BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Tenderness of the Wolves (1973)


By Nick Durham

Does the name Ulli Lommel ring a bell? If you’re a horror nerd (and chances are that you are since you’re here reading this) then you’ve no doubt heard of him, or at least been subjected to some of his more recent exercises in depravity. He really made a name for himself in the 80s with Boogeyman, which in itself was a pile of shit, but nowhere near as bad as his more recent, direct-to-DVD pieces of shit that he’s churned out at an alarming rate for Lions Gate. What you may not know however is that back in the day, Lommel was an up and coming director, and even an understudy of Andy fucking Warhol. His 1973 film, The Tenderness of the Wolves, is a surprisingly thoughtful and totally disturbing character study of infamous German serial killer Fritz Haarmann. It goes without saying that this is undoubtedly the best film that Lommel has ever made.

The late Kurt Raab plays Haarmann: a known homosexual in 1920s Germany (which was a crime by itself back then) that picks up and murders young men in horrific ways, and even moonlights into the fine delicacies of cannibalism to boot. As a known black-market criminal and homosexual, Haarmann becomes a police informant due to the poverty of the nation as a whole, which ends up finding him helping himself keeping the cops off his back so he can freely pick up and slaughter his victims. These scenes of Haarmann meeting and seducing his victims are where the real meat (no pun intended) of The Tenderness of the Wolves lies. They’re not super graphic or even really suspenseful honestly; but they really invoke how evil a son of a bitch this man is. This is both thanks to Lommel’s careful pacing, and Raab’s wonderful performance.

If there’s any drawbacks or flaws to The Tenderness of the Wolves, it’s that it doesn’t deal with the aftermath of when Haarmann is finally caught, or even deal with his origins either. The whole film is dedicated to this one particular fraction of time where he was at his most monstrous, which while incredibly effective, doesn’t do much to develop the character as a whole. Then again, this sick fuck was a real-life person after all, so maybe all we really need to know about Haarmann is what’s presented here.

Arrow Films has done another wonderful job with this Blu-ray release, but that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The film itself has been remastered and looks glorious, and there’s even a new translation of the film’s English subtitles (which are way, way more accurate than any other American release of this film has ever been). There’s a commentary by Lommel, interviews with the film’s cinematographer Jurgen Jurges and actor Rainer Will (who plays one of Haarmann’s victims), an appreciation retrospective of the film, plus the film’s trailer and a fascinating booklet is included as well. Yeah, this is really good stuff here, which is the norm from Arrow.

Now in case you didn’t realize it by now, The Tenderness of the Wolves definitely isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a serial killer/thriller type flick, you’ll be disappointed here. This is a deliberate character study of a true monster, and Lommel doesn’t fuck around with expressing that to the audience. Still, with its brisk 82-minute running time, you don’t have much to lose by checking this out at the very least.

Rating: 4/5

Posted by Alan Smithee

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