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Teuton horror helmers take off

Growth primed as underground spurs pic prod'n

BERLIN — Auds these days seem to have an insatiable appetite for blood. With Mel Gibson’s gory epic pulling in hundreds of millions worldwide and zombiefest “Dawn of the Dead” topping the B.O., brutality is not only now respectable but boffo.

And, despite heavy censorship, Germany has been nurturing its own brand of homegrown horror.

That’s because, says producer-publisher and Splatter Day Night Fever fest topper Yazid Benfeghoul, “Germany has a large underground scene, and you always get that where censorship is very strict.”

There are several forefathers to the German gore scene:

  • Back in 1987, Joerg Buttgereit’s “Nekromantik”, a no-budget, self-distribbed arthouse horror story of “love for your fellow man and what remains” gained instant notoreity before being banned. It continues to sell on video via Barrel Entertainment in the U.S. and in other countries.

  • Olaf Ittenbach made history with “Burning Moon” as “the first filmmaker to be fined for glorifying violence.”

  • The Schnaas family should have kept a closer eye on little Andreas. His “sneaking into the cinema and love of horror” and persuading friends to ante up $3,500 resulted in “Violent Shit” (Hint: It does what it says on the can). Available on video in Japan, the U.S., Germany, England, France, Benelux and Spain, it spawned two sequels.

Now Germany’s goremeisters are poised for breakout.

With Ittenbach, Benfeghoul and partners raised $500,000 to make “Beyond the Limits.” This past December it entered the homevideo charts in seventh place, beating out “Final Destination 2.”

“Budgets have grown,” says Timo Rose, currently lensing the Jesus-as-leader-of-a-zombie-army pic “Lord of the Undead.” “The future is good actors, stories and camerawork.”

Starring scream queen Debbie Rochon, pic also features guest appearances by Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, local helmer Peter Thorwarth, thesp Xenia Seeberg, soap mainstay Clemens Richter and Teuton rapper Ferris MC.

For his next project, his first English-lingo feature, “Live Bait” (“Starship Troopers” meets “American Werewolf”), penned by American Ted Geoghegan, Rose is looking to raise $8 million and shoot on 35mm.

Thomas Buresch, prexy of German vid distribbery Laser Paradise, says, “Horror sells very well everywhere, customers value it,” but local censorship is still an issue. “As producers we can rarely release uncut.”

Even so, these movies are always crowd-pullers at fests such as Spain’s Sitges or Germany’s six-city Fantasy Filmfest.

Fest director Rainer Stefan has seen the fest grow to an impressive audience of more 130,000 horror and fantasy fans.

“Not even the biggest German productions,” says Buttgereit, “can boast the range of countries these films can be seen in.”

As filmmakers Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi have done, German horror filmmakers are poised to take their extreme visions to the next level.

“There are excellent growth opportunities,” says Andreas Strassmann, topper of home distribbery CMV-Laservision.

(Susi Klein contributed to this report.)

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