From the undead to sex with the dead in 5 movies

It should come as no surprise that a country where children are brought up on tales of death and torture makes great horror movies. For Halloween, The Local takes you through a creepy history of German gore.

From the undead to sex with the dead in 5 movies
Nosferatu. Photo: DPA

Nosferatu (1922)

Full name “Nosferatu: a Symphony of Horror”, this film almost never saw the light of day – much like its vampire lead character.

Dracula author Bram Stoker's heirs sued due to the likeness to his book and a court ordered that all copies be destroyed.

But a few survived – and just as well,as F. W. Murnau's now legendary film is one of the most influential horror movies of all time and a rich vein of inspiration for Count-less bloodsucking flicks ever since.

And its power to bewitch and bewilder was proven again this year when Murnau's head mysteriously disappeared from his grave near Berlin.

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Speaking of Nosferatu copies, this one didn't even bother to change the name. But we'll forgive it since it's directed by the great Werner Herzog and stars the scariest actor of all time, Klaus Kinski.

If Kinski were cast in a Jane Austen novella he'd still manage to give you nightmares, and he certainly doesn't disappoint in this towering performance as Count Dracula paying a visit to the quiet German town of Wismar.

Nobody can create an unsettling atmosphere quite like Herzog. This film is a must see.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Delving back into the Weimar Republic to find another silent masterpiece, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has been described as the father of all horror movies.

In its highly stylised sets this film was a forerunner to everything from Psycho to Sin City, and despite its lack of dialogue had a sophisticated artistic point behind it – the hypnotist who controls a sleepwalker to commit murders was an allegory for the relationship between the German government and its people in the First World War.

Urban Explorer (2011)

If you fancy something a little less high brow, why not try Urban Explorer, the story of four young tourists who decide to go on a very alternative tour of Berlin – by breaking into a network of Nazi bunkers. The group get lost and fall into the hands of a psychopathic ex-GDR soldier.

And if seeing 21st Century Berlin as the backdrop for well worn horror clichés is your thing, recent releases also include zombie flick Rammbock (2010) and vampire thriller Wir Sind Die Nacht (2010) (which actually contains a respectable cast.)

Nekromantik (1987)

For German cinema that managed to combine subversiveness and a complete lack of taste, look no further than Jörg Buttergeit's Nekromantic.

It's the story of a street cleaner who brings a corpse he finds while working back to his wife for them to perform their darkest sexual fantasies on. Unfortunately for the street cleaner, the menage a trois quickly turns rotten.

Or if you fancy something totally different from the same director, check out Schramm (1993) – the story of a lonely taxi driver who performs weird sexual acts on the corpses of his customers. Okay, we think you get what he's all about.

So, fetch your spookiest snacks and your favourite pillow to cower behind – this weekend, it's time to feast on the celluloid morsels of a country with a truly dark psychology.

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7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers

To celebrate the works of women in the German film industry, and at the conclusion of this year's special outdoor Berlinale, we have compiled a list of seven must-watch German films directed by women. 

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers
A scene from System Crasher. credit: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Peter Hartwig

This year’s Oscars marked the first time in its almost 100-year history that two female filmmakers – Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell – were nominated in the Best Director category. Only five women have ever been nominated for this award. Zhao took home the gong, becoming just the second woman ever to do so.

In 2021’s Berlinale Festival, 60 percent of the films in the Generation category were directed by women — with 75 percent of female filmmakers making up the Kplus selection (a category for younger audiences).

Here is a look at seven films by some of the most influential female directors in German cinema.

Never Sleep Again (1992) — Pia Frankenberg

Featured in Berlinale’s Retrospective series, meant to showcase female filmmakers, this film is written, directed and produced by Cologne-born filmmaker, Pia Frankenberg.

The film follows three female friends through post-unification Berlin, who are making their way to a wedding when their car breaks down. They wander through the streets of former East Berlin, roaming in and out of bars meeting men. 

The dilapidated sites of the former Cold War frontier city, still scarred by World War II, become a place for sheer endless personal experimentation where the women begin to reconfigure their lives and loves.

Frankenberg’s impressionistic portrait of three women in the city reflects on the state of the newly unified Germany, where for a moment all possibilities seemed radically open. (Available on Mubi, Binged)

The German Sisters (1981) — Margarethe Von Trotta 

Considered one of the classics of the New German Cinema movement, The German Sisters tells an intimate story of Germany. 

Based on the real-life story of the Enslein sisters, it is an expression of director Margarethe Von Trotta’s combination of the personal and the political. It’s the story of Juliane, a feminist journalist and her sister, Marianne, who is a terrorist revolutionary. The film, which won six awards at the Venice Film Festival including the Golden Lion, was Margarethe Von Trotta’s third film and first collaboration with Barbara Sukowa. The director-actor duo went on to do six more films together. (Available on Mubi, Prime)

Margarethe Von Trotta on set in 1975. Photo: dpa | Bertram

Toni Erdmann (2016) — Maren Ade 

Toni Erdmann is a German-Austrian comedy which was directed, written and co-produced by Maren Ade. The film, which premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, was named the best film of 2016. 

Meant to showcase the intricacies of a father-daughter relationship, the film pairs carefully constructed, three-dimensional characters in a tenderly funny character study. A hard-working woman reluctantly agrees to spend time with her estranged father when he unexpectedly arrives.

As a practical joker, the father does his best to reconnect by pretending to be her CEO’s life coach. (Available on Mubi, Kanopy, Prime, Vudu)

I Was at Home, But (2019) — Angela Schanelec 

I was at home, but (Ich war zuhause, aber) is a 2019 German drama film directed by Angela Schanelec. At the Berlinale that year, Schanelec won the Silver Bear for Best Director. 

The film is a story about a 13-year-old student, Phillip, who disappears without a trace for a week and suddenly reappears. 

It maps the existential crises his mother and teachers are confronted with that change their whole view of life. The film features several plots, which tell the stories of several people who are all connected to Phillip in some way. It has scenes with long silences, to contrast ones with heavy dialogue, which critics believe makes this film a cinematic masterpiece. (Available on Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, Vudu, or rent on YouTube).

The Audition (2019) — Ina Weisse

This film has been described as a symphonic study of human behaviour. It’s the story of a violin teacher, who takes great interest in mentoring a student for an audition. Anna, the violinist and teacher played by Nina Hoss, shows plenty of compassion toward the boy at first, but their relationship becomes much more strained as the date of Alexander’s audition nears and Anna begins to put him through musical torture. Come the day of the exam, events take a tragic turn. (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

Pelican Blood (2019) — Katrin Gebbe 

Pelican Blood is written and directed by Katrin Gebbe, who won the 2014 Preis der Deutschen Filmkritik (German Film Critics’ Prize) for her first film.

It tells the story of a woman who trains police horses. She adopts her second child, a severely traumatised five-year-old girl. When the girl shows violent and anti-social behaviour, her new mother becomes determined to help her.

The film has been described as raising fascinating questions – how do you draw boundaries for a child who seems to ignore them or even takes a perverse pleasure in overstepping them? What can you do as a parent when you realize that your love and protection aren’t enough? (Available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime)

System Crasher (2019) — Nora Fingscheidt

Another film about a rebellious child, System Crasher picked up a whopping eight German Film Awards after its release in 2019.

The film has a powerful political message about the inadequacies of the universal child care system. The protagonist, Benni, is a violent nine-year-old girl who suffers from psychotic episodes. Her key social worker, Frau Bafané, tries to get Benni into special schools or facilities; dozens turn her down and Benni is too young to be effectively sectioned as an inpatient.

In an interview with The Guardian, Fingscheidt says, “There’s a very German dimension to the film in the obsession with bureaucracy, with rules that need to be adhered to. Rules like, ‘this child cannot stay in this home because they are getting too emotionally attached,’ when that institution may be the first place where a child has begun to open up.”

The film has received an incredible amount of international recognition, garnering 45 international awards. (Available on Netflix)