brief return to the framing device, albeit for a pointless and ill-timed amuse-bouche of child abuse, the second course arrives.
An improvement over the first course seemed nigh-inevitable. And this entry, seemingly straight-facedly titled “The Purity,” is indeed more interesting, if only for its more effective fusion of the inane and the insane. A pudgy, mustachioed priest massaging crimson corn syrup into his naked breasts proves a highlight in this downbeat offering. The mean-spirited sadism of the starter and first course are taken to their extremes (before the inevitable return to the framing device for an ugly dessert that nobody ordered or ever wanted). The practical effects here exceed the expectations that the budget inspires. That these effects are put toward rendering a Grand Guignol-inspired underworld to give the Trinity Church Hell House designers a run for their money will alternately thrill and repulse viewers (depending on curiosity for “German ultragore”). If a niche market characterized by films such as Violent Shit—wherein the writer/director plays a serial killer known only as “K. the Butcher Shitter”—intrigues the mind and stimulates the palates, then The Burning Moon is a worthy offering; more casual viewers, however, would be better served by ten thousand different titles.
ANTONIO CAMPOS - WRITER/DIRECTOR (AFTERSCHOOL)
I was going to begin this brief response with "I will never watch The Burning Moon again, but I can not say that I'm unhappy I watched it." The truth is I will watch The Burning Moon again. The film will be in the background of whatever the next gathering I have at my apartment. People will not be paying being attention and then one of the many obsessively gory scenes casually appear. Someone will all of a sudden say, "What the fuck?" And I will say, "The Burning Moon." Then we'll continue talking, and no one will remember what they just saw.
The movie contains my favorite depiction of hell in all of cinema. It's basically a haunted house with infinite resources for unspeakable carnage that operates every second of the day without an audience or any reason whatsoever. There's beauty to a cobwebbed corpse of a man wearing a safari hat firing off aimless rounds into rotting flesh, pausing, and then returning. In the second story, when the rapist priest says of hell to a member of his church, "You can't imagine it! It's so horrific!" the sick glee foreshadowed in his eyes is fully delivered upon. And the guy who plays the priest is perfectly gross, perfectly cast. When he announces to a rape victim who he just capped in the head, "My devoted staff ease thyself," his mouth is that of a moonlit face drawn on a man's flabby, hairy belly. I love how the hit-and-run pace of the first story---where the German serial killer doppleganger for Johnny Weir is almost a remotely likable Cusack---juxtaposes uncomfortably with the second. You're tattered to expect the next story will be even more breakneck and obscene, and then it proves to be a slow burn using religion for kindling. The film understands how to exploit the anthology format, ending the second story in such a surreal, immoral fashion that it still tops the first at the finish line. And then we switch back to the teen narrator/director, who basically calls the audience's bluff, surpassing both stories in a scene of illegal cruelty. It's hilarious, like watching a filmmaker mirror a drunken belligerent who stumbles out of a room knowing he just topped himself with an act he'll never match or live down. Knowing that Vincent Gallo's favorite film is Lucio Fulci's The Beyond, I am of the belief that he ripped this more obscure film off. A flashback scene where the serial killer watches his grandpa dismember his family to the echoing cries of, "No daddy, nooooooooooo!" is curiously similar to Billy Brown reacting to his dead dog at the hand of his father in Buffalo 66. It's the weird, little details that make The Burning Moon worth revisiting, the way the serial killer tells an unknowing date over a Pepsi, "She turned all red. I've never seen someone turn that red before," while the song lyrics playing in a "fancy" restaurant seemingly go, "I was searching for reality." This is the type of content that would run on Adult Swim if television sets were made of body parts and Tobacco performed at the Oscars.