Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tenderness of the Wolves (1973)

Director: Ulli Lommel

Notable Cast: Kurt Raab, Jeff Roden, Margit Carstensen, Ingrid Caven, Wolfgang Schenck, Brigitte Mira, Rainer Hauer, Barbara Bertram, Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Occasionally and if you’re lucky, there will be a handful of films that stick with you long after the film is done. In the case of Tenderness of the Wolves, a dramatic character film that’s earned its cult following since its release in 1973, the film is one of those kinds. For me, Tenderness was rather boring during the actual watch, but hours and even days after it was done the film stuck to me mentally, seeping in with its subtle atmospheric touches and artful nuance of characters. Enough so that I ended up watching the film a second time before writing this review. It’s that second viewing that really hooked me with why this film is deserving of the praise it receives from its fan base and why it deserves such a wonderful new release from Arrow Video.

Fritz Haarmann (Raab) is not necessarily a righteous man. He’s a con man with his partner and steals whatever he can to earn a few bucks to keep living his care free lifestyle in post-World War II (even if the true story takes place in post-World War I). However, he uses his stature as a police informant to procure a particular breed of victim…young boys whom he proceeds to murder and then sell the meat to unsuspecting folks. When his neighbor begins to suspect him of his odd nature…his acts of horror may come back to haunt him.

Bloody good meal!
Tenderness of the Wolves is a fairly unsettling film. It almost has to be when your main protagonist is the serial killer…and one based on a real life killer known as the Vampire of Hanover. What’s truly unnerving about the entire film is that the audience actually cares for him and his plight. Director Ulli Lommel and actor Kurt Raab bring a delicate sense of hope for redemption in the character – showing his need to be loved and his desperate attempts to fit in as a sort of outsider. We want him to succeed in his journey for acceptance and perhaps change his nature throughout the film. Knowing that the actually person was executed for his crimes is almost irrelevant in the films effective execution of the character and we still end up hoping against hope that he would somehow redeem himself by the end of the film. A tactic that makes Tenderness insanely effective in its character build.

It’s this relationship with the character of Fritz that director Lommel plays up for maximum creepiness. While it’s shown fairly early on that he has a weakness for young boys and we are given hints at his “butcher” skills, the film actually plays the serial killer horror aspects in a very subtle way and it’s not until the end of the second act that the actually events materialize on screen. This film is not played up for its horrific aspects, but instead played for its atmospheric grit and low key energy. The film is mysteriously quiet in a lot of ways (the score is scarce outside of a few bigger stings) and it tends to flow like a stream of conscious instead of a linear tale. Many of the secondary characters are not fleshed out – one of the few things I would have liked to see expanded in the film including Raab’s relationship with his partner/lover and his relationship with a young woman who fakes being his girlfriend – and the film actually refuses to use the dialogue to be exposition in many ways. This focus on blips of the story and its low energy is what had me bored on the first viewing, but it works once the realization occurs that it’s specific to the tone and atmosphere of the film.

This release itself, a new high definition digital transfer from the Fassbinder Foundation, is something that collectors are going to want to dig into. It’s not one of the better transfers that Arrow Video has dropped, but it’s still an impressive one overall. Really, this version is worth it for fans for the new interview with director Ulli Lommel (and the commentary from him too) as he tells things in a very unique and upfront matter about the oddities of making the film and the focuses of why they did what in the film. For fans, it’s impeccable insight.

In the effort of being upfront, Tenderness of the Wolves is the kind of film that is going to have its dedicated cult audience and it’s mostly going to lean into the arthouse fold rather than the grindhouse one despite its often disturbing content. The style is very specific and low energy and it pulls away from being the serial killer horror film it could have been. This is automatically going to limit some of its fan base. However, with the right expectations and lens, Tenderness is the kind of film that leaves a mark and is very effective at what it intends to do – which is why it is worthy of such a slick release. Despite my mixed feelings on my first viewing, this film ends up with a very strong recommendation as it’s the kind of cinema that digs its way into your conscious. 


  • 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

Written By Matt Reifschneider

No comments:

Post a Comment