In an age where heinous atrocities appear in news headlines every day, society has almost become desensitized to just how sick and depraved people can be. But almost a century ago, before the news media had perpetual outlets through which to bombard the public with tragedy, truly shocking news could stun a crowd into silence. I imagine this is how many people reacted when hearing of the crimes committed by Fritz Haarmann, a serial killer in Germany responsible for raping, killing, and cannibalizing dozens of young men in between World War I and World War II. Whereas we have seen many news stories like this over the past three or four decades, back in those days, such things were practically unheard of.
This is best kept in mind when viewing Ulli Lommel’s TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES, a brief but graphic depiction of Haarmann’s life a few weeks prior to his arrest. Obviously, the world was a much different place back in that time period, but the crimes he committed were unthinkable. As such, this chilling portrait of one man’s perversion is a haunting trek into history.
If you are not familiar with TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Arrow Video:
Fritz Haarmann, aka the Butcher of Hanover and the Vampire of Hanover, was a German serial killer responsible for the murders of two dozen boys and young men during the so-called years of crisis between the wars. His case would partly inspire Fritz Lang s M, and its central character portrayed by Peter Lorre, as well as this forgotten gem from 1973.
TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES treats the viewer to a few weeks in the company of a killer. Baby-faced and shaven-headed, in a manner that recalls both M and F.W. Murnau s Nosferatu, Haarmann is a fascinating, repulsive figure. Using his status as a police informant to procure his victims, he dismembers their bodies after death and sells the flesh to restaurants, dumping the remainder out of sight. This isn t an easy film to watch, but it certainly gets under the skin…
Produced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who also supplies a shifty cameo), TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES provided two of his regular actors with a means of expanding their careers. Ulli Lommel later responsible for the infamous video nasty The Boogeyman made his directorial debut, while Kurt Raab wrote the screenplay as well as delivering an astonishing performance as Haarmann.
I would wager many viewers will look at some of the characters in this film as being stupidly naive. But again, take the time period in which this is set (the film actually takes place after World War II, but the actual events occurred in between the two great wars). People just didn’t consider such brutality could happen near or around them. I suppose many of us think the same way today, however news reports seem to pop up daily to state otherwise.
TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES is shot decently and looks pretty good onscreen. You can definitely tell the film is dated, but for good reason: it IS over 40 years old. The HD transfer looks great, however, and the updated sound is a huge upgrade from previous versions.
The acting is very good, with Kurt Raab giving a phenomenal performance as Haarmann. Raab looks very harmless, and yet he exudes a creepy vibe that will haunt you long after the movie ends. I daresay nobody else could have portrayed the killer in such a convincing fashion.
Surprisingly, the film does not have many special effects, but this doesn’t detract from it in the least. There are a few scenes involving blood, and it looks realistic…particularly when it is spurting from a gaping neck wound at one point. This effect looks amazing, and I immediately wondered how the effects team pulled it off.
The story in TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES is pretty slow to start off, with much of the buildup making little sense. The sequence of events seems disjointed at first, and I wasn’t sure what I was watching. But then, about 45 minutes in to the film, things start to click. When Haarmann’s true nature is revealed, many previous scenes start to make more sense. As this happened, a chill crept down my spine; I understood why the film had been made this way, and the effect was terrifying. This startling realization made the film much more intense, and therefore an excellent viewing experience.
TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES is a big win for me, and I recommend it. Be warned, however: some of it is difficult to watch. In addition to a couple of grisly killings, there are also several scenes of male nudity, so you might want to keep the little ones out of the room if they have a habit of wandering in. But if you’re a fan of horror, particularly the kind based on real life, then make a note to pick this one up soon. It is available now.
The fine folks at Arrow have included top notch special features that include:
* New high definition digital transfer prepared by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation
* High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
* Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM Audio
* New translated English subtitles
* The Tender Wolf – a brand-new in-depth interview with director Ulli Lommel
* Brand-new interview with director of photography Jürgen Jürges
* Newly-filmed appreciation by film historian and expert on European horror cinema Stephen Thrower
* Theatrical trailer
* Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
* Illustrated booklet featuring new writing on the film by Tony Rayns