Kondom des Grauens
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DIRECTED BY: Martin Walz
FEATURING: Udo Samel, Peter Lohmeyer, Marc Richter, Leonard Lansink, Iris Berben
PLOT: Hard-boiled detective Luigi Mackeroni sets out to stop a malevolent predator resembling a prophylactic that uses its razor-sharp teeth to perform impromptu penectomies on the patrons of sex workers at a grungy New York flophouse.
COMMENTS: Does anyone go into a movie titled Killer Condom with high expectations? Before you’ve seen a frame, you’re already primed for an experience that will be trashy fun at best, exploitative and gross at worst. And your reservations will only be reinforced when you learn that the title is in no way metaphorical; the movie really is about a killer condom.
Reality turns out to be much better than expectation, because that title monster—a ravenous rubber that looks like a Snapchat logo but with the teeth of a fluke—is an ideal metaphor for the movie itself. So much of Kondom des Grauens is about misleading appearances. For one thing, it’s distributed (though not made) by, with all the crudeness, grotesquerie, and DGAF attitude attached to that label, and yet it has a sweetness and enlightened viewpoint not often found in films produced by the studio. For another, it’s a movie about the seedy side of gay culture that is decidedly pro-gay, complete with a central romance and an unexpected level of empathy for a trans character. Most significantly, it’s a typical New York police procedural that’s distinguished by the fact that everyone in the film is speaking German.
It’s a measure of how much Western audiences have been trained to accept their stories in English, regardless of time or setting, that the language is the part that feels most bizarre about the film. And while turnabout is fair play, the lengths to which the filmmakers go to provide some verisimilitude only adds to the confusion of seeing this parade of New Yorkers delivering their lines in German. Ample Manhattan location shooting magnifies the many tropes that die Deutschen leave intact: the gruff black police chief who frequently threatens to take the hero’s badge, the tough-as-nails medical examiner with a blindness for social niceties, the parade of undesirables who wander through the fleabag flophouse (bearing the name “Hotel Quickie”). Killer Condom could pass for a low-budget Charles Bronson flick, if not for the Teutonic dialogue.
Foremost among the required elements is our hero, the impeccably named Luigi Mackeroni. Like many a downtrodden movie cop, he spends his days wandering the streets of the Big Apple, monologuing in voiceover about what a dump it is and how he would maybe be better off in his native Sicily (again, this is all in German). He’s pretty good at his job, gunning down one scumbag while trapping another with a gas pipe. But expectations are quickly upturned with the reveal that Mackeroni is gay, utterly unconflicted about his sexuality, and bears a literal foot-long schlong which he uses as bait for the little monsters. “I’m not interested in women! I like firm male asses, not pissflaps,” he angrily tells his straight partner. “I want to be tolerated, accepted and understood!” You get your stereotypical hero cop, but with a sizeable twist.
Screenwriter Rolf König carries over a substrata of social commentary from his original comic book. Consider the prevalence of AIDS at the time of the story, and you start to recognize a layer of libertarianism that arises from being to forced to wear condoms in order to survive. In addition, the prudish hatred for homosexuality and sex work is exemplified by the arrival of conservative presidential candidate Dick McGouvern (another fantastic name), whose own assault by a toothy Trojan finally earns the attention of the police and the media: a parody of the ignorance of the growing AIDS crisis until it finally affected a celebrity. (Points also scored for the pitch-perfect headline on the New York Post-looking rag: “Dickless Dick.”) It’s no surprise that the mastermind of this evil plot is motivated by fundamentalist bigotry. Kondom des Grauens is not free of stereotype or poorly aged cringe, but it wears its heart proudly.
Special attention must be paid to the titular characters. (The legendary H. R. Giger, the mastermind behind the Alien, gets a “creative consultant” nod.) They are a very goofy threat. The little sex slickers coo like Mogwai and bounce about like pixies. They’re utterly ridiculous—until they unveil a mouth full of tiny daggers and things get serious right quick. (In a moment of brilliant stupidity, we even get a killer condom POV shot, all oily and latex-y.) Considering all the moral baggage and societal awkwardness associated with condoms, Walz and König smartly recognize that the silliness is actually a selling point for the horror. That which we don’t want to talk about can do us grievous harm.
Killer Condom isn’t a great film, and most of its weirdness lies in the satisfaction it derives from a parodist’s dedication to leading you to a familiar place and then walloping you over the head with a surprise. But it’s a shockingly successful piece of low entertainment, with a heart and a brain working to ennoble what would otherwise be dismissed. It’s ridiculous, it’s crass, and it’s one of the finest examples of ridiculous crassness out there. Take this advice: put it on.
Ed. note: Soon after this review was completed, Vinegar Syndrome released a lavish, limited edition 3-disc 4K UHD/Blu-ray edition of Killer Condom, with a director’s cut alongside the original theatrical version and an entire Blu-ray’s worth of extra features. This set will not be available through major retailers (at least until used copies start showing up), so for the time being you can only get it directly from Vinegar Syndrome.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…it’s a genuine oddity even for a Troma film… it takes place in a surrealistic New York City, where everyone from flag-waving politicians to bumpkin tourists speaks impeccable German… less a horror film than a dark, erratic, Delicatessen-like comedy…” – Nathan Rabin, The A.V. Club (DVD)
(This movie was nominated for review by Alex, among others. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)