Year Released: 1997
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 105 minutes
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Fifteen years ago, had you told friends that Peter Jackson, of “Bad Taste” and Sam Raimi of Evil Dead would have made two massive blockbusters grossing nearly 2 billion dollars worldwide, they probably would have laughed at you. If, however, you’d told them that Raimi and Jackson would inspire an epic German splatter film with a body count of 139 mutilated, gore-spewing corpses? People might have believed that. And Olaf Ittenbach’s “Premutos: Lord of the Living Dead” is just that Jackson/Raimi homage. “Premutos” is full of severed heads, traumatized testicles, and a generally blasphemous perspective on history.
The opening credits play over the charred remains of countless bodies, victims of the Crusades. A stern voiceover informs us that despite popular opinion, Satan was not the first of the Fallen Angels, Premutos was. Cut to 1942, where a German peasant buries the ancient Book of Premutos after attempting to resurrect his wife. After a brief bout of blood spitting, her head exploded which, I guess counts as a failure. The townspeople, hearing of the peasant’s dabbling with the black arts, come and burn his house down.
Cut, finally, to our presumptive hero Matthias (Ittenbach) undergoing the most gruesome of experiences — a dentist appointment. Matthias is the kind of goofy love-lorn hero Peter Jackson likes to use to offset his zombies. But Matthias is more complicated still. After a biking accident (trying to impress a girl), Matthias flashes back to 1292, where he encounters farmers with the plague and an old woman who shows him a head, as a sacrifice to Premutos. Freaky stuff, but it gets worse. After a taking a soccer ball and then a pair of cleats to the groin, Matthias again flashes back, this time to World War 2 and the Siege of Leningrad, where again he encounters Premutos.
Thoroughly freaked out by his visions of the fallen angel, Matthias returns home for his stepfather Walter’s birthday party. While Matthias was having his gonads inspected, Walter (Christopher Stacey) a collector of military memorabilia, was doing some gardening when he unearthed a buried book. It’s none other than the Book of Premutos (which bears a strong resemblance to Sam Raimi’s Book of the Dead). Soon, all of the residents of the small German town are becoming zombified and they’re descending on Walter’s birthday party, drawn by the book and by the rise of Premutos.
In their song “Sympathy For The Devil,” the Rolling Stones sang a first-person saga about Satan’s presence at some of history’s darkest moments. Ittenbach uses the flashback structure here to create the same mystique around Premutos. The Fallen Angel was at the Crusades, a featured player in World War 2, and he also played a part in a small Scottish rebellion somewhere in between. But Ittenbach goes these flashbacks one better, when he goes back to 33 A.D. to witness Jesus’s crucifixion. The presumptive Messiah is taken off the cross dead, but we discover that one of his followers was also a disciple of the Lord of the Living Dead and used the power of Premutos to facilitate Jesus’s resurrection. By Ittenbach’s logic, that makes all of Christianity into budding Premutians. This is the kind of daring, if blasphemous thinking that might annoy any religious fundamentalists who happen to be watching this movie. On the other hand, what were they doing watching in the first place?
Although his budget was clearly low, Ittenbach manages to stage his wildly ambitious time travelling production in a way that seems “spare” rather than “cheap.” The German countryside stands in perfectly well for Russia, Scotland, and several other locales. While Ittenbach’s crowd scenes never have quite enough extras to fulfill his obvious vision, it’s difficult to take offense, since the money was clearly going elsewhere.
The special effects in “Premutos: Lord of the Living Dead” are up to the peak standards of the genre both in terms of sound effects and make-up and gore. Ever wonder how it would sound like if you plunged a blunt shovel into a living man’s skull? Ittenbach provides a sickening and satisfying answer. He also manages to find bad taste in both the mundane and the extraordinary. The trips to the dentist and testicle surgeon are every bit as cringe-worthy as the moment where a major character becomes the embodiment of Premutos while also becoming one with the pipes and springs in his couch. But everything is just a lead-in to the closing thirty minutes of carnage where, trapped in a basement, three survivors make a last stand. In a scene reminiscent of the lawnmower-induced blending that ends “Dead-Alive,” the zombies keep on coming and with guns, swords, and a chainsaw the humans make them into undead mulch. “Premutos” culminates on a classic deus ex machina finish.
For five years, “Premutos” has only been available in this country via bootlegs from Germany. The Shock-O-Rama DVD offers the original German soundtrack and an English dubbed version, but no subtitled cut, which may annoy purists. But for a good laugh it’s tough to argue with the cheesy dubbing. For example, when Walter hears of his stepson’s injured crotch he exclaims, “A soldier needs his Johnson! He can’t fight without one!” When zombies enter the local saloon, a bartender can be heard telling them, “We don’t serve your kind here.” And finally, when Walter decides that he’s had enough of his undead guests, he declares, “I won’t let you spoil my party, even if it sucks big times!” I can’t vouch for whether or not the German version mines the same vein of over-the-top humor.
The Shock-O-Rama presentation of “Premutos: Lord of the Living Dead” also includes a satisfactory documentary with Ittenbach, who has gone on to make several other highly regarded German splatter films. Does that mean that we can expect him to be making a Hollywood blockbuster in ten years? Or will he continue to follow in the low budget footsteps of Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi? “Premutos” serves notice that he’s a writer-director worth watching.
Posted on September 3, 2002 in Reviews by Dan Fienberg
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