In 1925, in Germany, Fritz Haarmann is a homosexual, thief and sneak, having a special license from the police. He sells meat in the black market. He also kills boys and young men, drinking their blood, quarter-sewing their bodies and throwing away the parts in a river. Certainly what he sells in the black market is human meat.
Surprisingly deemed too controversial a topic to direct himself, infant terrible Rainer Werner Fassbinder handed the reins of Tenderness of the Wolves, a deeply unsettling portrayal of serial killer Fritz Haarmann, to his protégé Ulli Lommel, the man later responsible for video nasty The Boogeyman (1980) and countless straight-to-video efforts that linger in the IMDb’s Bottom 100 list. Despite this, the film looks and feels like a Fassbinder film. The characters inhabit the same sleazily-filmed world, many of Fassbinder’s troupe of actors appear, and the great man himself has a small role as an ugly pimp.
Written by the great Kurt Raab, who also stars as Haarmann, Tenderness of the Wolves doesn’t spend any time trying to understand the motivation of the man dubbed the Vampire of Hanover, but instead shows us a snippet of his debauched life. Moving the story from 1924 (when Haarmann was arrested in real-life) to post World War II, Germany is a country clearly feeling the economic strain of losing the war, where the black market is flourishing and con-man Haarmann is doing very well for himself. Along with his on-and-off lover and pimp Hans Grans (Jeff Roden), he swindles clothes from good Samaritans and sells them on for profit, as well as selling meat to bar owner Louise (Brigitte Mira) which may or may not be the bodies of his victims.
As a horror, it achieves it’s disturbing atmosphere not through gratuitousness, but through the squalor of its setting, observant direction, and Raab’s magnificent performance. Haartmann was a gay child molester who enjoyed throttling his victims, biting into their throats (often through the Adam’s apple), before chopping them into pieces and throwing them into the Leine River. We don’t see much of the murders, but when they do occur they are filmed without sensationalism, made all the more unsettling due to the full-frontal male nudity of some of the film’s under-age actors, something extremely rare in horror even today.
Haartmann, shaven-headed and ghostly pale, manipulates his victims by posing as a police officer before drugging and overpowering them, often making little effort to cover his tracks or dispose of the bodies discretely. This arrogance, although it would eventually lead to his arrest, makes him even more of a monster, and Raab delivers a truly terrific performance. Without attempting to explain his actions or even offer a background of how Haarmann got into the criminal business and how he developed a taste for human blood, Tenderness of the Wolves becomes more about the world he inhabits and the creepy characters who surround him. It’s hardly a film to discuss over breakfast, but it will no doubt stay with you for long after the credits have rolled.
Director: Ulli Lommel
Writer: Kurt Raab
Stars: Kurt Raab, Jeff Roden, Margit Carstensen
Country: West Germany
Release Date: 12 July 1973 (West Germany)
Also Known As: Adolfo & Marlene
Filming Locations: Gelsenkirchen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Format : Matroska
Format version : Version 4 / Version 2
File size : 7.95 GiB
Duration : 1 h 22 min
Overall bit rate mode : Variable
Overall bit rate : 13.8 Mb/s