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First Look Review - DER SAMURAI (DVD)

A rookie smalltown cop comes up against a cross-dressing, sword-wielding killer.


Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Till Kleinert

Starring: Michel Diercks, Pit Bukowski, Uwe Preuss



"Der Samurai offers a weirdly beautiful and intelligent experience, which probably is ‘unlike any horror film you’ve seen this year’, and also any other year for that matter."


Rookie Jakob (Michel Diercks) is a timid cop in the sort of close knit small German town where ‘everybody knows everybody’. In between being openly mocked by the local gang of motor bikers, and dutifully visiting his grandmother, Jakob leads an impassive, lonely existence. A wolf stalks the fairytale like woods that surround the small community, but Jakob is too meek to even deal with this properly, simply feeding the beast meat every evening in the hope that this will keep the wild animal at bay. But further in the darkness, emergent from the shadows, something else stirs; a strange, transvestite lunatic, who yields not only a samurai sword, but a torch for Jakob too…
From Der Samurai’s press release, with its ‘completely bizarre yet wildly entertaining’ suggestions of excess, its promise of 'a cross-dressing villain with a large sword and a predilection for beheadings,' I was hoping for the inspired lunacy of a Brain Dead, yet fearing the sort of tedious madcap guff of a Dead Sushi. In actuality, this graceful, intense film is neither. What Der Samurai is, in fact, is one of the most original and effective horror releases of the year so far. Using a palette borrowed from exploitation (the biker gang, a stoner girl, the drag killer and his chop-socky weapon), within a framework that has more in common with the chiaroscuro sophistication of scandi-noir (expressive shadows, enigmas), Der Samurai treats its weirdness seriously. Jakob is a character who aches with loneliness, his repression (sexual, social- the film makes no distinction; he is simply, heartbreakingly, unable to make a connection with other people) is evident in his sad, pinched looks and the leeching shadows of the village. The initial horror here is one that many can relate to: the fear of being true to one’s self in a society where 'everybody makes sure no one else steps out of line.'
Taking the narrative dynamic of a cat and mouse chase, Jakob is haunted by the titular ‘samurai’- a bloke who looks as if he’s wearing Lady Snowblood’s Halloween costume- chasing after the Pan-like figure as he causes havoc and mucho bloodshed about the town. Occasionally pausing his manic bloodletting (dog lovers be warned…), the killer heckles Jakob with taunts pertaining to his sexuality and his lack of conviction. It is as if the samurai is as Jakob’s anima, his violent id, the film suggesting throughout that its killer is a tulpa: a manifestation of Jakob’s repression (the samurai manages, improbably, to chiefly target those who Jakob has had dealings with). These Jungian musings don’t compromise the suspenseful drive of Der Samurai however, as there is more than enough gore and threat here to keep the shallowest of horror fans happy (and even a few genuine surprises that, uh, pop up during the last act).  Intermittent moments of morbid humour (one especially good joke involves a gnome’s lopped off head) contrast the film’s elegiac tone, and consolidate its emotional effect. That sophomore writer/director Till Kleinert manages such complex themes and heady genre pleasures so seamlessly should mark him out a talent to watch.
To go back to the EPK, it assures us of Der Samurai’s ‘surreal mix of dark comedy and eerie creep-out’, which the film delivers on both counts. But what Der Samurai also offers is a weirdly beautiful and intelligent experience, which, yes, probably is ‘unlike any horror film you’ve seen this year’, and also any other year for that matter. Highly recommended.




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