(The Death King)
West Germany. 1990.
Director – Jörg Buttgereit, Screenplay – Jörg Buttgereit & Franz Rodenkirchen, Producer/Photography – Manfred Jelinski, Music – Herman Kopp, Daktari Lorenz & John Boy Walton, Special Effects – Sammy Balkas, Jörg Buttgereit, John Dreyer, Stefanie Ollenburg, Franz Rodenkirchen, Robert Vakily & Alois Vollert. Production Company – Jelinski-Buttgereit.
Monday:- Herman Kopp (Barsch). Tuesday:- Heinrich Ebber (Video Fan), Jörg Buttgereit (Torture Victim), Mark Reeder (Soldier), Ades Zabel (Shopkeeper), Hille Saul (Soldier with Shears), Simone Sporl (Wife of Video Fan). Wednesday:- Michael Krause (Man in Park), Susanne Betz (Girl in Park). Friday:- Eva M. Kurz (Spinster). Saturday:- Angelia Hoch (Assassin). Sunday:- Nicholas Petche (Man)
Monday:- A man prepares everything and then takes pills and a poison to commit suicide in the bath. Tuesday:- A man rents a video depicting Nazi torture. When his wife returns home, he shoots her and hangs a frame over the blood splatter on the wall. Wednesday:- A man sits on a park bench telling a woman sitting beside him how awful it made him feel when his wife bled every time they had sex. The woman then gives him a gun and he shoots himself. Friday:- A spinster peeps in on people in the apartment opposite. Saturday:- A woman puts on a camera mount to film herself as she shoots a rock singer. Sunday:- A man is driven crazy alone in his apartment.
German director Jörg Buttgereit became a cult figure for his uncompromising films. Buttgereit first created an outrage with his necrophilia film NEKRomantik (1987) and its sequel NEKRomantik 2 (1991), which featured no holds barred scenes of people having sex with corpses. Der Todesking (The Death King) was Buttgereit’s second film and he has since made a number of other films, including Schramm (1993) about a serial killer; Captain Berlin vs Hitler (2009); and the Final Girl episode of the horror anthology German Angst (2015), as well as Monsterland (2009), a documentary about genre cinema.
There was the feel in the NEKRomantik films that Jörg Buttgereit was often patching things together using his old short films and fragments from other films he has shot to pad out the story or running time. This feels even more the case with Der Todesking, which seems to be all made up of shorts and fragments. To what extent they were specifically shot for the film or it is composed from leftovers I have no idea. Der Todesking comes with the overriding theme of death – most of the episodes end with a death of some type, usually by murder or suicide – indeed, you could say that was the early version of The ABCs of Death (2012).
The first and the best of the episodes is Monday where we watch a man as he methodically cleans his apartment, has a meal, feeds the goldfish and calls to say he is not coming in to work. He then strips and gets into the bath and takes several handfuls of pills and drinks what appears to be some poison before expiring. This documenting of the lead-up to a suicide is undeniably effective in Buttgereit’s calm, matter-of-fact tone where his camera remains merely a passive observer.
Tuesday aims for a more dramatic structure but feels bitsy. It follows a man who rents a video of what appears to be Nazi torture scenes in which a man (played by Buttgereit himself) has his dick chopped off with shears in a very fake looking effect. These Nazi scenes feel like they are aiming to parody the whole Nazisploitation cycle and as though they are scenes from another short film. The video watcher’s wife comes home and they argue whereupon he shoots her. In a sardonic coda, he then takes a picture frame and hangs it over the blood splatter on the wall. All of this appears to be on a tv playing in another apartment where someone has hung themselves.
In Wednesday, a man sits on a park bench and tells a woman beside him the story of how awful it makes him feel when it causes his wife to bleed every time they have sex. At the end of the story, she gives him a gun and he shoots himself. As with most of the stories, they are so brief that there is no background – or in this case no clue what the relationship between the man and woman is or why she hands him a gun.
Thursday is a piece that comes with no people in it. It is simply a series of camera shots from under a bridge or moving along its upper struts. Overlaid with this is a series of names of people, along with their age and profession. You deduce from this that all of these are suicides who have leapt from the bridge.
Friday is another oddity that never quite comes off, focused around a spinster in an apartment who is spying on the young couple across the courtyard. She reads a manifesto that seems to have been left in the hall urging people to give up and commit suicide. At the end, it would appear that the neighbouring couple have done just that.
Saturday opens with a sequence where a woman narrates from a book to another child, which offers a potent analysis of murder as an act of celebrity. That is before we see the woman strap a camera mount around her shoulders and then go to a rock concert where she abruptly shoots the lead singer.
The final segment Sunday consists of no dialogue just a man in an apartment writhing on a bed and then falling to the floor where he bangs his head against the wall in torment. There is no death here, just a man suffering from torment of never explained cause.