Now on Blu-ray: DER TODESKING And ANGST From Cult Epics

Contributing Writer; Texas, USA
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Cult Epics is one of the most under-appreciated cult home video labels haunting video store shelves these days.The label's owner, Nico B., has turned his company an essential source for hard-edged avant garde horror and splatter of yesteryear with releases of classics like Jorg Buttgereit's Nekromantik and its sequel, Death Bed: The Bed that Eats, and Augustin Villaronga's terrifying post WWI nightmare, In a Glass Cage.

The label continues its hot streak with recent releases of Buttgereit's long unavailable existential anti-horror Der Todesking and Gerald Kargl's essential Austrian masterpiece, Angst.

After unleashing Nekromantik onto an unsuspecting world in 1987, director Jorg Buttgereit was faced with the burden of success. Gorehounds around the world had found the film through the underground tape trading scene and, as was the case in 1987 as much as it is now, there was immediate demand for more product. However, Buttgereit wasn't particularly interested in following up what he saw as an existential love story like Nekromantik with some cheap imitation solely to satiate fanboys, he was interested in the art. It was from this desire to break his own mold that he birthed Der Todesking (The Death King), one of the most unsettling, least titillating horror films ever made.

Unlike Nekromantik, which had a single fairly simple story to follow, Der Todesking was a film with seven stories, told from the perspective of the titular Death King. Each story represented a day of the week, and each one told of a different person's internal struggle and eventual suicide. These vignettes were separated by time lapse footage of a decomposing corpse, so as to further sap the proceedings of any unintentional romance.

We live in a world of endless horror anthologies, even Buttgereit has just completed a segment for German Angst, filled with short horrific stories mean to scare, entice, and titillate. However, Der Todesking's seven stories are meant only to unsettle, far from the goofy, grue soaked proceedings of Nekromantik, Der Todesking was a film designed to infuriate your typical shallow horror fan. That it did, remaining incredibly difficult to see for two decades (indeed, it took me ten years after hearing about the film to actually find a 99th generation bootleg).

When horror fans think of Jorg Buttgereit, Nekromantik and its equally insane sequel are always the first things that come to mind, but Der Todesking has been unjustly forgotten until now, and Cult Epics release of this essential film is one that definitely deserves examination. Buttgereit is a filmmaker whose very reason for being is to play the antagonist, the spoiler in the self-congratulatory world of modern horror. He doesn't give two shits about trends, what's hip in the horror world, or your opinion; Jorg Buttgereit makes the movies that he wants to make, and that makes him and his work utterly unique and essential.

From his early days as a short filmmaker nestled within the insular community of Eastern European punk and industrial music scenes, to his post Nekromantik efforts in film scholarship and his position as an expert on far eastern cinema, Jorg Buttgereit continues to toil largely in the shadows doing exactly what he wants to do with his career. Never one to take the well-trodden path, Der Todesking is perhaps his most antagonistic film to date, a masterpiece of macabre imagery without the usual romance or bullshit. Just true horror.

Cult Epics brings us Der Todesking for the first time on Blu-ray, with a new HD transfer from Buttgereit's original 16mm negative. The print looks startlingly clean, far from the z-grade bootleg I'd seen previously. The audio is also quite clean, and presents a whole new experience for those who'd seen it in any previous format.

Where this disc truly shines is in the voluminous amount of bonus material that Cult Epics has assembled for this world-beating release. In addition to the film, we also get a vintage making-of documentary narrated by Buttgereit and showing in detail the construction of the decaying corpse that appears between the stories. There is also the exceptional hour-long documentary Corpse Fucking Art, which details Buttgereit's work on the Nekromantik films and Der Todesking. This vintage documentary feature is worth the price of the set alone, but including it with this disc makes it all the more enticing. Also included is a audio commentary with Buttgereit and his co-writer, Franz Rodenkirchen, some additional Buttgereit trailers, an isolated score track for the films, and a really beautiful slipcover (and I'm not usually a fan of those things).

All in all, it's hard to find fault in this package. Cult Epics may not be the most prolific home video label in the world, but it's hard to beat the amount of care they put into their releases and this one is exceptional. Der Todesking is highly recommended.

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Nico BruinsmaOctober 18, 2015 7:20 PM

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