Horror anthologies are an interesting beast, one that often devolve into a mish-mash of poorly executed, half ideas from extremely talented individuals who can clearly do better (I’m looking at you, Ti West). They tend to rear their head every decade or so for a brief period before disappearing back into the abyss. Recently we’ve seen a revival of the trend, largely due to the success of the V/H/S and ABCs of Death series, films with instalments that greatly vary in quality. Thankfully, most of German Angst is better than the majority of the shorts on display in those, and at its best it is, at least, on par with their more premium output. It’s a solid country-specific foray into the depths of terror from three of Germany’s most prolific horror directors, Jörg Buttgereit (Nekromantik), Michal Kosakowski (Zero Killed), and Andreas Marschall (Tears of Kali). As with all anthologies, this rating should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s definitely a mixed bag; two out of three of these shorts are pretty decent, while the second leaves a lot to be desired. What sets this apart from many of its contemporaries, however, is it’s execution, finding a perfect balance wherein shorts only go as long as they need to without leaving us longing for more.
Buttgereit opens the film with Final Girl, a gory, visceral revenge tale with the twist with a title that pulls from horror tropes to add depth to the short’s backstory. It’s extremely well executed (no pun intended?) and beautiful to look at – this short is by far the most nauseating and is not for the squeamish, and is easily the best of the three: concise, disgusting, and effective with an excellent, if heavy handed, commentary on abuse. Buttgereit, this film’s major drawcard due to his controversial past output that verges on arthouse cinema, is clearly the most talented director to work on this film. I’d go into more detail but I don’t want to spoil his short – its runtime is minimal but it’s a perfectly self-contained project and opens the film both gracefully and deeply horrifically.
From here we move to Kosakowski’s entry, Make a Wish, which is (as previously mentioned) the worst of the three. That’s not to say it’s terrible, it’s just not particularly good, failing to effectively pull off its blend of Neo-Nazi torture and magical realism – although I must admit the combination does yield a few tongue-in-cheek, hilarious results. The major failing of the short is that Nazi-sploitation just isn’t that shocking or edgy anymore; it’s hard to draw blood from the stone that is Nazi-sploitation when we have a history that traces back further than the Boys of Brazil through to more recent flicks like Dead Snow, Iron Sky, and even non-horror films like Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. These films also possessed unique twists on the formula that went far beyond “Nazis are bad” and “wouldn’t it be great to have revenge on the Nazis”, and the introduction of a magic, body-switching amulet isn’t enough to make a difference. When there’s great subversive material coming out of production companies like Astron-6, which can make us laugh about the most taboo of subjects, without ever crossing the line into assisting something like rape culture or advocating misogyny and abuse, casual Nazi humour is just not going to cut it. That’s not to say it’s all bad, there are some good gore scares, and scattered funny sequences, but on a whole the short just doesn’t make the grade when bookended by Buttgereit and Marschall’s far superior efforts.
Finally, we have Marschall’s Alraune (which translates roughly to mandrake), an adaptation of a German film that was remade no less than five times between 1918 and 1952. The entry is virtually the literal definition of the term “short film”, clocking in at around 50 minutes to an hour. Alraune functions extremely well in this format, and extending such a concept for another 30 minutes for a feature length release would only degrade from its quality, so I am thankful to see it presented here in this format. The short, told in pulpy, film noir style, follows an extremely charismatic protagonist, Eden (Milton Welsh), as he is seduced by a beautiful woman into joining an underground sex club that revolves around the smoking of mandrake root with deadly results. The whole thing is grungy and dirty, a very visceral and off-putting experience with strong ties to the underground German fetish scene in its aesthetic (not in its content). This is the short that really sticks with you after the whole experience of German Angst, as Marschall’s sense of world-building is the most effective. While there are hokey moments in the plot, the same cannot be said for the tone, which is consistently murky throughout.
Overall it’s a mostly solid anthology, which could have probably done without Make a Wish, but what’s an anthology film if not a mixed-bag of ideas and execution, and who really wants to see only two films in an “anthology”? Buttgereit and Marschall (who worked closely with Buttgereit previously) effectively flaunt their talents, and while Kosakowski doesn’t quite get there, his film isn’t terrible, rather it’s just nothing nothing special. If you’re into the more hardcore side of horror, you’ll do well to seek this out, and if you’re a casual viewer, you will probably have some fun, just be prepared to be shocked – some of this is not for the faint of heart.