Fritz Haarmann was the “Vampire of Hanover”: a very scary serial killer who murdered at least 24 boys and young men (probably more) by actually biting through their Adam’s apple and trachea. No weapons; just his teeth and maybe his hands. It’s also suspected that many of his victims ended up being sold as horse meat on the black market. He was caught and executed by guillotine in 1925. Who needs horror movies, eh? Fritz Lang’s M (1931) was partly based on Haarmann (although mainly on the equally psychotic Peter Kürten) but the first movie to be completely dedicated to the Haarmann case was the Rainer Werner Fassbinder-produced Tenderness of the Wolves, written by and starring Kurt Raab. Arrow has done the Blu-ray honours.
The period has been changed to post-WWII for some reason but the plot is reasonably close to the Haarmann story even if Raab seems to have based his appearance on Peter Lorre (the star of M) rather than Haarmann himself. We see Haarmann pick up various young men either by using his position as a police snitch or through the gay community of which he is part. Through most of the movie we never get past the start of his (normally voluntary) sexual liaisons once back at his apartment. For the most part Raab portrays him as an apparently sympathetic character who a few of his neighbours despise (for all the wrong reasons) while most respect despite his black market activities. Well, they sometimes get some meat off of him after all. Oh dear. There’s also at least one disturbingly young boy he takes home who, mercifully, we see no more of. When we finally see Haarmann in the act of killing by biting a later victim, drinking his blood and then taking him to bed, it really is powerfully disturbing.
It looks good in HD as this is actually a rather beautifully shot movie which seems to add to the hidden horror of it all. In just 82 minutes we go from mysterious banging in Haarmann’s room to the almost unbelievable sight of him committing his crimes. When the police finally track him down, he’s still driven to carry out his obsession as they’re trying to take him away. He was charming but we knew what he was up to, yet the juxtaposition between that earlier image and the incomprehensible brutality we finally see is utterly compelling. The film also makes no attempts to explain why Haarmann does what he does and that’s always best if you’re trying to make an impact. Hollywood could never have resisted a movie-ruining trap like that.
Well worth checking out this piece of German New German Cinema which is all the more chilling for being based on a true story.
Special Features: Commentary by Ulli Lommel / Interviews / Trailer / Booklet
TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES (1973) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: ULLI LOMMEL / SCREENPLAY: KURT RAAB / STARRING: KURT RAAB, JEFF RODEN, MARGIT CARSTENSEN, INGRID CAVEN, WOLFGANG SCHENCK, RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW