Ulli Lommel is fascinating figure in cinema because he is extensively a hack filmmaker. Lommel started working with Rainer Werner Fassbinder in the late ’60s as an actor and Fassbinder gave him cash to make The Tenderness of the Wolves. For years it’s often debated if Fassbinder himself directed The Tenderness of the Wolves but has since been debunked. Lommel had a hit with the horror film The Boogeyman in 1980 and since then made tons of terrible direct to video dreck likeThe Zodiac Killer and Black Dahlia to cash in on better Hollywood productions made around the same subjects.
The Tenderness of the Wolves like his later films is about a serial killer but it’s made with flashes of brilliance unlike those later films. It’s based on the true story of Fritz Haarmann who was a gay man who preyed on young men and boys; he also ate some of his victims not unlike the later American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Haarmann was one of the first serial killers of the modern age and was initially able to hide his crimes because he worked as police informant. Fassbinder was going to direct but for whatever reasons he gave the project to Lommel but it was rumoured despite being a controversial figure himself he found the subject material too controversial to make at the time.
The film’s style is heavily influenced by Fritz Lang’s films especially M which also dealt with a serial killer who killed children and was in turn loosely inspired by Haarman along with others serial killers in Germany in the 1920s. Kurt Raab who plays Haarman who also wrote the screenplay and art direction was also a gay man who would later die of aids and he looks like a cross like Peter Lorre in M and Max Schreck in Nosferatu in the film. The rest of the cast is full of more Fassbinder’s troupe of actors like Margit Carstensen, Brigitte Mira, El Hedi ben Salem and Fassbinder himself even has a small role in the role.
Lommel’s film is a lost classic of New German Cinema that is as good if not better than many of Fassbinder’s films at the time. It was a big smash in Germany and opened the Berlin film festival but wasn’t ever released in US but shockingly was passed uncut in the UK probably due to the Fassbinder connection. Arrow’s release includes interviews Lommel (who also provides an audio commentary), the cinematographer Jürgen Jürges, actor Rainer Will and a fantastic appreciation by Stephen Thrower who gives lots of context to the proceedings.