Director: Ulli Lommel
Arrow Video USA

Before THE BOOGEYMAN, Rainer Werner Fassbinder acolyte Ulli Lommel honed his horror stylistics with TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES, an arty take on the Fritz Haarmann killings hitting Blu-ray/DVD combo via Arrow Video USA.

In post-WWII Germany, Fritz Haarmann (Kurt Raab, WHY DOES HERR R. RUN AMOK?) makes his living as a conman, a black market fence, and by seducing and murdering teenage boys whose remains he sells to a neighboring restaurant as pork, sausages, and meat paste. When he is busted by Kommissar Braun (Wolfgang Schenck, MARTHA), he is offered a deal to inform on his smuggling contacts that emboldens him in his criminal activities and deviancy as he prowls the border posing as a cop and taking in runaways with the promise of jobs in the countryside. Although his sexual predilections are well-known to his cohorts – including pimp/lover Hans (TOMMY's Jeff Roden, dubbed by Lommel), prostitute Dora (Ingrid Caven, MY FAVORITE SEASON), café proprietress Louise (Brigitte Mira, THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER), pimp Wittowski (Fassbinder himself), and the local shoemaker (Walter Kaltheuner) who alters all of the boots Fritz brings him belonging to his victims – it is downstairs neighbor Frau Lidner (Margit Carstensen, THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VAN KANT) who goes to the police only to be turned away as having an overactive imagination. It is not until Braun gets pressure from higher up over the public outcry about the mutilated remains of young males between the ages of thirteen and twenty-two that have been washing up along the Ruhr river that Braun announces he has a prime suspect and sets up a trap to catch him.

Although directed by Lommel, the film was the passion project of actor Raab who it was speculated identified with the outsider antihero. Looking more like Count Orlock than Peter Lorre's version of Haarmann in Fritz Lang's M, but with an amiable smile, Haarmann is perfectly at home in a milieu of cops on the take, smugglers, pimps, prostitutes, and merchants and neighbors willing to look the other way out of their own self-interest rather than being some phantom lurking in the shadows. There is a degree of sympathy for Haarmann in melancholy scenes in which he recalls a formative experience of sexual coercion as what is meant to be a humorous anecdote or in expressing a weakness for Hans in spite of the ways he uses him; while Lidner and the others are presented not so much as concerned citizens but busybodies (equally as disinterested as Braun and the cops in the pain and terror of Fritz's final victim). The stable of Fassbinder regulars in front of and behind the camera (including Fassbinder's lover Salem El Heïdi [THE MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS] as a foreign legion soldier turned barterer in stolen goods, Rainer Will (ÆON FLUX) as the victim of the film's most graphic killing, and Peter Chatel (FOX AND HIS FRIENDS). The cast also includes in a pre-DAS BOOT Jürgen Prochnow in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it role as a fence. The score makes use of classical cues by Bach as well as some subtle scoring by Peer Raben (QUERELLE).

Previously released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment in a non-anamorphic 1.66:1 letterboxed transfer with an audio commentary by Lommel moderated by Blue Underground's Bill Lustig, TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES comes to Blu-ray/DVD combo from a 2011 restoration carried out by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC transfer is framed at 1.78:1 but gains more on the sides than it loses on the bottom. Skin tones are also more realistic, looking a bit too orange on the older transfer (a choice which also made the red gel lighting in some scenes less perceptible). The blacks are bottomless, restoring the contrast to the Lang-ian expressionistic close-ups, shadows, and shots of the city at night. The LPCM 1.0 mono German track is in fine condition and the English subtitles also translate some of the song lyrics (although not in every case). The film is playable with the option of a rather disposable introduction by Lommel (0:25).

German film journalist Uwe Huber has moderated a new audio commentary track with Lommel in which the director expounds upon the theme that he feels ties this film with his later serial killer films: that his actions are enabled by various people willing to look away out of their own self-interest. He discusses Raab's interest in Haarmann and the actor's added touches, including his obsession with Catholicism, as well as his own decision to downplay the script's original primary focus on Haarmann's relationship with Hans, coercing Raab to shave his head for the role, and how several cinematic sequences were inspired by the visual possibilities of the location (the film's one explicit homage to Lang's M was not scripted or planned but stumbled upon). Huber prompts him with discussions of the Lang-ian influences and homages as well as with facts about Haarmann's life and crimes. In "The Tender Wolf" (25:05), Lommel expands upon some of the stories in the commentary, including Fassbinder's tumultuous relationship with Salem. He also reveals that the film was responsible for cementing his American filmmaking career. In "Photographing Fritz" (24:24), cinematographer Jürgen Jürges (CHRISTIANE F.) reveals that he was only superficially familiar with Fassbinder and Raab when approached by Lommel to do the film. He elaborates on Lommel's remarks about the lighting style and use of many small Inky lights over large panel instruments that would have resulted in flatter lighting. He also relates some of the same anecdotes about Fassbinder and his ways of "punishing" Lommel and Raab by withholding availability of the cast (who were also doing "Liliom" on stage for Fassbinder during filming). Lommel mentioned in the interview that Fassbinder had little faith in Jürges because of his stuttering, but the cinematographer reveals that he would end up replacing Dietrich Lohmann (DEEP IMPACT) on Fassbinder's EFFI BRIEST.

In "Haarmann's Victim Talks" (16:07), actor Rainer Will describes how, as a seventeen year old dropout, he pursued a stage career and was approached by Fassbinder to appear in the film. He is more diplomatic in discussing the behind the scenes drama of the production, seeing Fassbinder's treatment of the cast and crew as mind games rather than a power trip. He reveals that his scenes were not in the original script and Raab wrote them with him in mind, quoting from Raab's autobiography, and discusses how doing nudity was not so risqué for an actor after Andy Warhol's underground films became popular in Germany. "An Appreciation by Stephen Thrower" (41:14) focuses at length on the film itself, its emphasis on the social milieu of the killer, relaying somewhat different versions of the anecdotes told by the three interviewed participants. It is typically interesting and studied; however, he falters when making a curious case based on IMDb comments about Lommel's post-2000 digital video serial killer films that the shoddiness of those films has antecedents in his little-seen debut HAYTABO although he admits to not having seen any of the director's work past his nineties efforts. Also included is a stills gallery and the film's trailer (3:05). Not supplied for review was the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil and an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Tony Rayns, editor of the first English-language book on Rainer Werner Fassbinder. (Eric Cotenas)