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German-born director Ulli Lommel is best-known today for his 1980 slasher-esque, revisionist folklore horror hit The Boogeyman (or The Bogeyman to British readers) – a movie that introduced concepts later seen in Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Mike Flanagan’s Oculus (2013). More recently, he has earned the sad distinction of the director of genuinely awful, S.T.V. blockbuster cash-ins, serial killer pap, and tabloid news-inspired slashers, like Zombie Nation (2005), B.T.K. Killer (2005), Black Dahlia (not to be confused with the Brian De Palma movie, 2006), and D.C. Sniper (2009). He also infamously made not one, but two movies about the Zodiac murders, Zodiac Killer (2005) and Curse of the Zodiac (2007). But before his international horror success and ongoing downfall, Lommel was an arthouse wunderkind. He appeared as an actor in a number of Rainer Werner Fassbinder films (beginning with Love Is Colder Than Death, 1969) and later worked in the Andy Warhol Factory, where he made American arthouse classics Cocaine Cowboys (1979) and Blank Generation (1980).

 Tenderness of the Wolves
Tenderness of the Wolves (or Tenderness of Wolves, as some people prefer to call it) was Lommel’s third film as director, following two even more obscure titles ( Haytabo, 1971, and Tödlicher Poker 1972). It was produced by a very supportive Fassbinder, who (according to Lommel) basically demanded Lommel and writer/star Kurt Raab (another Fassbinder collaborator) make the film after hearing Raab’s vague pitch for a ‘realistic version of the Fritz Haarman story that had inspired Fritz Lang’s M (1931).’ Fassbinder was so supportive that he paid for the production using money he won from film festivals. The ‘realistic’ portrayal here is up for debate, because Lommel’s adamantly stand-offish motifs are often beautifully contradicted by stylish odes to Lang and other German Expressionists. This strikes a very peculiar and very German New Wave-friendly tone (it really does feel like a Fassbinder or even Werner Herzog movie from the era at times) that I have grown to admire after initially dismissing the film as too artsy and slow-moving to enjoy (forgive me, I was only 18 or 19-years-old the first time I saw it).

The loose, episodic plotting can be arduous, but it is interesting in the post- Silence of the Lambs/ Seven era to see a movie about a crooked cop who is also pedophile, a cannibal, and serial killer (any one of these traits would make a proper villain in an exploitation movie or Hollywood blockbuster), that focuses on the intricacies of his scams and larceny, while leaving his most brutal crimes (mostly) to our imagination (which, to be fair, was how Lang handled the murders in M). The lack of stalk-and-kill sequences isn’t unusual, given the fact that the slasher boom was still several years away in 1973, but Italian giallo thrillers and British psychological thrillers were going strong at the time, making this more emotionally aloof take on the material is still noteworthy. Not to mention the fact that Tenderness of the Wolves isn’t really a police procedural, either, despite M being arguably the original police procedural. The police’s side of the story is expressed, but rarely in a completely dramatic sense. The investigators are barely discernible characters and the most intensified sections of their investigation are often represented by scenes of them furiously pointing at a map while composer Peer Raben’s keyboard score drowns out their actual discussion. Even as the police close in and spring a trap during the climax, their presence is secondary. Most of this seems to stems from Lommel’s investment in telling the story differently, which dictates that the majority of the story is told from Haarmann’s point-of-view (a trait employed by other movies about sympathetic murderers, like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, 1977, and John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, 1986). Haarmann is just too arrogant to consider his fellow officers and ‘friends’ a threat to his increasingly brazen crimes.

 Tenderness of the Wolves
Lommel claims that his ultimate goal was to force audiences to identify and even like the pedophile murderer, despite his shocking actions. Much of this burden falls on Raab, who, as the central actor conveys an affectingly gentle demeanor, even as he engages in predatory and oppressive behavior. Like Lang, Lommel mostly stays out of his actor’s way, patiently fixing his camera on Raab’s calm cruelty and offering only subtle hints to his villain with camera angles and blocking. Of course, Lang was contending with an unhinged Peter Lorre and the difference between Lorre and Raab is night and day. Despite visual odes to M, Tenderness of the Wolves is definitely the more measured of the two films – from its lead actor’s performance to its non-procedural plot and vastly more ambiguous message (Lang’s political and social morals are far from subtle) .

 Tenderness of the Wolves

Video


Though it wasn’t technically banned in the US, Tenderness of the Wolves’ pedophilic and homoerotic themes, as well as full-frontal male nudity, ensured that it didn’t get much of a release on home video. From what I remember, it didn’t even have a North American VHS release until Anchor Bay released a widescreen version simultaneously with their non-anamorphic, 1.66:1 DVD. The only other DVD version I can find was a 1.78:1 anamorphic release from CMV Laservision in Germany. Clearly, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Arrow’s new 1.78:1 (the 1.66:1 AR is apparently preferred), 1080p Blu-ray transfer was scanned in 2K by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation and digitally restored by ARRI Media Restoration in Munich. Details are sharp, which is especially important, because Lommel and cinematographer Jürgen Jürges use a lot of wide-angle lenses, medium shots, and deep focus. These complexly textured and usually bleak environments are tight without any notable compression artefacts or edge haloes. The gamma levels are nicely tweaked for optimal contrast and crush is minimal, though some of the more evenly-lit sequences appear a bit flat. I suspect that the original material simply didn’t have the dynamic range. The grain looks a little off in the stills on this page, but appears normal in motion. The mix of flatness and fine grain does lead to some posterisation problems that are likely also inherent in the original material, but also possibly the effect of DNR tinkering. Still, the bulk of the transfer looks natural and tidy, not laden with machine noise or obvious digital clean-up. The palette is purposefully neutral and drab, including a lot of browns, greys, and washed-out reds. Colours are well-represented, if not a bit greenly-tinted, which I assume was done on purpose to further express the underlying perversion of Haarmann’s world.

Audio


The original German mono sound is presented in uncompressed 1.0 LPCM. The sound quality is cleaner and more consistent than DVD releases, but does still suffer from a slightly muffled quality. Given that the soundtrack was taken from the same source as the image, I’m willing to assume that it simply wasn’t recorded very well. Lommel verifies that there was no on-set sound recorded (he actually dubs Jeff Roden’s role himself) and ADR seems a likely culprit. Despite the dampening effect, dialogue is still consistent and understandable (more understandable for German-speaking viewers, obviously) and the limited foley isn’t distorted, aside from a bit of ‘click.’ Peer Raben’s music is sort of bizarre. It’s very underutilized, to the point that it is often completely forgotten, only to slam the viewer in the face at the end of a shocking revelation. Other times, the score expresses Haarmann’s predatory thoughts with fractured music box motifs or crops up in the form of analogue synth feedback during scenes of police officers discussing the facts of their case against the killer.

 Tenderness of the Wolves

Extras


  • Commentary with Ulli Lommel – There was a director’s commentary available with Anchor Bay’s DVD release, but Lommel himself mentions that he is recording this particular track for Arrow at the top of the discussion. This track sticks pretty close to being screen-specific and delves into particularly pieces of the production history as well as some of the film’s historical background and peripherals. In this case, I actually watched the commentary last (as in after I’d finished the rest of the review) and was happy by the lack of overlap between it and the interviews (discussed below). Even Lommel’s tone is completely different. The director is joined by a moderator, but, unfortunately, I was unable to discern the journalist’s name (even after multiple rewinds).
  • The Tender Wolf (25:10, HD) – A brand-new in-depth interview with Lommel recorded in 2015 for this Blu-ray release. The director, who is in a pretty free-wheeling kind of mood, unloads a mass of random behind-the-scenes anecdotes, everything from Fassbinder’s reaction to cinematographer Jürges’ stutter, to the changes made to Raab’s script, the meaning of the title, the Christian subtext (which Lommel didn’t like), the wildly varying critical and audience reactions, the supporting cast, locations/sets, and carefully working with underage actors.
  • Photographing Fritz (24:20, HD) – Another new and exclusive interview, this time with cinematographer Jürgen Jürges. Jürges rambles a bit, but actually remains more on-topic, focusing on technical aspects and the challenges of production.
  • Haarmann’s Victim Talks (16:10, HD) – In the last of the new interviews, Arrow talks to actor Rainer Will, who was only 17-years-old when he appeared in the film.
  • Appreciation by film historian/Euro-horror expert Stephen Thrower (41:10, HD) – The always informative author discusses Lommel’s entire career, starting with Tenderness of the Wolves and the histories of everyone involved. He recommends viewers that can’t understand how Lommel could’ve gone from his arthouse period to S.O.V. horror junk seek out Haytabo and defends the director from the conspiracy theorists that claim Fassbinder was the real director of Tenderness of the Wolves.
  • Still gallery
  • Theatrical trailer


 Tenderness of the Wolves

Overall


The Tenderness of the Wolves’ reputation has ebbed and flowed throughout the last several decades as director Ulli Lommel’s career has spun from praise to obscurity and worse. Hopefully, this Blu-ray review will help remind people that they can’t completely ignore a given filmmaker, just because he shot two awful DV, STV movies about the Zodiac killer. It’s also a unique exploration of criminal behavior that is untethered by the more recent expectations of the genre (the exact expectations that help ruin Lommel’s more recent movies, actually). Arrow’s Blu-ray is typically top-notch stuff, including a nice new transfer, an acceptable LPCM soundtrack, and a bevy of educational and fascinating supplements.

 Tenderness of the Wolves

 Tenderness of the Wolves
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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