Arrow Films continues its re-releasing of old cult classics with Ulli Lommel’s 1973 serial-killer horror flick, Tenderness of the Wolves.
Based on the real-life exploits of Fritz Haarmann, the German serial killer and cannibal nicknamed the ‘Vampire of Hanover’ who murdered, raped and consumed dozens of teenage boys in the 1920s. Tenderness of the Wolves follows Haarmann’s story as he uses his role as a police inspector to persuade young boys into coming back to his home with the promise of a job, money and food. It is only after they arrive at his dingy abode that his whole demeanour changes in to that of a psychopath, as he first undresses his victims, bites out their throat and afterwards slices them up and serves them for dinner with his other cannibal friends. The film also partly bases itself around Haarmann and his boyfriend’s relationship, which ultimately led to his downfall.
Much like many other films of this type from the 1970s, which Arrow Films are re-releasing, there is always an underlying feeling of nausea that presents itself; straight from the get go. Perhaps it is the grainy film style which was common back then or simply knowing the storyline before hand, and psychologically preparing yourself for what is to come. Whatever the reasoning it only helps to add an extra feeling of uneasiness to the viewer when watching a film of this kind.
Ulli Lommel continues to build on that eeriness as with Tenderness of the Wolves he draws great influence from the silent expressionist film genre of the 1920s and 1930s, drawing heavily from Fritz Lang’s 1931 effort ‘M’, which was also loosely based on Fritz Haarmaan. Lommel uses this expressionist feel when it is most needed in the film, firstly at the train station where Haarmaan picks up his victims, as the landscape is mostly black with only vital props and buildings being visible to the audience. Secondly in Haarmaan’s home, where the poor lighting and grey-black stained walls scream of a sombre feeling. Lommel noted in one interview that he used a fair amount of shots inspired by the genre too, most commonly having an actor standing in a darkly lit room with only one light shining down on them, to give the connotation of the dread they are feeling.
What captures the real fear of the film, and what will be stuck in your mind for days to come, is the portrayal of Fritz Haarmaan by Kurt Raab. As Lommel has said Raab was able to show an everyday lovable man, who would not seem strange by anyone’s standards, but then as soon as he got his boys into his room a terrifying monster was born onto the screen; instantly changing the way you perceive him. Raab does an incredible job of showing the two sides of Haarmann’s character, the dark and the light. In order to add more to the already creepy character, Raab was asked to shave his head for the part, much to the actor’s dismay. In doing so he resembled that of Max Schreck’s take on Count Orlok in F. W. Murnau’s 1922 silent film ‘Nosferatu’.
Tenderness of the Wolves captures the final weeks of the man known as the ‘Vampire of Hanover’, as he steals, blackmails, kills, eats and enjoys the merriment of sharing out parts of his victims with his friends; a truly evil man. This is a film for any fan of the cult horror genre, loaded with extras such a theatrical trailer, interviews with Ulli Lommel and an interview with one of Haarmann’s victims.
4 / 5
Dir: Ulli Lommel
Scr: Kurt Raab
Starring: Kurt Raab, Jeff Roden, Margit Carstensen
Prd: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Michael Fengler
DOP: Jurgen Jurges
Music: Peer Raben
Run time: 83 mins
Tenderness of the Wolves is available on Blu-Ray and DVD now.