Der Todesking (1990)
By: Devon B. on March 6, 2010  | 
Media Target Distribution | All Regions, PAL | 4:3 | German DD 2.0 | 72 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: J÷rg Buttgereit
Starring: Hermann Kopp, Heinrich Ebber, Michael Krause, Eva Kurz, Angelika Hoch, Nicholas Petche
Screenplay: J÷rg Buttgereit, Franz Rodenkirchen
Country: Germany
External Links
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I've always found Jörg Buttgereit a challenging director. At times his work is intriguing, but at others it's just boring. He's always been very clear that there is a reason for everything that's in his films, but sometimes I wish that the plot would move a bit quicker anyway. Because I do like things to be briskly paced, Der Todesking was initially my least favourite Buttgereit film, but I've always really, really liked the artwork. I think it's my fascination with the child, or more precisely, my fascination with the size of the child's head. It looks twice as big as the Todesking's. I'm aware it's not a newborn baby given its overall size, but I just don't get how, even with a bit of forced perspective, the kid's head looks twice the size of the full grown man's.

Der Todesking doesn't have a plot as such; it's a series of seven vignettes about death (often by suicide), loosely connected by the idea that they're occurring in the same week. Some of the vignettes have a bit of action, like Saturday which features a very perturbed woman turning a concert into target practice. Others, like Monday, don't have a whole lot happening, unless you want to get caught up in symbolism and fish. The segment I found most interesting when I first saw the film was Wednesday, where a man tells a stranger all about his marital problems. This might just be because almost all of the dialogue in the film happens in this portion.

If you were bored by Buttgereit's other films, stay the fuck away from this one. It's his most arty work by far, and will be the least engaging of his films if you're not into his style. I've discussed the film with people who say it's his best, but those people tend to be into obscure and meaningful things, and I'm more into giant monsters stomping on people, preferably while they look for obscure and meaningful things.

Der Todesking was shot without any money, and most of the time that's well hidden, but you will notice little flaws here and there, like crew members' shadows on the wall. The cinematography has certainly improved since Buttgereit's first, and most notorious, feature Nekromantik, but if you're not someone who will enjoy haunting shots of a bridge people like to leap to their death from, this may not be a film for you. I was certainly not a big supporter of Buttgereit's when I first got access to his films, and Der Todesking nearly put me to sleep back then. I can accept its value now, but I wouldn't want anyone to get the idea that it's a whirlwind ride. The film does have a captivating, almost dreamlike quality, but this is a film more for people that like to sit around discussing what a movie might mean. If you're someone that enjoyed the more extreme elements of Buttgereit's other feature films, this will probably disappoint, because aside from a few squibs and an Ilsa style film within a film, there's not much gore and certainly no corpse fucking.

This DVD is marketed towards a wider European audience, but the menus are in German.
Der Todesking has been cleaned up, but it's still a film shot on 16mm. The clean up is impressive, but there's still dirt and some spots, and naturally there's still heavy grain.
The audio is a very basic German language track, with all sorts of sub options. The English subs are a bit clunky, but there's not much to translate. Let me just re-emphasise how little talking there is in this movie: aside from Wednesday's episode there're about 5 lines in the rest of the film. The subs are only available on the feature film.
Extra Features
The DVD comes with a booklet which has an excerpt from the pertinent section of David Kerkes' brilliant book Sex Murder Art. On the disc itself there's a look at "The Letter" from the film; a video clip directed by Buttgereit; an extensive photo gallery with art, stills and behind the scenes pics; a making of; one of Buttgereit's short films; trailers; two interviews; two commentaries; and a filmography. The short film this time is Ogar – der Häßliche (Ogar – the Ugly), a very silly little thing, which is untranslated but you should be able to follow it anyway. The making of has German or English audio available. If you put this together with the making ofs on Barrel Entertainment's Nekromantik and Nekromantik 2 DVDs, you'll essentially have Corpse Fucking Art, the doco that first gave Buttgereit's fans a closer look at his work. My German's only strong enough to translate Rammstein lyrics, which would be about as impressive as being able to translate Wiggles lyrics into another language, but what I got out of the first 10 minute interview was that he was talking about his next film, his kaiju eiga book and documentary, and his involvement with the German production of the musical Gabba Gabba Hey, which made its debut in Western Australia a few years ago. The second interview is a bit shorter at about 8 ½ minutes long, but is in English. Because he's in Norway, Buttgereit says he wants to see a Norwegian horror film (obviously this was conducted a few years ago). This interview also has some clips from his early films. The trailers are here for all Buttgereit's feature films, and also for Corpse Fucking Art and the abysmal Hot Love. Lastly there're two commentaries with Buttgereit and Franz Rodenkirchen, one in English, one in German. They're funny guys, and the tracks are entertaining, and you do get some helpful info on the film. However Rodenkirchen likes films to be more complex and balks at giving away too much wanting people to work things out for themselves. The German commentary is a bit different, for example Rodenkirchen's first cameo isn't mentioned on the English track, but often the same material is covered, like in the video store section they point out all the various titles in a similar manner as they did in English. Certainly listen to the English track because they discuss how the Nazi exploitation genre is viewed in Germany, which is to say that it isn't.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
I don't know what happened to Barrel Entertainment's proposed Der Todesking DVD, but if you spend your nights lying awake upset because there's a Der Todesking size gap in your Buttgereit collection this is a suitable, albeit expensive, alternative. The film is one for those horror fans that absolutely love Buttgereit, but may appeal to arthouse fans as well.

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