The Death King (Der Todesking) (1990)

deathking

There is a moment in Jorg Buttgereit’s shockfest anthology “The Death King” where a man arbitrarily blows his girlfriend’s head off when she comes back from shopping and scolds him for not attending a party. Like this scene, much of the film is random and lacks context, it is literally seventy minutes of people killing each other and themselves. It certainly commands your attention (for a while at least) by beating you over the head with a bit of the old ultra-violence, but for a movie primarily about suicide, it ultimately has as little to say about people who take their own lives as it does about human nature.

While avid fans of underground and ‘transgressive’ films will probably love this movie to bits, for me it seemed like a whole lot of nothing. The premise is absurdly simple- a death-themed short for each day of the week. The shorts range from surprisingly decent (the first one, with the goldfish-loving man poisoning himself in the bathtub) to the totally WTF (the retarded man in Captain America underwear literally beating himself senseless in a small, windowless room where he is presumably (?) held prisoner) and the acting is quite spotty. Many of the actors don’t seem to be acting at all as much as just looking vaguely at the camera while blandly delivering their exceedingly few lines.

So, this movie isn’t big on acting and dialogue, you say? What does it excel in? Well, The Death King does make use of a limited budget and includes some really creepy editing/sound effects. It’s not much, but it might be worth a view by people who are into weird for weird’s sake and low-budget experimental film making. I like weird movies, but I just couldn’t get into this bizarrofest; give me an compelling plot, a character I can care about, anything. Pure experiment can be intriguing, but Eraserhead this is not. It’s actually quite boring, despite all the sadistic violence and eerie sound effects and people offing themselves.

The director claimed in the intro on my DVD that The Death King is a film against suicide. “Of course,” he adds, almost as an afterthought. But how can a movie that offers it’s victims no development and no other alternatives be against suicide? The movie is less an attempt to bring light to a misunderstood act of desperation and more a eager attempt to shock the viewer into thinking it’s ‘deep.’ I can just picture Jorg getting all his friends together, and saying, “Hey guys, let’s make a movie of people waxing themselves. We’ll call it… The Death King.” And his friends, not being entirely sober themselves, let out a collective “Whoa… that’s rad.”

I’m not disturbed by this movie. It takes a lot more than an amateurish attempt at cringe cinema like this to shock me. But The Death King is roughly acted, written, and directed, like a film school project, and above all it gives you no reason to fucking care. I’m not asking for a sentimental and pedestrian motion picture on suicide where the kind, gallant hero goes all ‘Goodbye cruel world,’ leading to an epic confrontation with the film’s antagonist and a tearjerker ending. I like edgy. But if you’re going to make a movie, have something to say. If you’re a self-proclaimed fan of the dark and disturbing with a Salo; 120 Days of Sodom poster on the wall of your college dorm who attributes depth to the arbitrary and grotesque, this movie’s for you. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

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