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Saturday, February 18, 2012

THE BURNING MOON -- DVD review by porfle

If you're looking for a pic to put next to the definition of "splatter" in your dictionary, there's a charnel house full of choice moments to choose from in THE BURNING MOON (1997), one of the goriest horror flicks I've seen since H.G. Lewis bought his first bottle of ketchup.  And while the first few minutes of this low-budget, shot-on-video German indy didn't exactly have me tingling with anticipation, it wasn't long before the earnest and surprisingly accomplished effort started to win me over in a big way.

We first meet writer-director Olaf Ittenbach as sullen slacker Peter, a drug-addled leech who'd rather shoot up and rumble with his gang than babysit his cute widdle kid sister.  His job interview sequence is pretty amusing--the interviewer has to remind him of the office's "no smoking" policy as he's rolling a joint--and the gang fight scene later on is nicely chaotic. 

After mainlining some "H" and imagining the moon as a huge, roiling ball of fire, Peter barges into his sister's room and insists upon telling her some horrific bedtime stories.  The first, "Julia's Love", begins with a nice girl named Julia (the cute Beate Neumeyer) enjoying her blind date with a nice guy named Cliff (Bernd Muggenthaler) until a radio news reporter's description of a recently-escaped psycho killer matches Cliff right down to his license number.  She flees his car at the first opportunity but makes the grave mistake of leaving her wallet behind.

What you think will happen next happens next, leading to one grisly and graphic killing after another as Julia's family is reduced in number one by one while she's upstairs.  Here, we get our first good look at Ittenbach's knack for devising convincing and sometimes flabbergasting practical gore effects and then shooting them in creative fashion.  Limbs are hacked off, throats are slashed, heads roll, and one person finds out why a machete definitely doesn't make a good toothpick.  When Julia finally discovers something's amiss, the segment rushes headlong to its exciting bloodbath finale. 

Since li'l sis hasn't quite drifted off to dreamland yet, Peter then proceeds to regail her with his next brain-boggling bedtime tale, "The Purity."  In this one, a series of murders in a small village has everyone blaming a mild-mannered farmer named Justus (André Stryi), although the real culprit is twisted priest Ralf (Rudolf Höß), a sweetly-beaming nutcase whose pious exterior hides the soul of an underworld denizen.  Ralf believes that death is purifying for the soul, and gleefully proceeds to purify several of his fellow villagers by raping, shooting (squibs abound), and throat-slashing (a startling effect). 

As if this weren't enough, the segment ends with one of the innocent Justus' persecutors taking a trip to Olaf Ittenbach's version of Hell, which turns out to be a stomach-churning free-for-all of gore, gore, and more gore.  For about fifteen straight minutes, the screen is filled with some of the most gruesome splatter effects you'll ever see this side of a Tom Savini fever dream. 

It's amazing that the director was able to pull off some of this stuff on such a low budget, it's so well done.  In addition to a veritable ocean of entrails and body parts, we witness a power drill to the teeth, eyeballs plucked out, faces pulled off, and--in what is probably the film's piece de resistance--a guy's legs pulled apart until his body literally splits up the middle.  In other words, it's party time for gorehounds. 

While THE BURNING MOON does look as cheaply-made as it is, Ittenbach's direction and staging are surprisingly sophisticated at times--you can tell that there's a genuinely talented filmmaker at work here, making the best of his limited resources with a good deal of creativity and enthusiasm.  His cast range from adequate to above-average, with Rudolf Höß as Ralf turning in a particularly strong performance and Ittenbach himself not bad as Peter.  Beate Neumeyer makes a winsome Julia in the first story segment while her co-star Bernd Muggenthaler plays the role of Cliff with just the right combination of feigned normalcy and giddy insanity. 

The DVD from Intervision is full-screen with Dolby 2.0 sound (in the original German) and English subtitles.  Extras include trailers for this and two other Intervision features, plus the 47-minute documentary "The Making of 'The Burning Moon'" which is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how to put an effective horror movie together on a shoestring.

One of the best of the obscure cinematic curios that Intervision has released so far, THE BURNING MOON ("Uncut, Uncensored, Unconscionable" the box proclaims) rises above its modest budget to provide a wealth of well-rendered shocks to the hardy souls who appreciate this sort of thing.  More sensitive viewers, beware.  Gorehounds, rejoice.

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