'Der Fan' Is the Batshit German Exploitation Horror Film You've Been Looking For
In honor of a stunning new Blu-Ray edition, we got some film experts to break down what makes Eckhart Schmidt's tale of an obsessive new wave fan a classic.
As October winds down, self-respecting film nerds the world over are making their way through their personal horror film canons. In celebration of the best holiday season on the calendar, we thought we'd alert you to one you might not have seen yet, but that's well worth your time if you enjoy teenage angst, 80s new wave music, celebrity obsessions, and incredibly fucked-up endings.
Unless you're the type of person who orders VHS dubs of Japanese laserdiscs from foreign eBay sites, you probably won't have come across Der Fan (or The Fan). The full, uncut version has been recently put out on Blu-Ray in a stunning transfer by Mondo Macabro, one of the best (and sadly last) home-video labels specializing in the most obscure, most batshit insane exploitation cinema from around the world. Der Fan tells the story of teenager Simone as she abandons her family and school in order to pursue R, a German musician and her pop-star crush. That's really all you need to know.
We asked a few of our friends to give their thoughts on the film, along with a few choice quotes from director Eckhart Schmidt. But really, if the cool, austere style of Goodnight Mommy got you excited about arty Euro exploitation, then this is a mandatory watch.
For me, one of the most important eras was punk and new wave, the whole punk movement. I created a magazine at that time called Die Sau. A lot of cutting-edge musicians wrote for it, like David Byrne of Talking Heads, Devo, and Patti Smith. The story of Der Fan began in this magazine as a diary, a young girl's diary. I can only think like a girl. I can't think like a man... I was a journalist for the Süddeutsche Zeitung back then, and I wrote a long article about the fan cult around a big TV music show. That was the background for Der Fan."
—Director Eckhart Schmidt
I first came across this movie during an intense period of mail-ordering from European Trash Cinema in the late 90s; listed in the catalogue as Trance and supposedly transferred from a Canadian VHS source, its brief synopsis denoted what my friend Sam McKinlay always called "a Janisse Special": Alienated teen girl obsessed with new wave pop star resorts to extreme measures when he rejects her. Sold!
Sixteen-year-old Desiree Nosbusch stars as Simone, who rudely scoffs at pimply potential suitors in favor of her fictional romance with the enigmatic pop singer 'R', and engages in daily battles with the hapless mailman whom she believes is stealing her love letters. While my own fan-letter writing and celebrity crushes never reached the dangerous intensity of Der Fan's protagonist, I could definitely relate to the disaffected teen, strapped into her Walkman 24/7 and making out with wall-sized posters of her idol.
There are a few reasons why this film is of enduring interest in pop culture annals. First off, it's a strangely bloodless horror film, especially considering its sensationalistic subject matter; secondly, it's a slice of early 80s Christiane F-era West Germany starring real-life Rheingold frontman Bodo Steiger as 'R' and featuring a great new wave soundtrack with a theme ("Fan Fan Fanatisch") that charted in Germany at the time; and of course due to its underage star Desiree Nosbusch, who was already a pirate radio celeb when she was cast and has since gone on to be an A-list TV presenter who wants absolutely nothing to do with this film, especially as she appears fully – and controversially – nude. The film's central sex scene is the most weirdly robotic possible outcome of Simone's elaborate fantasies, but it is fascinating all the same.
Needless to say my first viewing was on a VHS bootleg, and while I've managed to see a 35mm print since (thanks Celluloid Screams Festival!), and Mondo Macabro's new Blu-Ray is easily my most-anticipated title of the year. All known English versions are dubbed, giving the already cold and teutonic-tinged movie that much more emotional distance.
BRET BERG – PROGRAMMER, THE CINEFAMILY
German provocateur Eckhart Schmidt here deftly ditches the flavor-of-the-month new wave teenybopper angst angle of Christiane F. in favor of a wonderfully roiling, sordidly screw-loose psychosexual tension that would make even Brian De Palma blush.
I was but a fraction older than Der Fan's Simone when I both dealt with my own personal synth savior crush and peeped the film for the first time. Gary Numan is an obvious real-life parallel to the film's mysterious personage of R, but unlike R's aloof musings on the nature of pop fame, Numan preferred to swim in the arcane trappings of musty sci-fi paperback plots—way more my speed. And while I can honestly say I've never thought about holding Numan hostage with a kitchen knife hovering just above what I would presume to be a blank crotch mound of Ken Doll smoothness, I've felt icky over an occasional primordial empathy with Simone's need to take her specific drive to its logical conclusion.
This utterly decimating study of teenage obsession continues to Zamboni my brain into a smoothly polished, ice-cold dagger. As the good people of NYC's Spectacle Theater once put it: "Imagine a John Hughes vehicle with Michael Haneke in the driver's seat and you're getting close."The real story was about love, of course. Basically, the star calls out to the fan and says: "I love you." All pop music tries to conquer the audience with affection. And the fans believe it. They come and say: "OK, on the radio and TV you said you love me, here I am." But the star can't live up to that promise.
YASMINE KITTLES – MUSICIAN ( TEARIST)
After having watched this film over 30 times, I can still say this is one of my favorite films. I was asked with my band, TEARIST, to score a horror film for a Halloween party at Los Angeles's Cinefamily. Cinefamily often has events with bands re-scoring cult classic films. For this event we were presented with the opportunity to score the horror film of our choosing. Knowing we'd be opening for Claudio Simonetti (of Goblin)—responsible for the incomparable score for Dario Argento's Suspiria—the pressure was on. When Cinefamily programmer Tom Fitzgerald presented Der Fan as an option and sent the trailer—I fell, immediately, in love.
This was unlike any other horror film—the predator being a very cute 15-year-old girl. The film is told from the view point of Simone and begins in letters to R. You follow Simone as you realize her young crush is, actually, a very scary obsession. She is attractive and young, so it is difficult to hate her. Due to the men in the film being predators there is a strange sense of heroism in a Joan of Arc martyr sort of way.
Der Fan deserved a score that was well thought out, not something self-serving. There was, also, the fact that the score for this amazing film was already incredible. There was a lot to consider when taking on a film like this, but when all was said and done, I felt that it had been one of the most fulfilling things I had ever taken on.
The subtext of the film... It's basically about National Socialism... Throughout the film, there are these references to National Socialism. I was asking the question: "Who is actually guilty?" Did Hitler summon the Germans or did the Germans seek Hitler? The fans were the German people. Were they provoked or seduced by Hitler? Or were they looking for him? Where does the blame lie? Der Fan asks that question as well. Who is guilty? Is he guilty because he chose her, played with her carelessly? Or was that desire always inside her and just needed him to bring it to life?
JACQUELINE CASTEL – DIRECTOR
Der Fan is director Ekhart Schmidt's long lost Neue Deutsche Welle psychodrama that explores fanaticism, sadomasochistic obsession, and body horror as a metaphor for the rise and fall of fascism. Nazi. Death. Porn.
Subtler than most SadicoNazista cinema, Der Fan parallels the roles of idol and dictator, civilian and fan, codependent lovers enmeshed in eroticized propaganda, commerce, and spectacle. For any despot, image is everything, and synth pop star R is at the height of aesthetic opportunism—think Telekon-era Gary Numan leading an Oswald Mosley rally backed by an industrial soundtrack. His logo, two black-and-white lighting bolts encased in a circle, a mix of the Sig Runes of the SS, Ziggy Stardust, and Throbbing Gristle. R embodies the fetishized aesthetic of state control.
The masses must fulfill their role too, and antisocial crypto-fascist teenager Simone is R's number-one fan. Alienated by her family, school, and peers, Simone retreats into the perverse realm of fantasy with R instead, penning daily suicidal love letters, memorizing the lyrics he whispers in her ears, and plastering her bedroom walls in a dizzying array of teen rag fanfare. She is ready to consume. She has bought the nightmare.
As a complex portrait of totalitarianism at the height of the Cold War, Der Fan warns of fanaticism, in all its forms.
Der Fan exists in its own netherworld. It's a series of left turns away from not only any identifiable horror movie subgenre (zombies, slashers), but from even accepted outré Euro-horror (e.g. Dario Argento). This is a horror film from a country not known for making horror films. It's from a period where the golden age of European exploitation was having its last gasp and the move was toward what 80s cinema would represent—cleanliness, money, modernity—all things horror had a hard time reconciling itself with. It's a movie that succinctly introduces its insane central character Simone in the opening two minutes, and then has you literally spend 68 more with her before the blood flows. It's a full-blown auteur film that feels way more like Rainer Werner Fassbinder than Lucio Fulci, and also features a punk aesthetic. This unloved teen wandering through a dystopic European society is almost like spin-off fan fiction from the universe of A Clockwork Orange.
Eckhart Schmidt has an amazing minimalist style. I don't know a lot about him, but besides the feel of Fassbinder, there's a dose of Bresson here too. One thing that those directors didn't have in their movies was Désirée Nosbusch's jaw-dropping fashion plate star in high-waisted leather pants. They also didn't have wall-to-wall electropop, a music video sequence with mannequins, actors getting damned close to cunnilingus on screen, and the cleanest dismemberment this side of Psycho.
I suppose there are those who might dig this movie just for Simone's feathered hair and her Walkman headphones and the 80s atmosphere as a kind of moving painting. I get it. For me, this feels less like a movie than a whole world and a way of looking at it. Incredibly, Schmidt links this lonely girl with Germany's darkest past, prodding connections with the violence most horror movies would be way too frightened to make. Der Fan is about how a culture's obsession with fame isolates human beings and breeds a sickness that forces us into acting like barbarians. Munich 1982 may be an alien place, but man, it feels a lot like the America I live in now.
Der Fan is available now from Mondo Macabro. You need to get it.