Director: Olaf Ittenbach
Screenplay: Olaf Ittenbach
Cast: Olaf Ittenbach (as Folterknecht/Peter); Beate Neumeyer (as Julia Sanders); Bernd Muggenthaler (as Cliff Parker); Ellen Fischer (as Linda Sanders); Alfons Sigllechner (as Vater)
A Night of a Thousand Horror Movies #66
Synopsis: Strung out on heroin, a jobless delinquent Peter (director-writer Olaf Ittenbach) tells his younger sister two bedtime stories. The first tells of a sociopath escaping from a mental asylum and posing as a young woman's blind date. The second, set in fifties Germany, follows a priest who rapes and kills members of the community, a local farmer and his friend viewed as the culprit by the local townsfolk with bloody consequences and a trip to Hell itself involved.
Sometimes, one is faced with not only crushing disappointment but a restless tedium, The Burning Moon even with its reputation as one of the bloodiest shot-on-video films in existence such a painfully dull viewing experience to sit through, all its gruesome violence merely for nothing. Realising its lo-fi style could be used unfairly against it, I'm not dismissing the film because of its budget, although its aesthetic will be a cause of concern later in the review for creative purposes, the issue instead with The Burning Moon that barring its gore and practical effects, Olaf Ittenbach's film is exceptionally lack sure in terms of creativity or any sense of interest. With bookends involving Peter, a layabout we first watch purposely sabotage one of his job interviews and get into a gang fight, the nihilistic tone of The Burning Moon is set up but ultimately it's a surface dressing without anything rewarding or even illicitly pleasurable to it onwards. None of the two stories that follow merit a lot to write about, the first a generic serial killer story which is merely for the sake of its gore without any shock to it.
The second story is a little bit more interesting if more of the juvenile nihilism of the entire film, in having a priest kill people than be the one who delivers their funeral service. As with the first story, its rudimentary in style and plotting, eventually to the point its flat look and lack of personality bites into your patience. It takes over eighty of its ninety minutes or so for The Burning Moon to reach something of interest and get a reaction out of viewer when it reaches the infamous Hell sequences - a basement of practical effects horror of mutant demons, various forms of dismemberment from a drill through the teeth to being spread eagled to death, and a complete lack of hygiene with body parts and blood everywhere. It's the entirety of this sequence, certainly memorable, which created The Burning Moon's reputation in my mind. Whilst the rest of the film can be as bloody and schlocky in its lingered upon practical effects, here the barrage of effects each second is a brief moment of delirium when everything else is laboured. The only issue, however, is that it completely pales in comparison to two far superior depictions of Hell in psychotronic cinema - José Mojica Marins' This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967), with its shift from a black and white film to lurid colour and snow in Hell, and Nobuo Nakagawa's Jigoku (1960), a depiction of Buddhist Hell no way near as violent as The Burning Moon but far and away more disturbing and gruesome in its aesthetic beauty and hellish imagery.
The practical splatter effects in the end of the main point for The Burning Moon existing in the first place and at the centre of it all where my issues with the film stem to. They are particularly nasty but there's little else barring this string of gore moments to actually keep the film together. Barring an occasional moment which elicits some sort of a reaction, like a POV shot from inside someone's mouth as they're forced fed an eyeball, it eventually becomes desensitising violence for me, not causing any sense of revulsion or disgust but merely a numbing sensation sitting through it all. Films which end up doing this are for me the more problematic than something which causes a viewer to squirm, like Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer (2001), as because there's no sense of cause-and-effect done to said viewer its merely seen as a pile of practically done atrocities, not to mention the fact that because of this deadening effect the shock scenes in The Burning Moon become utterly useless if I as a viewer don't feel any disgust to them. Add to this the aforementioned flat production style and this makes the sluggishness of sitting through these special effects worse.
Shot-on-video is an area of cinema which is a fascinating niche. Not to be confused with films shot on digital or released straight to videotape (and eventually DVD), this is entirely the period of cinema shot on various forms of videotape media (Betamax, VHS etc.) which were dominant n the eighties and nineties (and still were until recently in news broadcast archives and Japan). I don't look down on the fuzzy look of the medium in the slightest. Baring the issues, having volunteered for a media preservation organisation, of trying to preserve a medium which wasn't necessarily designed for long term preservation like celluloid, the look of videotape is capable of having an incredible effect on viewers, something Harmony Korine's Trash Humpers (2009) and the Ringu franchise tapped into perfectly, how even its technical faults as a medium added to its virtues. It provides a potent waxiness in image which could be used to an incredible advantage and, for older films which used it for practicality like The Burning Moon, it certainly adds to the weirdness of films like Things (1989), effectively the Citizen Kane (1941) of this medium-based genre.
Unfortunately with The Burning Moon, the presentation is so perfunctory that this sheen merely comes off as lifeless. Because of this, the main aesthetic touch is the terrible hairstyles and clothes of early nineties Germany, which isn't enough to entice.
Abstract Spectrum: Grotesque/Psychotronic
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
Unless you touch on the Hell sequence, a montage of atrocity which visibly comes from the same school of Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures (1963) of filming a group of people writhing about in fake blood in a basement, The Burning Moon is a gore film by design, a gore film as a result without any touch of weirdness or unconventionality at all to it.
Tragically, what was meant to be a nihilistic, transgressive film made by scoundrels for scoundrels, made by people like the viewers on low budget videotape, feels like those brandless cans of foot on the shelves in Repo Man (1984), a budget brand of gore film which has no real transgression or daring to it, its lack of weirdness as much a visible sign of its blandness. Compare it to a superior, far more infamous German film from the period, Jörg Buttgereit's Nekromantik (1987), which takes on numerous flights or fantasy and (rewarding) artistic pretensions, then The Burning Moon looks even more inferior in comparison.
An exceptional, tedious disappointment for me. Visible evidence of shock for shock's sake not being enough to make a film good.