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  • nickkarner

The Burning Moon (1992)

Justly famous works like Black Devil Doll from Hell and Splatter Farm barely qualify as films. Their shot-on-video shoddiness give the bonkers events depicted onscreen both an artificial quality and a documentary feel. Depending on the viewer, it’s either so phony it’s laughable, or it’s so real, it’s frightening. There’s very little middle-ground when what you’re seeing onscreen could closely resemble the home movies you took of your kid’s ballet recital a couple years ago. Then there’s The Burning Moon, underground director/special effects guru Olaf Ittenbach’s savage, deliciously depraved, sort-of-anthology film from 1992, featuring scenes of unspeakable violence which will now be spoken of at length. While Doll and Farm are obviously shot in someone’s house by people trying to make a movie with very few resources, the German-born auteur’s reprehensible ode to ultra-violence is a legitimate movie. It just happens to be shot on video cassette. It features multiple locations, various actors, intricate lighting, some solid camera work, and especially buckets and buckets of gore. Playing like a slow striptease, the film teases us with relatively low-level blood effects just to get us in the mood and the film becomes a slow burn thriller. Inching its way closer and closer to the sweet spot, it finally explodes in a jaw-dropping display which is practically orgasmic in its over-the-top brutality.

What a time to be alive in the golden age of the VHS tape! The joy and excitement of exchanging and acquiring mysterious cassettes which often had nothing but hand-written labels pasted upon them! Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of a lone VHS tape? Videos were mysterious and bulky, yet undeniably sexy, unlike those stupid Betamax tapes. Wannabe sluts. Ittenbach had made a name for himself amongst horror aficionados with Black Past, a black hearted zombie-style romp which serves as both a prototype for Moon and little more than a reason for the young director to murder his cast over and over again. His ambitious follow-up, The Burning Moon, made in his early 20’s, would sky-rocket him to the status of patron saint among gorehounds and is widely regarded as his magnum opus.

Right from the opening title screen, it’s clear this flick has some real talent and a vision behind it. Although shot in '92, it struggled to find a distribution company until Dead Alive (now Brain Damaged Films) picked it up in 1997, with the SOV film achieving the rare feat of getting an American release, while ironically being banned in its native Germany. The flaming title indicates the energetic nature of Ittenbach’s enterprise. As a filmmaker, he has a competent understanding of establishing shots and shot composition. Again, it feels like a real movie. The director himself appears as a lame-o version of a hair metal punk, blowing a job interview being conducted by an extraordinarily patient businessman. Maybe don’t fail “math, accounting, and English” and still think you can request a beer during an interview. This snot-nosed punk has other things on his mind, namely rumbling with an opposing gang known as “The Rats.” He and his mates meet up for a showdown, striding out of the thick fog like they’re goddamn Captain Blake as the ‘rats’ taunt them: “Here they come crawling out of the sewers! Dickheads!” Things get a little West Side Story, sans the music, and they beat the fuck out of each other.

If a horror fanatic happened to be extremely impatient, then they may have turned the film off at this point. The blood FX are quite tame and the fight choreography, though energetic, leaves something to be desired. All of this is most definitely a fake-out. Whether or not this was Ittenbach’s intention is uncertain, but if anyone even dared to presume that this was the high point of the film's bloodletting capabilities, they were sorely mistaken. The first third of the film’s runtime is notably devoid of much gore, allowing the viewer's desire for bloody violence to grow.

The familiar tropes of an asshole son being an all-around prick to his family members sets in and he’s tasked with watching his adorable little sister. He shoots up with a big, heaping dose of smack then hallucinates, staring at our titular moon that is indeed burning, in a pretty nifty effect. He wanders into his sister’s room like Kevin McDonald’s drunken father and insists on telling her some bedtime stories. The first of the ridiculously inappropriate tales is “Julia’s Love.”

In general, the acting throughout is adequate, if unremarkable, with the exception of one performance in the second installment. While the pretty and sweet Julia (Beate Neumeyer) jabbers on to her friends at a café about a blind date she’s going on, the psychotic Cliff Parker (Bernd Muggenthaler) is busy busting out of a psychiatric hospital. Again, it feels like a real movie, with a real hospital location and many actors milling about and hamming it up as crazy people. Cliff hasn’t been quite right in the head since he witnessed his grandfather slaughtering his entire family when he was ten years old. This is shown in a very amusing flashback where an old man hacks away at Cliff’s unseen mother while ten-year-old Cliff bawls his eyes out and the grandfather keeps screaming and pointing, “You’re next!” The nurse informs a doctor that he’s murdered 21 people, but she insists that they can help him, to which the doctor responds with what amounts to “fuck that!” He turns out to be right because Cliff sets about murdering anyone that gets in his way. It’s unclear how or why he’s set his sights on Julia, but nevertheless, he steals a car and runs over her date, a fabulously unconvincing dummy. The ruthless slaying is shown from two different angles before blood sprays out of its head and gets crushed under tires for good measure.

Cliff is one charming motherfucker and the date is really going well. Julia really digs him and if anyone says chivalry is dead, just take a look at how Cliff conducts himself. He doesn’t want to cross any lines, so he offers to take her home without trying anything, all while wearing a huge trench coat that makes him look like a Deutsche Sam Spade. Nevertheless, they do share a kiss, which would be lovely if it weren’t for the fact that he immediately flashes to his grandfather chopping his mother to bits. While he excuses himself to buy cigarettes (how did he get money?), Julia hears about Cliff’s escape on the radio, ID’s the car, and makes a run for it with a complete stranger, who lets her into his car, no questions asked. Unfortunately, she left her wallet behind, giving the film free rein to indulge in its more debaucherous nature.

In the first of many, many murders, Cliff kills a prostitute and chops her head off. At a stop light, an impatient man honks his horn at Cliff, who responds in turn by tossing the head on the man’s windshield and speeding off. Being from the South, I’d call that impolite, but as an option, I’m not going to rule that out the next time I take a drive. Back at Julia’s obviously sound-proofed house, she realizes too late that her wallet’s gone.

The gore effects are rubbery, extreme, but very impressive for such a small budget.

Ittenbach is obviously a film buff as he uses the tired but always amusing reveal of the killer appearing behind a cabinet door right when the victim closes it. Julia must not have heard all of those screams coming from downstairs as he shoves her mother’s hand into some butter then chops her fingers off, creating a gooey mess. He continues by chopping her dad’s hand off, although when we cut to the actor flailing about, most of his arm is missing as it spews blood. A machete getting shoved right through his face shuts him up pretty quick. Cliff slashes her sister right down her back and the bathroom is sprayed with blood as he repeatedly slams her face into the wall, reducing her to a bloody mess. Oh, and he sets her on fire, you know...because. It’s literally at this point that Julia decides to tell her family about Cliff. It’s...a pretty good punchline.

Cliff still has a thing for Julia despite her running off, so he teases her for choosing to hide in a room with a glass door that he could easily break down. Her sister’s boyfriend shows up and promptly has his head lopped off. She admirably fights back with both a pair of scissors and a bottle but she trips on the stairs. We first get a brief, psychedelic flash of lights and Julia imagining herself in blood-red, religious garb, then we get a flat-out fantastic dream sequence as Cliff imagines the idyllic life he and Julia could share, complete with a wedding, joyous walks through the countryside, and even an adorable puppy, which he’ll probably eat later. The greatest bit of dialogue arrives when he informs her of his intentions: “I want to have kids with you. I want to penetrate you. I want you to absorb all my love juice.” Holy shit, dude. In an inspired moment, he shoves an eyeball down Julia’s throat and we get to see the POV of both her mouth and her esophagus. Very clever.

She’s not feeling the “love juice” thing, so he gets ready to deliver the final blow, but completely out of nowhere, his head is blown apart; the dark red brain goo splattering all over her face. In a hilariously blunt statement, which I guess makes sense since this is a German movie, the driver from earlier says: “I’m a cop. This son of a bitch threw a head on my car. Sorry I couldn’t find you sooner.” Lucky break for Julia, who suffers a nervous breakdown and hallucinates seeing Cliff instead of the paramedics.

Finally, Ittenbach’s little sister tells him to stop, but he groggily insists that he continue with his next story, “The Purity.” While “Julia’s Love” was your standard “stalk ‘n slash,” this one has a much more elaborate, twisted take on the mad slasher genre with a supernatural twist thrown in for good measure. Set in 1957 (although the video-style doesn’t lend itself very well to a period setting) and featuring the finest performance in the film, “The Purity” stars Rudolf Hoss as a country priest whose pious and gentle nature hides severely homicidal tendencies with a Satanic bent. Hoss, resembling the man who would later be identified as the BTK Killer, absolutely commits here and brilliantly plays a man who can hardly contain himself when he hears anything resembling unpleasant talk. He smashes a biker over the head and brutally rapes her before executing her with a revolver. Extreme close-ups of Hoss laughing and grunting while he does his dirty deeds make it clear that this cat, along with his director, is one sick puppy.

In church, he preaches endlessly about purity “You are the pure light” and presides over the funeral of his own victim while the townsfolk grow increasingly suspicious of a simple farmer named Justuz (Andre Styri, Black Past) who lives alone and is generally regarded as a weird loner. The priest is sympathetic and tender toward Justuz and consoles him throughout this ordeal, even stopping a gang of thugs from hurting him. All the while, he’s indulging in his murderous sweet tooth, breaking into a couple’s home to massacre them. He empties his (gun) load into the husband, who moans but simply won’t die, then calmly reloads his revolver to finish the job, delivering a shot to the head followed by a very large squib explosion which splatters the walls. The priest has something special planned for the wife. He chains her up and performs a Satanic ritual, complete with pentagrams and candles. He slits her throat and we get some very convincing death throes as she slowly dies. Draining her blood into a glass, he drinks it up and smears the rest on his chest.

A flashback to his encounter with a literal demon from hell who hands him a demonic tome explains a lot. The demon initially appears as an attractive woman before spinning around like Michael Jackson in “Thriller” and revealing a monstrously grotesque face. Along with a canned lightning effect and a burning cross, this is a very stylish bit of filmmaking.

In a fabulous bit of foreshadowing, the priest describes how anyone who would hurt Justuz will not only go to Hell, but they’d be tortured for infinity without the ability to die. This all seems pretty innocuous since he’s not only crazy, but constantly spouting off about fire and brimstone and even describes death as “purifying.” After his ritual, he appears to have a crisis of conscience and asks Satan to “rescue my soul.” Bringing the pistol up to his mouth, he blows his own head off. This is the last straw for the local gang of toughs, who hire a be-mulleted gentleman named Frankie (Kurt Nauder) with a terrible moustache to take Justuz out. And hoo boy, does he ever. He kills this poor guy at least ten times. It’s pretty amazing. He just beats him and beats him with a hammer, then beats him some more with his fists, then slams his head into the pavement just to make sure he’s more dead than anybody else has ever deaded before.

Frankie heads home for a well-deserved, post-murder nap, and the priest’s Satanic and ominous warning echoes across the soundtrack. “My son, he who harms you will burn in Hell!” Satan doesn’t fuck around because Justuz’s eyes pop open and he heads over to Frankie’s abode, scrawling “666” on the house with a bloody finger. In a brilliantly economical effect, Ittenbach reverses his footage so it appears that Frankie gets yanked out of bed by unseen forces. He doubles over in pain and, as Patton Oswalt once said about abstaining from masturbation, The Burning Moon paints the wall in an epic climax.

I love fucked-up movies, hence my viewing of this finely-hewn piece of cinematic indecency. This very easily ranks amongst the most batshit crazy and severely fucked-up things I’ve ever witnessed. What we get, dear reader, is quite simply a first-hand look at what Hell would look like if Lucifer had a budget of fifty bucks, a set of power tools, and an endless supply of fake blood. Where to begin with this? It’s as if Ruggero Deodato, Takashi Miike, H.G. Lewis, Tom Savini, early Peter Jackson, Lucio Fulci, and Clive Barker had a blood-soaked orgy and spawned a fearsome, disease-ridden hellbeast.

A description of what takes place in the last 10 minutes of this film won’t do it justice, but here are some highlights from “The Kingdom of Pain” (and take note that everything is covered in blood and filth): guts are eaten, faces are ripped off, some kind of super (M1 Garand) gun blows people’s limbs off, everyone is covered in white so the blood soaks through everything, including the many, many corpses which litter the floors. Random naked people dragging God knows what. A guy dressed in S&M gear reduces some kid’s head to pulp; blood splattering all over his sparkle-studded jock strap.

“Welcome to Hell!” The worst (is that even possible?) is saved for Frankie, who is first nailed to a slab. A corkscrew is shoved and turned into his eyeball by some sort of skeletal technician with a Star Wars-esque face-shield, then he/it proceeds to carve Frankie down the middle. A power drill is busted out and in a highly-realistic moment, his teeth are drilled through (Ittenbach was a dental technician, after all). An even bigger screw goes into his tummy and yanks out various bits of viscera. The coup de grace takes place when chains wrap around his ankles and, in a scene which I’m sure S. Craig Zahler enjoyed, Frankie is literally torn apart right down the middle. It’s incredible.

Back on planet Earth, junkie-of-the-year Ittenbach has stabbed his little sister. I guess he didn’t like her constructive criticism. He slashes his own wrists - Incorrectly. Up and down, not side to side! - and it’s over. This film does absolutely everything it can to rape your mind, castrate your eyeballs, and vomit on your soul.

As an atheist, I know this place doesn’t exist, but fuck if I want to risk going there. I’m gonna go ahead and not murder suspected rapists/murderers until all of the facts are in. The Burning Moon deserves its reputation as one of the greatest SOV films ever made.


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