Monday, August 09, 2010

Captain Berlin versus Hitler – review

Release date: 2009

Director: Jörg Buttgereit

Contains spoilers

Before I start to look at Captain Berlin versus Hitler there are two important things I need to tell you. Firstly this is not a movie, it is a play, filmed during performance with some funky post-production effects added to make it comic book like. As such this can’t really be judged directly against other films – it needs the suspension of belief that a play demands so that when a character walks round in circles slowly squatting as they move, for instance, we realise they are descending into a bunker or crypt.

The next thing to note, for those who might be interested in purchasing this – come the end of the review – is that this is a German DVD that mentions English subtitles on the box, however when you get to the film there are no evident subtitles. If you look under extras there is an English export version of the film and this contains the subtitle track. The main reason for putting it here seems to be that the comic book moments, which have integrated writing, have also been redone into English.

Jürg Plüss as Captain Berlin
Now that is out of the way, we can begin… and a ringmaster (Michael Waechter) opens proceedings for us, telling us the story so far. When Hitler assumed dictatorship of Germany the resistance began biological experiments to create a super-weapon to oppose him that weapon was Germany’s first superhero Captain Berlin (Jürg Plüss). Unfortunately his attempts to assassinate Hitler failed and, following the war, Captain Berlin assumed a secret identity.

Ilse and the brain
It is 1973 and Berlin is still divided by the allies. The doctor Ilse von Blitzen (Claudia Steiger) had rescued Hitler’s brain (along with eye stalks) when she realised that his suicide bullet had missed the brain. She has kept it alive and now will place it into a ‘thinking machine’, which she has designed herself, that will allow the brain to regain consciousness and communicate. The procedure is a success.

Hitler's brain
The brain (Rafael Banasik) immediately asks after Eva and Blondi – Hitler’s wife and German Shepherd – and then von Blitzen explains the state of the world, from a Nazi perspective of course. Hitler is, as you would expect, a little disturbed to be nothing but a brain attached to a machine. She explains that she has a further plan to give him a new body and this involves reviving Count Dracula (Adolfo Assor), whose remains are close by, in a crypt near Brandenburg.

Dracula rises
We cut to Dracula’s crypt and see him rising for the first time in decades. He craves the blood of a virgin girl and seems almost frail. He makes a comment, shortly, about the proletariat taking over the world and we get the impression – expanded upon later – that, despite being a Count, Dracula is a communist. This is probably fitting given that the Romania of the time was a communist country. We also see Ilse holding a stake.

Ilse, having removed the stake
He demands to know who disturbed him and she tells him that she pulled the stake from him in order to bring him back as she needs his knowledge of life after death to create a body for Hitler. She has made a body for Hitler out of the body parts of 'good' Nazi’s and she wants Dracula to infect the body with vampirism and then she will put the brain in. It is somewhat Frankenstein in concept and, indeed, it will become more Frankenstein as the story moves on.

Maria covered in blood
We see Maria (Sandra Steffl) in her bedroom, her father is a journalist and is working. Down below, Dracula and Ilse watch. Ilse confirms to Dracula that the sixteen year old is a virgin and that her father is a left-wing journalist called Fritz Neumann – though the way she reveals this lets us know that she knows more about him than she is letting on. Dracula suggests that he will not drain her, as it would seem a waste to only use her once, and that he will know if she is a virgin by taste. He flies to Maria’s room, eye mojo’s her and then tastes her.

a father's woe
Ilse contacts Hitler and suggests that Neumann is actually Captain Berlin. When he gets home from work he finds his daughter missing and a machine with Nazi insignia that projects and audio/visual message from Hitler suggesting that if he were to interfere it would prove bad for his daughter. Of course he will not listen to such warnings and it is time to don his costume once more.

Meanwhile Ilse tells Dracula to bite the skull-faced creature she has made but the vampire refuses and runs off, with Maria, to make her his bride. Ilse goes to Plan B, gets out the Frankenstein plans and uses electricity to bring what she calls Germanikus (Jörg Buttgereit) to life. Unfortunately it is an idiot (why that should matter, given she was going to put Hitler’s brain in there anyway, is one of the logic flaws in this that don’t really matter due to the campy goodness of the show) so she destroys it and ends up putting the brain in what she terms the hitlerrobo (Pilo Adrian Ilea). When Berlin gets there he has to fight a war on two fronts – both to stop Hitler and to save his daughter from Dracula.

It is Maria who saves the day
He is given various aids to stop Dracula by a priest, Father Braun (Uwe Meyer). The priest gives him silver bullets, a cross, holy water in a water pistol and garlic. Actually the holy water appears to be working, when Dracula simply slaps the water pistol from his hand, and the other items are ineffective – especially the bullets given he isn’t a werewolf. Thankfully Maria has the presence of mind to use a stake! Indeed, at every turn the daughter seems more effectual than the superhero! There is a vampiric ritual that involves the bride-to-be drinking the blood sacrificed by a 100 year old wolf*, though little other detail is offered!

The play was fun, but being a play filmed it won’t be for everyone. The post production effects do add a comic book layer to proceedings as well as a grindhouse chic; they lift this up away from the stage show roots as the post production elements could not be done on stage and yet never take us away from the truth that this is a stage show.

the enemies face off
The actors are all clearly having a whale of a time, the audience appreciate the anti-Nazi and anti-Hitler humour greatly and we can hear them laughing along. The DVD set comes with a Captain Berlin dog-tag, with a picture of him striking Hitler – if you like that sort of thing, which I do! It also has a comic book inside – in German of course. Campy, silly fun. 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

*The wolf is represented by a large toy dog strung up on stage. Being a play I can handle the un-reality of such a prop but it has been suggested to me that there would be a whole new direction in vampire film study here, as well as crap bat syndrome we could have wonky wolf syndrome!

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