Gothic Horror from Germany

Robert Sigls LAURIN (1987) on DVD (e-m-s, Germany)


Fantastic genre cinema is very rare in Germany – especially in the eighties, just when the Italian horror film reached another peak with Dario Argentos OPERA (1985). The cliché of the German 'easy comedy‘ ruled the mainstream production then and it appeared as a kind of miracle when 27 years old director Robert Sigl was awarded the Bavarian film prize for his debut feature: the Gothic horror fairy tale LAURIN in 1988.

In a sinister German city at the seaside in the 19th century the nine year old girl Laurin (Dora Szinetar) grows up, her youth overshadowed by a dark fate: once her mother died by a mysterious accident – and her father is often absent for he is a sailor. But there are visions torturing her fragile soul as well. She is more and more convinced that the murder of a little boy could be connected to her mother’s death. When the new teacher Van Rees (Karoly Eperjes) – son to the dominant local priest – starts working in her school, her nightmare visions become more intense and concrete. Laurin’s sickly boyfriend Stefan (Barnabas Toth) and the girl herself decide to solve the mystery of the local child killings which Laurin seems to forsee in her dreams. Nearly risking their lives they uncover the teacher Van Rees as the homosexual killer. Once Laurin’s mother witnessed one of his crimes and died by accident on her attempt to escape. In the robe of her dead mother Laurin succeeds to frighten the killer who dies falling down the stairs - into a huge rusty nail.

Robert Sigl graduated the film school in Munich writing a long analysis of Roman Polanskis THE TENANT (1976). Immediatly after that he managed to sell his script LAURIN and raised to money to shoot the film in eastern Europe – 'where there are places where we didn’t even have to change anything – it still looked like hundred years ago‘, he says. Although made with a minimum budget he manages to awake the brooding atmosphere of some of Werner Herzogs historical dramas, even preserving the magical realism of Herzogs NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979). Polanski, Herzog, Jacques Tourneur, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick are clearly Sigl’s references. But there are also glimpses of Dario Argentos and Lucio Fulcis gothic horror films of the seventies (e.g. INFERNO, 1980, and THE BEYOND, 1981). Sigl highlights the psycho-thriller-structure by creating an almost surreal atmosphere by using coloured lights (red, blue and green) contrasting the monochrome historical settings. His fetishizing of certain details (a doll, the robe, the nail, a photo of the mother etc.) also reminds of the excessive close-up-style of Argento. All these element seem to live a life of their own. Sigl’s vision du monde is an animistic one indeed...

Viewers of Sigl’s early short film THE CHRISTMAS TREE will also realized another familiar element: the father/son-conflict, driven by a dark and destructive homosexual desire which creates a very disturbing mood of latent violence and suppression. The relation of father and son Van Rees in LAURIN is characterized that way. And it also seems to be important that the old man Van Rees is a radical and apocalyptic catholic priest. ‘I hate the christian church and especially the pope,’ says Sigl, whose other projects so far – most of them unfilmed by now – also include elements of gothic horror, occultism, heresy, and a perverse homoerotic undertone. One will also discover these elements in the GIGA SHADOW-episode Sigl directed for the German-Canadian TV-series LEXX – THE DARK ZONE, while the gothic horror re-appears in his teeny-slasher SCHOOL’S OUT (2000, available on Video in the USA).

Fans of LAURIN, this truly unique attempt of German gothic fiction – bringing life to a world coined by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s NOSFERATU and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s literature at the same time –, will unfortunately still have to wait for another equal output by this very rare phenomenon Robert Sigl: a German genre film maker.

Note: LAURIN is available as a director’s cut special edition on DVD in Germany (e-m-s media), also featuring the English dubbed version.

Marcus Stiglegger