“La Petite Mort” is Orgasmically Gory and on Blu-ray!
Vacationing to Mallorca should have been a relaxing getaway for Simon, his blind girlfriend Nina, and their longtime friend, Dodo, but their flight layover in Frankfurt leaves down idle town to explore the city that’s only a mere two hours from home. Tension between them begin to bubble to the surface when uncertain emotional steps to take relationships to the next level arise and they become inadvertently scammed by a local grifter. Exhaustion sets in and forces them to take refuge in a local dive bar with a specialty for S&M play. The bar is actually a front for the Maison de la Petite Mort, an underground snuff house owned a sadistic woman named Maman who livestreams kink-murders and sells hapless victims to wealthy businessmen with whimsical and perverse deviancies. The flight to Mallorca will be indefinitely delayed as the three friends are now a part of the bloody basement decor awaiting the horrors before them.
“La Petite Mort,” translated from French as literally the little death, is also known as the post-orgasmic sensation, such as a weakness or loss of conscious, that serves as an analogy to death. The phrase is also the title of the 2009 torture-gore film written-and-directed by the German-born Marcel Walz more than a decade before the formation of his now Neon Noir production company. Walz, who later in his career went on to remake the Herschel Gordon Lewis 1963 film, “Blood Feast,” blossoms as a torture porn filmmaker as Walz’s directorial catalogue contains more blood than a blood bank and often stretches the subgenre range of plot machinations from cannibals to dark web to snuff. Made on a few thousand-dollar budget and shot in a real sex club in Mannheim, Germany, “La Petite Mort” touches upon all three plot devices to create a dungeon of splatter and sadism using elements of an unsolved true crime case of a couple gruesomely murdered in an underground murder house as the narrative base. Before Neon Noir, Walz and filmmaker Michael Effenberger, director of “Tortua,” formed Matador Films that became the company behind “La Petite Mort” with Thomas Buresch (“Unrated: The Movie”) and feature actor and director of photography, Andreas Pape (“Toxic Lullaby”) producing.
Films like “La Petite Mort” is a special breed not because of the torture and gore-porn element, which can be an acquired taste for consumers with dark thoughts, fantasies, and morbid curiosities (I fall into the latter category if you’re wondering), but rather the story caters to no singular principal lead nor does is the focus on an ensemble cast. “La Petite Mort” transitions from one group, the naïve backpacking travelers, to the S&M snuff-makers in a flip-flop of point of view and storytelling. All the relationship complexities between the out of concern love from Simon (Andreas Pape) to his even keeled blind girlfriend, Nina (Inés Zahmoul, “La Isla”) as well as the insignificant tiffs and spats between Simon and friend Dodo (Anna Habeck, “Popular”) to see who is in Nina’s favor are quickly swept aside when the trio is trapped and tethered to the S&M spider web of Maman’s Maison de la Petite Mort. While the three travelers produce a mild interest spun out of frivolous dramatics to the like of the normal human population and very much up played by Walz for that very purpose to produce stark contrast against what’s normal for sadomastic pleasure-seekers, Maman, the orchestrator of pain and profit, is the most earnest of principals with a crone-like presence, played inexorably and ruthless by French punk-goth singer Manoush. The certified gypsy and former bodybuilder has made a name for herself in a plethora of extreme, Germanic horror pictures over the last decade, but “La Petite Mort” came early in Manoush’s career and is exhibits why she’s so good at horror, especially at the sadism brand. Maman’s schadenfreude business employs two lesbian dominatrixes, Dominique and Angélique, with strong-stomachs and a healthy bloodthirst. The beautiful femme fatales serve Maman’s unquestionably, almost mindlessly, that only glimpses into possibilities of how the two women became betrothed to do Maman’s bidding. Annika Strauss, who’s been in the screen queen business about as long as and has starred alongside with Manoush on a number of films, is also a Marcel Walz regular casted actress who fits and transforms into just about every character under the black sun of ghoulish and macabre material thrown her way. As Dominique, Strauss is provided more depth to why and how the brunette basket case has come under Maman’s greedy and depraved thumb as the actress shows some slither of concern for the captives while explaining she had no choice just they like them and exhibiting more reserve than her blonde counterpart Angélique (Magdalèna Kalley, “Violent Shit 4”) when the cameras are rolling. Conversations rooted into provocative thought, sympathy, or reason are often few and far in between the constant pleas for help and the screaming matches of pelting threats. “La Petite Mort” finalizes the cast with Martin Hentschel (“Zombie Reanimation”), Tanja Karius (“Necronos”), and Thomas Kercmar (“Space Wolf”) as Klaus der Kobold, a Napoleon-sized elitist wealthy enough to buy people’s lives and enjoy seeing them horrifically mutilated.
One scene overwhelms the diagnostic side of my brain and that is why Maman is torturing Dodo with needles as Manoush delivers a surprising genuine villainous monologue about sadomasochists being judged by normal people and how her character has a liberated, uninhibited sexuality in a moment that is a powerful argument in favor for sadomasochism to exist without shame. Thinking about this, I’m not aware of any publicized S&M clubs, especially those that aren’t criticized for being deviant, perverse, and secular. After that one moment of vulnerability, “La Petite Mort” turns into a choke-down bloodbath with some great and some not-so-great special effects by one of Germany’s gore film greats, Olaf Ittenbach, director and F/X artist of “Premutos: The Fallen Angel” and “Legion of the Dead.” Ittenbach brings me to another overwhelming scene, one that churns the contents of your stomach, involving a meat grinder, a hand, and a chalice. “La Petite Mort” has other notable grisly moments of scalping, castrating, eye-plucking, and disemboweling, all of which are in great gooey-gory detail. What takes away from the gore scenes is Walz fluttering effect or grindhouse-esque edited framed overlay that, in my wildest guess, is supposed to enhance the extreme acts of violence, torture, and death in conjunction with composer Michael Donner’s industrial rumble and pulsing synth score. Instead, the effect becomes nothing more than a cinematic nuisance, an eyesore that dilutes Ittenbach’s best handywork because that scalping scene is the chef’s kiss of tactual realism. Based on a true story that I can’t seem to find any record of, “La Petite Mort,” for a brief few minutes, becomes a promulgating champion for alternate sexualities and is also a showcase for Olaf Ittenbach to shock and disgust but for what the feature is worth, “La Petite Mort” offers only emptiness in both character conviction and story narrative.
A fitting entry into the shockingly weird and grotesque “Unearthed Films'” independent film catalogue, “La Petite Mort” arrives onto a high definition, 1080p Blu-ray home video. Presented in a 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, Walz bookends his callous-cladded cult film with a yellowish-tan tint while the girth of the story is laced with more gel coloring under no hinderance of tint. Low lighting with low contrast markers, mixed with tropical-warm gel coloring and strobe flashing fabricates the sunless and dank murder basement but any exterior shots, even the bookend act one and act three are rendered with poor resolution for digital recording. Only a single audio track is available with a German LPCM 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles and what’s rendered is likely the best quality to get from the masters from the lossy format. Dialogue is often unrefined, and the levels vary, but for the most part clean and free from obstruction. The track has limited ambience and harps heavily on the gory moments while Michael Donner’s dark industrial score takes the brunt of the overall soundtrack. Subtitle synchronization varies as well with millisecond flashes of translations that are impossible to read or even pause perfectly on, but the translations appear flawless and consolidated from the dialect for easy reading. The Unearthed Films’ bonus content is aplenty with a new commentary and interview with director Marcel Walz. Also included is a feature-length making of “La Petite Mort” with raw handheld camcorder footage, shot by The Bad Boy character in the film, behind-the-scenes footage, and even some 16mm footage that go reel deep into the effects and life of independent filmmakers. An archived interview with special effects artist Olaf Ittenbach, deleted scenes, photo gallery, teaser trailer, official trailer, “La Petite Mort 2” trailer, and the VHS intro that’s essentially a Marcel Walz introduction of the VHS home video release round out the bonus content. The physical attributes are a clear, Blu-ray snapper case with reversible cover art with the inside sleeve containing a more graphic torture not suited for retail shelves. The region A encoded, 77-minute feature is not rated. If invested for the kills, “La Petite Mort” pleases to overindulge the desire and is a solid first torture-porn effort from a then young Marcel Walz who continues to rise in the niche market.