• Rev Horror

Schramm: Into the Mind of a Serial Killer

Dir. Jorg Buttgereit (1993)

Jorg Buttgereit's hard-hitting film takes us inside the mind of a German serial killer, dubbed The Lipstick Killer. In a flashback to his tortured life, the viewer experiences what life is like as someone who has borderline personality disorder.

The film opens with a quote from a real-life notorious murderer, Carl Panzram: Today I am dirty; tomorrow I'll just be dirt." This is a nihilistic introduction to a nihilistic film, but as director Jorg Buttgereit shows us, there's not too many other ways to look at what transpires in this film and, sometimes, in the real world.

Serial killer Lothar Shcramm lies dead on the floor of his apartment at the start of the movie, and the film takes us through the tortured and and sickening life that he lived in a series of flashbacks and remembrances. What we are seeing is what Schramm sees as his life flashes before his eyes. Schramm lives next door to a prostitute, played capably by Monika M. (Nekromantik). He is madly in love with her, and listens to her sexual escapades through the thin walls, during which he masturbates with a blowup doll torso. We then watch as he dejectedly takes his sex toy to wash it out in the tub. It is a sad introduction to a lonely man, and is immediately followed with a hallucination of him dancing with his paramour.

It is here that Buttgereit stars, making a film that is very reminiscent of Henry, and he does with his own dreamlike flair. Where Henry was more of a psychotic manipulator, Schramm is a lonely, sociopathic killer. I've learned that serial killers with borderline personality disorder tend to be more brutal, sadistic, and ritualistic than others, and Schramm is no different. He is the Dahmer to Henry's Bundy: both evil and inhuman, but Schramm/Dahmer is maybe more of an understandable, tragic figure.

Schramm murders two door-to-door Christian missionaries, slitting the man's throat before using a hammer to kill the woman. He then strips them naked and positions their body in sexual situations before taking pictures of them. Unlike other serial killers, his compulsions seem to be tied to his near-constant hallucinations. A trip to the dentist results in a removed eyeball, from his perspective. He sees a detached vagina dentata-esque creature in bed with him, which causes him to turn his head, close his eyes, and breathe deeply until it goes away. Thus, we gain the understanding that Schramm knows as well as we do that he's crazy, and does the best he can to escape.

Of course, theses instances are separated by scenes in which he nails his penis to a kitchen table, murders the aforementioned missionaries, and rapes and kills countless victims. It's hard to feel too bad for him, but Buttgereit thrusts us into a world where we don't always know what is real, hallucination, or a memory, and forces us to question whether Schramm knows any different from us. We get the impression that sometimes he doesn't.

Schramm does everything he can to win the heart of his prostitute friend, including driving her to and from her johns (at least those who don't visit her at her apartment). One night, after she takes him to a thank you dinner for being so helpful, he drugs her, strips her to her underwear, and takes her picture before masturbating onto her body while degrading her even further by saying things that he could never bring himself to say if she was alive. This gives us further insight into his character: he seems to believe these awful things about her, which makes us wonder if he views her in such a negative light, or if this is the only way that he can be sexually aroused, by degrading, dehumanizing, and objectifying his women.

What could, and perhaps should, be a sickening tale of a murderer instead becomes a view inside a mind that could very well be ours, given a different circumstance and state of mind. He is a reassuring presence to his prostitute friend's mind, while she wholly encompasses his. Buttgereit knows what he's doing. His films are a paradigm of disturbing tour de forces, and he's not one to shy away from violence or sex to make his point. Schramm is no exception. His use of sound in this film is jarring, an almost autistic use of irritation and fear. The high pitched violin that has become a staple in the jump scare-laden landscape of modern horror is used masterfully here, to build a sense of paranoid unease, all while making us see what Schramm sees, feel what he feels. Seldom is character development in horror done so well. It's scary that this is real life for some people, day in and day out. Is it a stretch to believe that, if faced with Schramm's mental deficiencies on a daily basis, some people would go off the deep end?

What we are left with is clearly art, though maybe not everyone's cup of tea. It's a nihilistic film, one that makes you realize the truth of Panzram's quote, at least as it pertains to Schramm. He is dirty, but his mind is also broken; and, tomorrow, he will be dirt. Buttgereit, as usual, knocks it out of the park.

Bottom Line: A psychosexual thrill ride from the start, Schramm is not one to miss in the realm of disturbing cinema. Highly recommended, a cult favorite, and a must watch for those who love disturbing films. 4 out of 5 stars.


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