THE BURNING MOON: From Germany With Gut-Spills

If you were keyed in to the horror tape-trading scene during the late 1980’s/1990’s, there were a lot of filmmakers who were names within the exclusive confines of that scene.  Several of them came from Germany, which was quite the hotbed of activity for filmmakers looking to push the splattery extremes of the genre in new directions.  Jorg Buttgereit was the obvious kingpin with his notorious Nekromantik films but there were other notables whose films got passed from collector to collector.  Olaf Ittenbach was a noteworthy example and his calling card was the notorious The Burning Moon, a camcorder opus that delivered viscera by the truckload.

Despite its splat-happy style, The Burning Moon uses a traditional horror archetype to parlay its guttersnipe excesses – the anthology film.  The framing device revolves around a snotty post-teen (played by Ittenbach himself) who avoids work and loves gang fights.  His parents force him to babysit his younger sister, which he responds to by taking drugs and then telling her some absurdly violent bedtime stories.  Cue the splatter effects…

The first story is called “Julia’s Love” and tells the story of a young lady (Beate Neumeyer) who goes out on a date with Cliff (Bernd Muggenthaler).  During the date, she discovers he’s actually an escaped mental patient/serial killer and flees.  She successfully makes it back to her family’s home but Cliff follows her there with mass murder on his mind.

The second story is called “The Purity” and is a sacrilegious little ditty about the friendship between town outcast Justuz (Andre Stryi) and the local priest Ralf (Rudolf Hoss).  The latter is secretly a rapist/mass murderer and poor Justuz gets blamed by the locals for his crimes.  When Rolf commits suicide to attain Satanic power, the townies think Justuz did it and have him killed… but the spirit of Rolf helps Justuz take gore-drenched vengeance from beyond the grave.

The Burning Moon is different from your average shot on video splatfest in that it has a lot of ambition and reaches for professionalism.  Ittenbach goes about his task with an overachiever’s zeal: not only did he direct and act but he also wrote the script and designed the elaborate gore effects.  Unfortunately his ambition overpowers his abilities.   As a result, The Burning Moon suffers from the usual problems you’d expect in an amateur film: flat acting, terrible and inert dialogue/characterization, a lack of narrative logic, pacing problems, etc.  It would be nice to say he overcomes these problems with unorthodox cinematograpy and raw energy but, outside of a few Raimi-esque shots, his directing technique is pedestrian and lacking in visual flair.

In spite of these narrative failings, The Burning Moon just might win over gorehounds with its gleeful approach to splatter.  The first story slowly ramps up its killings but builds to an impressive paint-the-haus-red finale with multiple murders, a glass-crashing stunt (done by Ittenbach himself) and an exuberantly bloody final effect.  The second story doles out a few blood-spurting gunshot effects until its finale, which starts with a brutal beating and culminates in a visit to hell that suggests a bargain-basement reinterpretation of the finale from Jigoku.  You get a basement full of deformed people, a montage of squibs, countless severed limbs and a piece de resistance involving several Cronenbergian surgical tools plus a kitchen implement and a power drill.  It should be no surprise that, rough as they are, these are the most inspired and skillfully filmed/edited moments in the film.

That said, you’ve got to sit through a lot of sub-film student dialogue and storytelling to wade through to get these bits.  Thus, your appreciation of The Burning Moon will depend on (a) your nostalgia for 1990’s shot-on-video underground horror and (b) your enthusiasm for cheap but generous splatter effects.  If the latter two drive you wild then The Burning Moon might be the Bavarian splatter platter of your dreams.

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