Germany, ca. 1999: a large western region of the country is being haunted by a serial killer. Jens (Stefan Keseberg) is too busy to pay much attention to the news. Under the pen-name Henry Gloom he writes cheap vampire pulp stories which are not even published in book-form but are serialised in magazines and penny dreadfuls. His low pay-grade means he has to write a lot and churn out lots of pages every day in order pay the bills. His girl-friend, Selin (Nicole Bujard), with whom he shares his Cologne flat, works the night-shift in a photography lab. The couple share a secret or two which nobody else must know about. But they also seem to have secrets which they keep from each other. As more people keep falling prey to the serial killer, who is dubbed “Night Stalker” by the press, cracks in the relationship are laid bare.
This is a no-budget independent project from Germany. But my DVD also offered English subtitles. Led by two guys with some experience in doing short films (Ulli Bujard and Herwig Bartalszky), the amateur cast and crew shot the film’s scenes on weekends over the course of three years, between 1997 and 2000. Digital cams were not a thing back then for independents; analogue camcorders was something they did not want to use; and 16mm film was something they could not afford. So they shot their film on 8mm with an ancient consumer-grade 8mm camera. But this is not one of those “art”-pieces that keeps the 8mm-look. After post-production and after whatever clean-up the film went through before being put on DVD, the film looks pretty decent. It looks like a well-preserved VHS-tape rather than the 8mm-films you may know from your parents and grandparents. The only real issue with the film’s quality is that the picture is frequently way too dark, which (as I understand it) is a direct result of filming on 8mm – despite the fact that they tried to turn up all the lighting they could organise to the max.
The film contains lots of blood and gore, all of it practical effects made without a budget. Minor digital effects have been used, sometimes because practical effects would not have been able to achieve the goal, but also because – surprisingly – it turned out to be cheaper than the practical alternative. For example, the colour changes in the vampires’ eyes in this film are digital effects, as apparently the film-grade contact lenses were to expensive back then.
The film’s score was created by Guido Meyer de Voltaire, who also plays a minor role in the film together with his metal band Aardvarks. The score fits the film’s tone and its indie nature very well, but it is also a score that is very much of its time.
The acting is solid, but it is unmistakably amateur acting. That becomes more obvious in the case of the lead characters, chiefly because they have so much screen time and so many lines of dialogue. The dialogue seems to have been ADRed, something the amateur cast cannot have had any previous experience with. The film benefits from the fact that the right people have been cast for the right kinds of characters, so in light of limited acting capabilities the actors had the advantage of not having to achieve too much of a stretch. The two most prominant supporting roles are played by Alex Kaese and Peter Schrader.
The premise is very interesting, and even though I have some minor quibbles with some details of the plot the writing (by Nicole & Ulli Bujard) is very solid. Directing (Ulli Bujard) and editing are also good and the film turned out nicely-paced. What does not 100% work are certain character decisions or even arcs – filming over 3 years and then having to omit a number of scenes in the editing process probably is the main cause.
This film surprised me. It is by no means outstanding, and I do not believe it ever had the potential to become a cult classic – but it is engaging enough, entertaining enough, and of a quality just high enough that I happily followed the story and witnessed the events unfold. Despite the dark picture and the weaknesses in the acting I never once contemplated switching it off, and that says a lot.
I would rate this film at 4.0 to 4.5 out of 10. This is not one you need to go out of your way to find; but it is a film that might be of interest for fans of independent no-budget filmmaking. The DVD contains extras, including interviews that explain what was achieved with what means and for how little money, etc., and those extras are (for the most part) also subtitled in English.