Burning Moon, The (US - DVD)
Gabe relives the bygone days of bootleg horror VHS with this German gore job...
I’m going to have to kick myself right in the indie horror cred-balls here because until it arrived in my mailbox for review I’d never even heard of Olaf Ittenbach’s The Burning Moon. From what I was able to gather in preparation for this review it seems Ittenbach was/is a talented effects guy (he’s since worked with Uwe Boll, and directed a series of more professional movies like Le6ion of the Dead) who built Burning Moon around the revolting effects he and his buddies were able to convincingly create on their own dollar. This isn’t an uncommon back-story in the history of the grossest of the gross straight to video films that began cropping up in the gorehound grey market in the home video era, and have continued through the modern era with films like Fred Vogel’s August Underground series. The collector’s market built up a mythology around certain films, from genuinely chilling, well-made foreign rarities like Mou Tun-fei’s Men Behind the Sun, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, and Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik, to super cheap and artless atrocities like Johan Vandewoestijne's Lucker: The Necrophagous, Andreas Schnaas’ Violent Shit trilogy, and everything in between (the Guinea Pig series lands somewhere in between as far as I’m concerned). The DVD era (which is, like it or not, winding down in favour of the streaming era), saw the release of some of the most obscure and bizarre gore cinema, and these mythologies built up enough sales interest to ensure these films were readily available at your local Best Buy. I’m just old enough to understand how incredible and baffling this all is.
I did discover I was familiar with Ittenbach’s Burning Moon follow-up, Premutos: Der Gefallene Engel, which benefited from the excitement surrounding the buffet of previously unavailable horror releases on DVD in the late ‘90s, despite it being a new film at the time (made in 1999). Premutos is not a good film, but watchable and relatively entertaining, fitting snuggly into the whole German underground horror movement, spearheaded by Buttgereit, Schnaas, and, apparently Ittenbach himself. Buttgereit aside, this movement is largely made up of comparatively light-hearted, shot on video silliness, and these films are generally charming in the same way your average Youtube Friday the 13th fan film is. Actually, that’s unfair to the average Friday the 13th fan film, because no matter how brutally untalented the average Friday the 13th fan director is, modern equipment, and yes, this includes camera phones, is infinitely more pleasing to eye than anything shot on analogue video. Ittenbach shows signs of understanding the filmmaking process, and his editing practices are better than average, but he can’t quite overcome the ugly limits of the format, even when he gets all artsy-fartsy with hallucinatory dream sequences, and a genuinely disturbing vision of hell. At best I can at least see what he meant to achieve with his blue and orange lighting schemes, but only a fraction of his effort really shows up on screen.
This type of film usually lives or dies on its pacing and the quality of its filler material. The coolest, grossest gore effect in the world is only worth so much if your audience is forced to sit through an hour of boring characters doing generally nothing in preparation for that cool and gross effect. Burning Moon has more ambition than the average shot-on-video gore job, and sometimes this ambition was enough to hold my attention for the required time it took to get to the next genuinely amusing thing. Ittenbach’s pseudo-anthology style also helps move things along in a judicious manner. That said, there’s still an awful lot of filler to cull here, and most fans will likely be fast-forwarding to the good stuff. Burning Moon’s banned status in its native country isn’t much more than a cool thing to stick on the poster since Germany isn’t really known for its leniency on graphic film violence. The UK got all the publicity for its banning spree in the ‘80s, but even Peter Jackson’s entirely innocent and light hearted Braindead ( Dead Alive) is banned in Deutschland. All in all, the violence here is going to please all the right people, and I had fun once things started turning red. Burning Moon wins points for the general quality (better than some reasonably budgeted, theatrically released ‘80s slashers), the diversity, and overall frequency of its gore effects. Show-stoppers include a knife through the face, a dismembered, burning corpse, extremely bloody bullet hits, a handful of convincing beheadings, a brutal hammer beating, and an all around insane vision of hell featuring about as much blood, bones, and innards as you’ve ever seen on a budget this miniscule. My favourite bit is an in-mouth P.O.V. as a victim is force-fed an eyeball, followed by the eye’s view down the gullet.
Burning Moon was shot on video so fans shouldn’t expect more than VHS quality from this DVD release. Honestly, name a video artefact and it’s probably here. Dizzying moiré effects? We’ve got them on every pattern. Rainbow-errific bayer effects and blocking? Oh yeah, around every edge. Distracting ghosting effects? It’s as if the very film itself is possessed with angry analogue poltergeist. Detail levels are better than anticipated thanks to bright lighting rigs, but all whites are blown-out and blacks are messy and weak. Ittenbach’s ambitious colour schemes, which admirably attempt to ape the pervasive blue and pink schemes of most of James Cameron’s films, look alright, but bleed all over the place and there’s rarely any purity to a given hue (flesh tones are flecked with green, for example). This is as good as anyone can expect, however, and anyone that complains has earned a good flogging.
Based on my basement level expectations I have to say I’m relatively impressed with this low-fi Dolby stereo soundtrack. I assume the disc’s producers had access to the original audio masters, and did their best to line things up appropriately. The lip-sync is pretty bad, and the dialogue itself rarely blends into a scene, but volume levels are consistent, and the subtitles work (it’s in German), so no complaints. There’s very little in the way of ambience or even sound effects at all outside of the gore scenes, but nothing shows signs of particular damage, and hiss is kept to a surprising minimum. A.G. Striedl’s keyboard and guitar score is actually kind of impressive, at least for type. The guy doesn’t have the best taste, or a particularly original sound, but he’s much more musically adept than your average shot-on-video ‘composer’, and his music sounds at least CD quality here.
The extras start with a surprisingly long collection of behind the scenes footage (46:30). There’s no rhyme or reason to the order of the footage, but there’s some context pertaining to the scenes in question, and everyone is clearly having fun. Ittenbach also appears in a suit and tie to talk a bit about his work, along with some of the actors, and the utter seriousness of it all is quite charming. The shocking thing here isn’t the detail put into the special effects (and there’s a lot of detail put into the special effects), but the fact that the crew actually built sets, and had a frickin’ dolly rig for their camera. The camera’s lenses look pretty impressive too. This is all quite sad, because I just assumed they shot on location at their friends’ houses, and that the camera was just a store-bought VHS camcorder. The disc also features a trailer, and trailers for other Intervision releases.
I can say without any hesitation that The Burning Moon is the best shot-on-video gore flick I’ve ever seen. You can take that for what it’s worth. It takes some real effort to get through the awkward storytelling, acting, and ugly analogue look, and on to the gooey extremes, but the climax alone ensures this one is worth all the gorehound, fanboy hype. The video and audio quality of this DVD are about as good as we can expect from anything shot on non-digital video, and the extras feature a charming behind the scenes video.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 13th March 2012
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Stereo 2.0 German
Extras: The Making of The Burning Moon, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Olaf Ittenbach
Cast: Andrea Arbter, Ellen Fischer, Ronald Fuhrmann, Rudolf Höß
Length: 98 minutes
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