By Jordan Gerdes
Blackest Heart(1990 -also known as The German Chainsaw Massacre), directed and written by Christoph Schlingensief, is something special. The film starts with the reunification of East and West Germany. The disclaimer at the start reads that when the Berlin Wall came down, 16 million East Germans went into West Germany. And 4% never arrived. Clara kills her abusive spouse and flees to the West. Through a series of troubles, she ends up in the clutches of a family of butchers, who have decided that reunification has provided a cheap source for meat, namely returning East Germans. Clara is kept alive as the daughter of the family falls in love with her, and now it is up to her to escape the place she once thought of as home.
This film has a ton of political overtones that are muddled together in a film that makes the viewer confused and disoriented. Schlingenseif appears to use Brecht’s concepts of audience alienation, where if the viewer becomes acutely aware that they are witnessing a play, they will analyze why they are watching it and why the events are unfolding. While I do not know enough about German history and reunification, I can identify certain symbolism that stood out. The Wehrmacht helmet that Hank wears for example is part of the uniform of the unified Armed Forces of Nazi Germany. Hank plays for both sides, as he helps his family out, and helps out Clara as well, being the only unified member of the cast. It is clear that this clan has grown up acutely aware of the past, and their role to keep things the same and protect their family tradition of making sausage, through any means necessary.
Randall Halle’s article revolves around what they are calling unification horror, primarily films made during and around the concept of reunification. Halle’s observation about “sites of horror” is primarily important here. He notes “Psychotic cannibal serial killers belong in prison. When they appear above ground and in forests outside your house, these abject characters become sites of horror.” (289) He goes a bit further to note that “(Schlingenseif’s) films seem manically to question who will be expelled – the former East Germans or the butcher family, the foreigner or the Germans.” (289) The idea that there is a “proper place” for these characters to exist and that they cannot exist in the same area without one of them leaving is paramount to Schlingenseif’s motives in this film.
Kris Vander Lugt’s article can be summed up in the analysis at the end of the piece, that “if horror in the 1980’s was primarily concerned with the transgression of bodily borders, German horror films of the 1990’s took on the ‘disruption of once stable borders, boundaries, and limits’, both metaphorical and geopolitical, as reunification prompted a reassessment of German history and German self identification.” (170) In other words, becoming acutely aware of the changing world makes us acutely aware of our own pasts, and makes us come to terms with what that means in our own self identity.
In terms of cultural significance, our current age is one of reassessment of the past. We live in a time where we are questioning and challenging tradition for traditions sake, and those found lacking or harmful are being expelled from society. Traditions that lie in the Confederacy or in racial bias are being challenged and torn down in an effect for unification of all people in our country, though it is clear that this proper place we are trying to find cannot exist with the vast difference of opinion of those in society that hold these traditions dear. Thus, we are imploring those who hold these traditions from the social discourse to either change or get out of the way.
Blackest Heart is a direct critique of the xenophobic politics that kept Germany divided for so long. Through heavy handed directing and insane performances, Schlingenseif creates an incoherent, viscerally gut churning soapbox to address the ghosts of German past and the fears of reunification.
It’s 100% worth a watch, as Schilingenseif clearly is inspired by Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(1974) and Fred Olen Ray’s Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers(1988), creating a unique trash splatter horror with something to say. It;s available on Amazon for $1.99.
Film: – Blackest Heart (Schlingenseif, 1990)
Texts: Unification Horror: Queer Desire and Uncanny Visions – Randall Halle
From Siodmak to Schlingenseif: The Return of History as Horror –Kris Vander Lugt