Color, 1996, 118 mins. 4 secs. / 107 mins. 54 secs.
Directed by Martin Walz
Starring Udo Samel, Peter Lohmeyer, Iris Berben, Leonard Lansink, Marc Richter, Evelyn Künneke
Vinegar Syndrome (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0/RA 4K/HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Troma (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Koch Media (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL), Stomp Visual (DVD) (Australia R4 PAL) / WS (1.78:1)
Try this one on for size. Back in the mid-'90s, future Michael Haneke repertory player and frequent comedy actor Udo Samel (The Piano Teacher, The Seventh Continent) headlined a satirical German monster spoof about a homicidal prophylactic, co-produced by Ascot Elite head and sexploitation maven Erwin C. Dietrch who gave us such Jess Franco favorites as Doriana Gray, Barbed Wire Dolls, and Blue Rita. Oh, and the special effects including giant, rampaging condom with fangs were the handiwork of the legendary Jörg Buttgereit, better known for directing Nekromantik and Der Todesking (and consulting here with none other than H.R. Giger). In a particularly surreal move, the German-language film is set on the mean streets of New York with frequent references to the boroughs, making this a lunatic descendant of sorts from the numerous Edgar Wallace Krimis set in England. Based on comic books by co-writer Ralf König, Killer Condom (originally Kondom des Grauens) has the kind of title that jumps off the video shelf; it's also quite a bit smarter and edgier than you might expect, taking on the perceptions of sexuality that were prevalent around the world after a decade-plus of dealing with the AIDS crisis and an awful lot of repression.
At the seedy Hotel Quickie, something nasty is afoot when a sleazy college professor tries to put the moves on his very reluctant student -- only to get some justified payback when one of the hotel's free condoms turns his nether regions into a blood-spraying mess. This is the latest in a recent rash of gory incidents the cops are trying to blame on the women involved since, as they say, "There are four cocks in the lab, neatly lined up side by side, but these girls are all playing dumb." Intrepid Italian expat cop Luigi Mackeroni (Samel) is on the case and gets the hots for a rent boy, Billy (Richter), who frequents the premises, but the assignment takes a nasty turn when the insanely endowed Luigi is mangled by one of the carnivorous contraceptives with a taste for testes. Helping him out is Bob (Lansink), now Babette, an ex-cop now making a living doing hotel drag shows. Now the battle is on to save the dongs of New York and for Mackeroni to get revenge against the diabolical forces responsible for this monstrous outbreak.
Though the title and basic premise might sound like a jokey schlock movie, Killer Condom has quite a few clever surprises up its sleeve -- not least in making gay characters its heroes and the most dimensional characters in the entire film. Fans of films by the likes of Frank Henenlotter and early Peter Jackson should get on the same wavelength as this one right away, and this is easily one of the best acquisitions snapped up by Troma during its really wild period in the mid-'90s along with The Stendhal Syndrome and the previous year's Frostbiter. Troma issued the film on VHS and then DVD, featuring a very unimpressive flat letterboxed presentation with burned-in English subtitles. The main plus of that DVD was a very funny, anecdote-packed commentary by director-writer Martin Walz and Buttgereit, while the rest of the disc is filled with the usual unrelated Troma ephemera.
In 2023, Vinegar Syndrome gave the film an outrageously upgraded presentation with a three-disc(!) edition featuring a 4K UHD and two Blu-rays. Both the UHD and first Blu-ray feature an extended director's cut of the film clocking in at 118 minutes, complete with more weirdness, more nightclub performances, etc. The film looks gorgeous here with extremely robust colors, more image in the frame, impressive detail... no issues at all, and the HDR grading on the UHD really makes the film pop with those wild reds and golds all over the place. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 German stereo track sounds excellent as well and features newly translated English subtitles, plus a new Waltz and Buttgereit track for this cut covering stealing NYC location footage through a manhole cover, the shooting situation in Berlin at the time, the casting process, and the creation of the various condom critters, among plenty more subjects. Also on the first Blu-ray are several featurettes starting with "A Rough Ride" (35m23s) featuring Walz talking about having Giger on the set, the unorthodox funding process, the actors he already knew before the shoot, and the process of vetting potential effects artists. Then Walz appears in the amusing "This Is What We Built!" (19m45s) for a "show and tell" featuring Giger sketches, storyboards, lobby cards, magazines, comic books, newspapers ads, and other odds and ends. In "Severed Parts" (25m55s), Buttgereit chats about coming to this right after Schramm, his frustration with German censorship, the process of how he got brought onto this film, and the state of '90s indie German moviemaking in general. Finally in "Rubber and Rushes" (21m9s), editor Simone Klier talks about how her love of Billy Wilder got her the job on this film, the fairly rushed turnaround schedule and long hours, and the inspiration she took from some of the personalities on the set.
The second Blu-ray features the original 108-minute theatrical cut of the film, in equally excellent quality and featuring the archival Waltz and Buttgereit commentary. In "Holy Mackeroni!" (18m45s), Walz and Samel have a great time looking back at the film and swapping funny stories from the set, including comparisons to Samel's previous cop roles and working with aggressive condom puppets. "What Is This?" (14m3s), features actor Adriana Altaras very vigorously talking about the making of the film, along with her professional history after growing up in Croatia. In "It’s Just a Movie" (22m49s), actor Peter Lohmeyer covers his move into acting after considering going into social work, his earlier gay-themed gig on Maybe... Maybe Not, and his encounters with Walz that ended up getting him a very vivid role in this film dressed up in leather gear. "Really Special Items" (14m21s) features prop collector Roman Güttinger showing off his very impressive storage area loaded with horror items including extensive key items from this film -- some of which you won't believe. Then you get a 2003 short film by Waltz, Ich hätt’s ihm früher sagen sollen… (7m27s), about two women having a unique kind of guy trouble, an archival making-of featurette (9m37s), a raw 10m49s reel of production footage, some EPK-style cast interviews (8m57s) from the set, a silly archival "Would You Use This Condom?" featurette (1m55s) with man on the street interviews, the theatrical trailer, and a video trailer.
VINEGAR SYNDROME (UHD)
Reviewed on September 1, 2023.