Intervision // 1997 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard // March 9th, 2012
Uncut. Uncensored. Unconscionable.
No matter what you have seen...You have NEVER seen anything like...The Burning Moon.
Forced by his parents to babysit his sister, a drug-addicted punk resorts to terrifying his younger sibling by telling her two deeply disturbing stories. In "Julia's Love," a young woman realizes far too late that her date for the evening is an escaped mental patient, whilst "The Purity" tells the tale of Ralf, a priest with a dark secret.
Olaf Ittenbach's The Burning Moon arrives on DVD with a fearsome reputation. Complete with artwork suggesting that no matter what you've seen, you've never seen anything like it, this latest release from Intervision, which brings the film to DVD for the first time in the United States, has diehard gore hounds salivating, as it affords many their first chance to see this almost legendary film. Can it possibly live up to the hype? I've spent a fair chunk of my time watching the most notorious movies known to man. I went into The Burning Moon hopeful, but fairly certain this German horror had little new to offer me. I mean: Could The Burning Moon really be as shocking as its reputation suggests?
No, would be the short answer.
Having been originally released back in 1997, this shot-on-video horror seems to have racked up a level of notoriety it can't possibly live up to. What is most curious about the regard the film holds is that its original release came a full five years after Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (a.k.a. Braindead). If one were to compare the two films in terms of the sheer volume of gore they offer, the New Zealand offering trounces its German counterpart without breaking a sweat. Admittedly, Dead Alive mines a rich vein of comedy that is notably absent from writer-director Olaf Ittenbach's film, but even the more serious tone of The Burning Moon fails to elevate this wannabe into the big leagues, especially as it is nowhere near as violent or blood-soaked as it would have you believe.
Much has been made of the Hell sequence that draws The Burning Moon to a close, and having endured a frequently disappointing 80 minutes, I had high hopes the infamous climax to the movie would offer some kind of reward. Well, perhaps if the viewer is unfamiliar with the works of Lucio Fulci (The Beyond), George A. Romero (Day of the Dead), Herschell Gordon Lewis (Two Thousand Maniacs), Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), and Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), not to mention pretty much any movie that includes Tom Savini (Maniac) effects work, then perhaps the Hell sequence may appear to offer innovative gore, but in truth it offers absolutely nothing that has not been done before (and better). Admittedly, the final 15 minutes, which is nothing more than a succession of grisly dismemberments, is the highlight of the film, with some impressive visuals and effects work, but is not enough to justify the outlay.
While I'd argue the splatter flick can be a perfectly viable cinematic art form, it's all for naught if there is no real context into which to frame your gore. Ittenbach's enthusiasm for delivering explicit acts of violence is clear from early on, when he pits two rival gangs of knife-wielding thugs against each other, but not once does the story become anywhere near engrossing enough to justify spending your time on it. The two tales that make up the movie are remarkably threadbare, offering only the slightest semblance of a plot onto which the random acts of violence and rape can be applied to. All too often we are bombarded with flashbacks and dream sequences that that add little to the main events and suggest a misguided attempt by Ittenbach at adding substance to his production.
Being as the stories in The Burning Moon are being told by a drug-fueled delinquent, one could argue that the illogical turns and more bizarre dream sequences are simply a reflection of the narrator's fragile state of mind. However, to do so would be letting the film off far too lightly. The truth is that Ittenbach is in this for one thing and one thing only: the gore. As anyone who has seen any of his latter works, such as Beyond the Limits, will know, Ittenbach's production values improved significantly over the years, but little else has changed in regard to his ability to craft a satisfying narrative.
In light of the more recent examples of extreme cinema -- not to mention classic splatter flicks like Zombi 2 -- The Burning Moon feels almost quaint, with some of the crude practical effects work sure to elicit a few laughs. Likewise, the dialogue is absolutely woeful and clearly an afterthought. Still, get a few likeminded friends around, and The Burning Moon almost becomes a fun night in as serial killers declare their undying love for their victims ("Julia, I want to have kids with you. I want to penetrate you. I want you to absorb all my love juice."), and demons sporting quite remarkable headwear administer the type of dental surgery that will have you questioning whether they carry a sufficient license for such work.
In stark contrast to some of the absolute dross that makes up the shot-on-video (SOV) back catalogue, The Burning Moon actually shows a level of competence all too rare for the genre. Ittenbach clearly understands more than just the basics of shot composition, and it would be remiss of me not to mention some of the really quite effective uses of sound -- particularly the screams of inmates at the mental institution that opens the film. Ittenbach should also be commended for his absolute refusal to lighten the mood at any point. The Burning Moon is a remorselessly nihilistic experience, with no shards of light to break up its bleak outlook.
Due to The Burning Moon being shot on video, Intervision had little chance of delivering a high-end transfer. Still, considering the limitations of the source material, it's difficult to find fault with this DVD release, which offers entirely acceptable picture quality. Likewise, the mono soundtrack is as good as one could hope for.
The only special feature on the disc (unless you count trailers) is the "Making of The Burning Moon" featurette. Clocking in at 47 minutes, this look behind the scenes of the film is a brilliant insight into the world of low-budget filmmaking, and is arguably more entertaining than the movie itself. The chance to see the film come together, along with the obvious enthusiasm everyone involved had for the project, was mildly reminiscent of the making of Peter Jackson's Bad Taste, and does tend to soften one's disdain for the film somewhat.
Don't believe the hype. Those looking for a master class in cinematic extremity, and have waited with bated breath for The Burning Moon, will be left sorely disappointed. A great many viewers will, I fear, be left deflated by how tame the film is, and it's a shame that those who have seen the movie have, in many cases, worn it as a badge of honor and been disingenuous with regard to the actual contents of the film. Put simply, this is not the wall-to-wall splatter-fest you may have been led to believe.
Seasoned gore hounds will no doubt pick this release up regardless of the verdict I hand down, and I fully understand that. The film's reputation -- forged over more than a decade -- will be too big a draw for many. In this respect at least, Intervision has delivered on its part, and put together a solid package that is just about as good as one could hope for.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (German)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated