Part of being a horror fan is living with the stigma attached to this genre. For most of us, that’s probably only amounted to a lifetime of enduring judgement by the folks that just don’t get it. But for many folks growing up during the heyday we all loved, being a horror fan meant enduring much more. Take, for instance, Andreas Schnaas’s experience growing up in Germany during this time, when censorship cut popular horror imports to shreds—if they were allowed into the country at all. It wasn’t just a stigma—it was paraphernalia. And while many folks across Europe found ways around this through tape trading circles, Schnaas went a step further: if he couldn’t watch any of these violent films, then he would take up a camera, wrangle together a half-assed crew, and produce his own extreme gore films. There would be no pretense to it, not when the film in question would literally be named Violent Shit, meaning any audience—if indeed, there ever would be an audience—would know exactly what they were in for.
Improbably enough, Violent Shit did find an audience, one that eventually spread across the globe as Schnaas’s film gained notoriety among the most hardened gorehounds. Violent Shit would go on to become the sort of film that would be whispered about, lumped together with the likes of Faces of Death as the most forbidden horror dispatches. Schnaas would go on to make a career out of his transgressions, in the process spawning one of the genre’s most bizarre franchises and introducing the world to an unlikely cult icon in Karl the Butcher Shitter, a maniac who would terrorize backwoods Germany before eventually finding himself terrorizing a post-nuclear wasteland. A franchise that began as Schnaas’s answer to Friday the 13th and its ilk would go on to become something else entirely, and I can say with some certainty that there’s nothing else quite like it.
Somewhat ironically, Schnaas’s answer to conditions that made it difficult to obtain horror films went on to become quite scarce itself in the digital era. DVD turns 20 years old in 2017, and, in all that time, the complete Violent Shit has yet to debut on the format—until now. Finally, Violent Shit fanatics can rest easy, as Synapse has gathered the entire saga into one 3-disc collection. While there are a relative lack of extra features, fans will at least be pleased to know that all of the official films—and more—have been gathered into one efficient, affordable package, and they’ve been remastered to boot. For many (including this writer), it will be the introduction to a set of movies whose reputation has preceded them for decades, and, having finally seen them (some might say endured them), I can say with some confidence that I’m glad to have done so…but I also can’t imagine doing it ever again. And with that, let’s sift through some Violent Shit…
Violent Shit (1989)
The original Violent Shit finds Schnaas’s obvious disdain for censorship pushing the splatter movie to its most logical—and illogical—extremes. You can almost imagine him poised, taking every barb critics lobbed at slashers throughout the 80s, absorbing them, plucking them out one by one, and then flinging them back. “If you think these movies are unhinged filth, then so be it,” he practically says before introducing the world to Karl the Butcher Shitter, the franchise’s hulking, deranged icon bearing a name so superfluously ridiculous that one wonders if anyone could really ever take Violent Shit seriously. Schnaas all but treats it as a gag by staging a slasher film where the plot is virtually nonexistent: 85% of Violent Shit involves random victims stumbling onto Karl’s stopping grounds, where they meet increasingly grisly fates.
Words really can’t adequately describe how graphic and gratuitous these scenes are—these eviscerations are gnarly as hell, loaded with over-the-top blood spray that would make the Shaw Brothers blush. They practically break our carnage counter here at OTH and have me wondering if we shouldn’t give Violent Shit its own rating. This shit goes to eleven, mate. However crude the rest of this amateur production may be, there’s no denying the power of this gore-soaked mayhem. Both Schnaas’s willingness to push boundaries and his attention to squeamish detail are noteworthy: it’s not enough that Karl engages in genital mutilation by ripping apart a girl’s vagina—no, he has to shove his camera directly at the deed, forcing the audience to either confront it head on or look away in disgust.
Truth be told, Schnaas basically made the sort of film that does give horror a bad reputation, and he did so gleefully. It’s a cold, calculated “fuck you” that treads into blasphemous territory when Karl stumbles upon a vision of a crucified Christ in the forest. And like everyone else who crosses his path, even Christ is not spared an unholy mutilation in an act of apparent self-loathing for his fundamental upbringing. It’s one of the few moments where Schnaas might have something to say regarding the hypocrisy of those who would ban the likes of Violent Shit. Regardless, it leaves you wondering just what sort of warped mind could have concocted such obscenity.
And that’s exactly what Schnaas would have you wonder, of course. Violent Shit delivers exactly what its title promises, and the rough, Hi-8 aesthetic only compounds the rawness of it all. A predictable snuff quality defines the murder scenes, which are unpolished, messy outbursts that linger uncomfortably. Despite running a scant 72 minutes, Violent Shit drones to the point of discomfort, with Schnaas practically inviting the audience to dismiss this as amateurish provocation. It’s a disarming tactic, though, as Schnaas does embed some genuinely unsettling moments, particularly the flashbacks to Karl’s abusive childhood. For all its ridiculously violent outbursts involving meat cleavers and chainsaws, the film’s most indelible image is the Satanic figure that lurks in Karl’s closet, intoning him to kill his own mother. Underestimate and judge the surface of Violent Shit at your own risk because this is the stuff of pure, uncut nightmare fuel.
Violent Shit II: Mother Hold My Hand (1992)
With his first follow-up, Schnaas apparently wanted to put to rest any fears that he may have matured or softened at all since the original Violent Shit. It’s the only explanation for how this sequel inexplicably opens on a couple of Asian gangs going apeshit on each other—complete with martial arts outbursts—before Karl appears to carve up the scraps. But how, exactly, is Karl still alive and kicking since his body mysteriously rotted away, leaving behind only a blood-soaked infant in the husk? Well, it turns out Schnaas has answers and something of an actual plot this time around, as the entire sequel is framed by a journalist's investigations into Karl’s latest round of slayings.
It turns out that this is actually the kid—dubbed Karl Jr.—we last saw emerging from his dad’s corpse in the last film, and he’s been living in the woods with his mother for the past twenty years or so. The elder Karl’s previous rampage is now the stuff of grisly legend in Germany, and, thanks to the son’s demented upbringing, the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. Once it gets revved up, Violent Shit II is more or less similar to its predecessor, as Schnaas once again conjures up non-stop vomit-inducing carnage, much of it centered on genital mutilation. (If you’re wondering how he “tops” the original’s preoccupation with this, rest assured that Karl Jr. pulls a bloody tampon from a woman’s vagina before eviscerating it.) The effects are top notch, of course, but you expect that.
What you might not expect is the dark humor streak running throughout Violent Shit II. While no one could ever possibly take this shit seriously, this one abandons all pretenses. None of the slightly creepy strains of the original remain here, as the younger Karl’s upbringing is a silly inversion of his old man’s: where senior was raised under the thumb of religious fundamentalism, junior is coddled by an unhinged mother who reads bedtime stories about masturbating women. The Jason comparisons are even more warranted at this point since Karl Jr. is a total mama’s boy who does everything for this kooky old bag. If she orders him to cut a woman’s breasts off, he might as well ask her how thick she wants it carved. It’s all so very ridiculous. I still wouldn’t call it fun, but it’s clear that Schnaas is having a blast, even if he’s the only one really laughing along with his own bullshit.
But it is self-assured bullshit. The filmmaking remains quite crude (the framing is still awful and the audio mix is still spotty), yet it doesn’t lack for confidence and a willingness to entertain. This is obvious from the opening credits, which arrive with their own thrashing theme song extolling the virtues of Violent Shit and Karl the Butcher Shitter. It only took one sequel until Schnaas figured out the potential for his maniac to become an antihero, so it figures that the opening credits end with Karl making an entrance that resembles something out of professional wrestling. To co-opt Vince McMahon's old slogan, “anything can happen in Violent Shit.” Well, unless it involves decency.
Violent Shit III : Infantry of Doom (1999)
You can lob many (very valid) criticisms at Schnaas and his Violent Shit series, but one thing you can’t do is accuse him of resting on his laurels. As easy as it might have been to continue staging the backwoods exploit of Karl the Butcher Shitter (Jr.), things took a hard left turn with Infantry of Doom. Shot shortly after the second film but not released for six years, it almost feels like a precursor to Schnaas’s remake of Anthropophagus, as a trio of boaters happens upon what appears to be a desolate island. It is, in fact, not desolate at all, as both Karl the Butcher Shitter Jr. and Senior have taken up residence; what’s more, they’ve amassed an entire fucking cult to do their bidding, complete with a scientist that experiments on the undead.
I think the official scientific terminology here is “what in the actual fuck?” We’ve seen franchises take detours and departures before, but few are as pronounced as the one on display here. Somehow, Violent Shit evolved from a backwoods splatter movie to this unholy fusion of "The Most Dangerous Game," Day of the Dead, and the Shaw Brothers. It does, at least, come primed with a real deal plot this time around, as the two Karls let their prisoners loose so their followers can embark on a deranged manhunt. Unfortunately for them, the prisoners include a trio of ass-kicking martial artists that are more than capable of finally delivering righteous comeuppance to the Butcher Shitter clan.
I suppose the martial outbursts at the beginning of the previous Violent Shit weren’t just a phase for Schnaas, and I couldn’t be more delighted. You rightly don’t lump the words “Violent Shit” and “fun” together, but this one comes the closest to making that possible. Easily the only one of the original trilogy I’ll ever consider watching again, Infantry of Doom is a total hoot, mostly because Schnaas’s juvenile bullshit is kept to a minimum. Sure, he stages a scene where Karl’s followers pull a guy’s spine out right through his asshole, but most of Violent Shit III isn’t expressly concerned with this brand of torture-based violence (it also helps that there are no women involved, so it’s a lot easier to swallow without all the casual misogyny). Instead, Schnaas flips the usual dynamic on its head by allowing the audience to delight in watching these martial artists wreck the titular infantry, which is comprised of zombies, ninjas, and masked brutes. Regardless of their station, they all share the same fate of having their limbs and internal organs brutalized.
Of course, Schnaas’s filmmaking chops only improved so much, so the same flaws reveal their ugly head; however, he continues to prove himself to be generally competent where it counts, which in this case means the gruesome effects and the action choreography. No one would confuse Violent Shit III with a The Raid or anything like that, but the climax is a riotously entertaining display of awesome stunts and gnarly effects. If nothing else, the original Violent Shit trilogy went out with a (literal) bang.
Violent Shit 4.0: Karl the Butcher vs. Axe (2010)
Despite the bold “END OF TRILOGY” proclamation during the end credits of Violent Shit III, Karl the Butcher would return once again about a decade later for the latest bizarre entry in this already strange franchise. It turns out you can’t keep a good lunatic down, quite literally. No, seriously, that’s the impetus of the plot here: Karl the Butcher has been stewing in hell for 25 years, but Satan has some good news for him. Apparently, a new murderer named Axe is threatening to usurp Butcher’s legacy, so the Dark Lord dispatches him back to Earth (because apparently the devil doesn’t want too much mass murdering going down?). By now, it’s the year 2023, and the world has been reduced to a post-apocalyptic wasteland lorded over by various colorful factions, including an all-woman clan that harvests sperm before chopping their captives penises off.
Once again, Schnaas (this time alongside co-director Timo Rose) isn’t just content to do the same old shit. For this final outing, Karl the Butcher conquers a Mad Max style wasteland, as much of the film involves he and Axe massacring the different gangs once they team up (it turns out that Karl is Axe’s son, though that twist is very much telegraphed the minute Axe and his sister brood over their absentee father early in the movie). It predictably devolves into another deranged gore showcase, where the intent is to not disturb but to delight once again as limbs are ruthlessly severed and craniums split in half. By now, you know what to expect from this series when it comes to practical effects, and Schnaas once again delivers for the most part. Clearly, the decade-long layoff did nothing to satisfy either his or Karl’s thirst for bloodshed, as Violent Shit 4 ranks right up there with the other entries in terms of gore quotient.
However, there are few instances of obviously digital gore that feel like a betrayal. Maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, but there are times when Violent Shit 4 reveals its cheapness in a way that’s more obvious and disconcerting than its predecessors. It’s a strange paradox: on its surface, this is easily the best-made Violent Shit movie, so much so that it borders on basic technical competence most of the time. And yet, it somehow feels like the cheapest , or at least the most unappealing: there’s something charming about the scuzzy VHS-era aesthetic of the first three that’s lost in the humdrum white noise of the flat, digital photography here. Somehow, it looks better and worse all at once because it’s so nondescript. The intrusion of more bad digital effects—there are explosions and flames here that look to be ripped straight out of a Super Nintendo game—is a further hindrance that reminds viewers just how far this franchise managed to fall.
And when you’re talking about the Violent Shit franchise, rest assured there isn’t that far to fall to begin with. None of these movies are exactly my cup of tea, but this one is the most unappealing: the characters are now too broad, the effects are too cartoonish (at one point, Karl drinks a potion and inflates in size due to a ridiculous muscle suit), and the entire provocative shtick is just a little too stale at this point. What was once a vital, transgressive franchise ballooned right up its own asshole at this point, a place where even this franchise isn’t likely to escape. Here’s hoping.
Note: Violent Shit 4.0 is the only film in the collection that boasts any supplements. About 25 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage and coverage of the film’s premiere are accompanied by some trailers. Unsurprisingly, the premiere appeared to be a raucous affair, complete with a heavy metal concert.
Zombie ’90: Extreme Pestilence (1991)
Not content to just deliver the entire Violent Shit saga to the world, Synapse has also graciously unleashed Zombie ’90: Extreme Pestilence, the undead epic Schnaas shot between his first two films. Schnaas’s $2000 homespun response to Lucio Fulci and Sami Raimi, Zombie ’90 is a de facto Violent Shit entry, at least in the sense that it’s also little more than a gore showcase masquerading as a feature film. The only difference is that the hulking Karl the Butcher is switched out for an outbreak of flesh-eating ghouls that appears following a plane crash in the German countryside. The world’s only hope in solving this mystery? A pack of doofus doctors who embark on a quest to discover the source of the epidemic and stop it from spreading. To the surprise of no one, they fail miserably, as the zombies wreak gory havoc on anyone that crosses their path.
Quite possibly the most amazing dispatch in this entire collection, Zombie ’90 is delirious SOV nonsense. It’s full of Schnaas’s usual gags, including plenty of crotch-centric violence. His typical envelope-pushing exploits are as juvenile as ever: it’s not just enough a woman is confined to a wheelchair during one scene—no, of course she’s also cradling her child, Leroy Bob (exquisitely brought to life by a dime store baby doll) when zombies swarm upon her and start to rip her apart. It’s the type of dumb shit you roll your eyes at but begrudgingly salute all at once, especially after watching five of these things in as many days. At a certain point, you just have to give yourself over to the feverish parade of arterial blood spray, chunky viscera, and severed heads. At one point, a character begins ripping off zombie heads and tossing them onto the floor, where they splatter like watermelons.
Granted, none of that is anything you can’t see in any of the other Violent Shit movies. What elevates Extreme Pestilence is something Schnaas almost certainly had no hand in: at some point before the film landed American distribution, someone was tasked with dubbing it, and whoever that was clearly had no intentions of completing the task with a straight face. The result is something that’s not dubbed over so much as it’s riffed upon: certainly none of the dialogue is what Schnaas had in mind, nor could anyone have anticipated the ridiculous voices and line deliveries. One of the doctors (a very white man named “Doctor”) sounds like he’s been beamed in from the 70s Blaxploitation circuit, while the other has a voice of a twitchy, cartoonish dweeb. Every character is similarly ridiculous—one guy even claims he has to take a gun with him to take a shit in the woods because it’s the only thing that can repel the smell. Along the way, viewers are treated to bizarre non-sequiturs, from existential musings to feverish nightmares where the doctor thinks the zombies resemble rock stars (they very much do not). This has to be the only zombie movie where a character sings lyrics to “Purple Haze” while fending off the undead.
While I’d usually bemoan this sort of thing, it elevates Zombie ’90 from simple nonsense to genuine curiosity. Schnaas’s otherwise routine bullshit is transformed into the What’s Up Tiger Lily? of splatter movies; a hilarious, raucous exercise in outsider art that gleefully compliments Schnaas’s own anarchic spirit. It might be labelled as an extra feature in this collection, but it’s already the main feature in my heart. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: