It’s Oktoberfest – and while most people will probably be celebrating with craft beers and lederhosen, us fiends will do things our way – with Horror!
German horror has had an interesting history. One could say German horror and expressionist films way back in the 1920s laid the foundation for the horror genre. But once WWII came and went, these films were nowhere to be found. A resurgence came in the late 1960s and 1970s in the form of vicious West German exploitation horror. It is amazing what Germany has contributed to horror cinema in the last century.
So relax with an apple cider or beer and pop in one of these 8 films for Oktoberfest!
8. Mark of the Devil (1970)
Mark of the Devil is one of the most controversial West-German horrors to rattle some cages. At first glance, the plot doesn’t seem too intense. Set in the 18th Century, Herbert Lom plays Lord Cumberland, a witch hunter, and Udo Kier plays his apprentice, Count Christian von Meruh. Meruh loses his faith in his mentor and begins to question the witch trials taking place. Sounds okay right? Wrong.
This film contains extremely graphic torture scenes. The film was so violent that the film’s marketing team used slogans like “the first film rated V for violence”. And movie goers were given sick bags upon admission. It made for explosive marketing. But it was not unwarranted. The film includes rape scenes, a woman’s tongue being ripped out, as well as a great deal of other violent acts. The nature of the film is intense, but it fits in with the same gritty ultra-violent films that soon came into American cinemas such as The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).
7. Laurin (1989)
Laurin is sent in a small coastal village, where several children begin to go missing mysteriously. Young Laurin, whose mother has recently passed away, begins to see visions and dreams of the missing children. Laurin also starts seeing hallucinations of a man in black carrying a large sack. Laurin begins to become curious and seeks to uncover the mystery of what is going on in her little town. It is a very 1980s visually romantic film, full of muted colors and period costumes. But it has a real creepiness to it that stays with you.
6. Anatomie (2000)
Anatomie was the highest grossing German-language film in 2000, but sadly the English-dubbed version failed in the United States. Perhaps because of the material. Anatomie centers on medical student Paula Henning, played by the always captivating Franka Potente. One day, Paula’s anatomy dissection class has a human specimen – a young man she had met when he was alive. Paula decides to investigate the man’s death after noticing mysterious marks on his body. She finds herself centering on the Anti-Hippocratic Society.
The Anti-Hippocratic Society conducts human experimentation dabbles in the occult. While the film is not gruesomely scary, it does tap into the very real horror of human experimentation conducted by the Nazis during WWII. Anatomie does allude to the film’s secret society being linked to the Nazis, but even without the link being clearly made, the subject matter echoes of a true horror in the German past.
5. Krampus (2015)
Long before the fantasy horror film brought the creature of Krampus to American audiences, the folklore of Krampus terrified the children of Europe. Traditionally, Krampus was a companion of St. Nicholas. Krampus was described as a goat-like horned creature who punished children who behaved badly and rewarded those who behaved well. Krampus traditions varied with region but this same lore was common throughout.
In 2015, director Michael Dougherty brought the tale of Krampus to American audiences. The film focuses on the dysfunctional Engel family as they deal with their beliefs and family squabbles during Christmas. The family essentially loses their Christmas spirit. Unfortunately, for the Engel’s that’s when Krampus comes calling. And horror and gore ensue. Krampus is easily one of the most memorable horror films of the last decade.
4. Nosferatu (1922)
Quite possibly the most influencing horror film of American cinema, Nosferatu brought vampires to the silver screen. An unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, F.W. Murnau’s film presents a much scarier vampire than the 1931 American adaptation of the novel. Murnau’s vampire, named Count Orlok rather than Count Dracula, remains one of the most chilling villains in all horror film history. German actor Max Schreck played Count Orlock, the film’s nosferatu. Schreck’s performance remains one of the most iconic in all of film. His tall stature, elongated teeth, and elongated nails created a domineering villain and one that still haunts my dreams. And after almost 100 years, I’d say that’s pretty impressive.
3. Goodnight Mommy (2014)
Goodnight Mommy is technically an Austrian film, however it is a German-language film and such a chilling tale I cannot pass up the chance to include it in this list. Goodnight Mommy focuses on twin brothers Elias and Lukas who become worried that their mother is no longer their real mother. When their mother returns home after cosmetic surgery causing her face to be covered in bandages, the boys notice she begins to act strange.
Believing that an imposter is in their home, the boys resort to extreme methods of getting the woman to admit she is not their mother. These include tying the woman to the bed, gluing her mouth shut, and then later cutting her mouth back open with scissors. It gets real dark. And the fact that the acts are being committed by these young children makes the film even more disturbing. If you’ve never seen this film, I highly recommend it. It is a simple film with only the two children and the mother as the main characters, but it is still highly effective.
2. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
The oldest entry on this list, this early German expressionist film was nothing like anything else people had ever seen before. The story follows a hypnotist, Dr. Caligari, as he manipulates a young sleepwalker named Cesare, played by Conrad Veidt. Dr. Caligari manipulates Cesare to commit murders on his behalf. The silent film is an interesting one, with the most striking feature being the film’s visuals. The film’s sets and backdrops are very angular and shadowy. Watching The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is like watching people move through expressionist paintings. The result is one of the most visually unique films ever produced and an art and film lovers dream.
1. Nosferatu: Le Phantom der Nacht (1979)
Even though the original 1922 classic Nosferatu is already on this list, I cannot help but celebrate Werner Herzog’s 1979 film. Filmed in both German and English, Herzog’s take on the vampire classic is a beautifully gothic film. The cinematography and mood of the film is what really makes it memorable. Herzog was a great admirer of Murnau’s 1922 film, and wanted to produce his own remake of the film as an homage. Herzog cast the intense Klaus Kinski as titular character whose performance is just as memorable as Max Schreck’s.
In 2011, Roger Ebert gave the film four stars and added it to his “Great Movie” collection. Herzog’s adaptation expands beyond just the horror genre. As Ebert explains, “Nosferatu the Vampyre” cannot be confined to the category of ‘horror film.’ It is about dread itself, and how easily the unwary can fall into evil.” Ebert’s review really highlights this film and it is so strange to read such an impassioned review from Ebert on a horror film. But given the beauty and caliber of the film’s performances, it is truly a must-see for all horror fans.