A dry portrait of Germany’s most famous serial killer Fritz Haarmann by Ulli Lommel

The Tenderness of the Wolves is a dry, almost detached German movie of a disturbing subject from German history. Rainer Werner Fassbinder produced this Ulli Lommel-directed film about Germany’s most famous serial killer. Fritz Haarmann, known as the Butcher of Hanover and the Vampire of Hanover, was a serial killer responsible for the murders of over two dozen boys and young men during hard times for Germany after World War I. He was executed in 1925. His case would inspire Fritz Lang’s M and this brutal, more explicit 1973 film.

Director Ulli Lommel’s name became synonymous with cheap exploitation films in a career that spanned over sixty films. The Tenderness of the Wolves is atypical for the German director’s career. More arthouse cinema than an exploitation film, it’s a frank and detached character piece depicting notorious serial killer Fritz Haarmann as he prowls for underaged teen boys.

Played by Kurt Raab, this movie is one of the few where the lead actor also wrote the screenplay. His memorable lead performance is the reason to see the German movie. Featuring a bevy of cast and crew associated with Fassbinder, it is firmly placed in the mold of New German Cinema from the early Seventies.

Possibly due to budget, Lommel shifts the setting from its actual historical period of the Twenties to the Forties in Germany. That allows Lommel to place Haarmann in the midst of the Nazis and that social milieu.

If you go in expecting a graphic horror movie, you will wind up seeing a German drama…

The story is fairly simple in a film that barely runs over eighty minutes. A gay serial killer hides in plain sight from the corrupt police force as a petty criminal they tolerate. Little do the German police suspect Haarmann is responsible for the wave of missing teen boys and young men. A female neighbor grows concerned when she notices many young men visit Haarmann’s room above hers but never sees them leaving. Haarmann’s has a gay lover that knows about the killings and tolerates them, Grans (Jeff Roden).

Coming out at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in Germany, The Tenderness of the Wolves does not flinch depicting Haarmann’s homosexual desires for underage teens. It is quite explicit in that regard. While Haarmann is a serial killer, this is not a slasher or even a proto-slasher. The film eschews grisly scenes most of the time, though it insinuates that Haarmann is butchering his victims and selling the meat as a side business. If you go in expecting a graphic horror movie, you will wind up seeing a German drama that just so happens to be about a serial killer.

The Tenderness of the Wolves is a slow, mannered thriller about one of history’s most famous European serial killers. Kurt Raab poses a credibly menacing, creepy Fritz Haarmann. A web of loose associates surrounding the killer allow him to murder with impunity. Is that some kind of historical social commentary? That was probably intended but it comes off cold and distant for those without in-depth knowledge of German history. This is a well-made, dark film that feels out of step with its intentions.

Movie★★★☆☆

Tenderness of the Wolves Blu-ray screen shot 4

Arrow Video has provided this information:

Tenderness of the Wolves was restored by the Rainer Fassbinder Foundation and is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with mono 1.0 sound.

The original 35mm camera negative was scanned and restored in 2K resolution. All restoration work was performed at ARRI Media Restoration, Munich. All materials for this restoration were supplied by the Rainer Fassbinder Foundation.

This is a quality film scan from solid elements kept in nice condition. The cinematography isn’t super sharp but features a nice, well-balanced color palette. The AVC video encode is excellent at managing the grain structure, though a hint of chroma noise pops up in one scene. The presence of minor ringing indicates Arrow Video didn’t strike this transfer themselves. The overall picture is soft but mostly detailed. Minor crushing intrudes in one early scene. The steady contrast is fairly pleasing for vintage film with even flesh-tones.

Interestingly enough, the film has been matted at 1.66:1 before by other distributors. That was a common aspect ratio in European cinema but I have no information one way or the other which is more correct. Arrow’s presentation is a solid, film-like approach that looks superior to all prior releases. This release’s transfer isn’t quite up to Arrow Video’s recent standards but remains a well-done presentation.

Video ★★★★☆

The original German mono soundtrack comes in fine, clear-sounding 2.0 PCM audio. The fidelity is crisp with intelligible German dialogue. The sound design is even and includes a few special moments of Classical music. This is a well-mastered audio presentation for a low-budget 1973 movie. Clarity is on the high end considering the source.

The optional English subtitles display in a white font.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Arrow Video provides a well rounded suite of special features, including new interviews with the film’s director and cinematographer. This comes in their standard Blu-ray and DVD combo package. A reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil is nicely done. An illustrated booklet features new writing on the film by Tony Rayns.

Director’s Audio commentary – German director Ulli Lommel and German journalist Uwe Huber deliver an English commentary that covers the nuts and bolts of making this film. Lommel seems quite proud of the film and provides a generous amount of scene-specific details delving into its making.

The Tender Wolf (25:05 in HD) – A brand-new, in-depth interview with director Ulli Lommel in English. This is an animated interview by the German director as he recounts making the film in fairly exacting detail.

Photographing Fritz (24:24 in HD) – A newly-filmed interview with director of photography Jürgen Jürges. He discusses at length how this was his first movie as cinematographer and his use of Inkys, special lights intended for dramatic purposes. It gives the movie a very Fritz Lang aesthetic. In German with English subtitles.

Haarmann’s Victim Talks (16:07 in HD) – A newly-filmed interview with actor Rainer Will, one of Fritz’s young victims in the film. In German with English subtitles.

An Appreciation by Stephen Thrower – (41:14 in HD) – Author of Nightmare USA and Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesús Franco, Thrower has been seen before as an expert on cult cinema from other Arrow special features. Briefly covering Lommel’s more exploitative career, this documentary dwells on The Tenderness of Wolves. This is standard background information and analysis for cult cinema.

Stills Gallery (00:27 in HD)

Theatrical Trailer (03:05 in HD)

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil

Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Tony Rayns, editor of the first English-language book on Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Hidden Easter Egg – Press ‘An Appreciation by Stephen Thrower’ in the special features menu by pressing right and right again to hear a rendition of the ‘Haarmann Song’.

Extras ★★★★☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.