Unrated - Cinema of the Extreme

This 1999 directed slasher from Michael Karen marked the German’s first full length feature following a varied career making documentaries, writing scripts and directing German tv shows including “So ist das Leben - Die Wagenfelds” (1995), “Parkhotel Stern” (1996), “Die Diebin” (1997 and “Alarm fuer Cobra 11 -Die Autobahnpolizei” (1999). There is little amongst Karens output to suggest that he would be comfortable making a film of this kind, and FLASHBACK stands as a cliché ridden horror flick, with gaping plot holes, and dislikeable characters, but ultimately delivers the goods for the gorehounds.

Twelve year-old Jeanette witnesses the vicious slaughter of her parents by a sickle wielding transvestite in a flower pattern dress and passes out just as the killer is about to kill her. She goes into shock and is placed into the care of an institution for the mentally unstable. Ten years later her psychiatrist (Erich Schleyer) recommends that Jeanette (Valerie Niehaus), is released from an institution, and arranges for her to work as a private French tutor to a three teenagers, Leon (Xaver Hutter), Melissa (Alexandra Neldel) and Lissy (Simone Hanselmann). Soon the pretty, hormone charged teens are throwing swimming pool parties, holding wet t-shirt competitions, making out, and falling victim to the return of the psycho who has found a sickle in the stable. About three quarters of the way through it’s revealed that Leon and his sisters have been playing tricks on Jeanette, but Leon’s explanation of events goes against everything we’ve already seen. Nevertheless there really is a maniac loose, and the sfx department do deliver some nice prosthetics to prove the point. Gory highlights include the death of the housekeeper (Elke Sommer), a corpse getting churned out by a combine harvester, a teen slashed up in a swimming pool, and the disembowelled remains of several family pets.

But the film fails to generate much in the way of suspense as he characters are thoroughly self-centered, and the script quite ridiculous “What else do you do?” Asks Leon, once Jeanette is settled into the family home. “I teach French.” she replies. Hang on, that’s why she’s there in the first place… and had explained her role to him, ten minutes earlier. Red herrings are thrown into the film similar to those used by the likes of Argento and Lamberto Bava (whose work FLASHBACK sometimes recalls). Stylistically, the film isn’t bad. Water is a recurring motif in the film, we are treated to close-ups of fountains, taps, rainy puddles and swimming pool reflections, symbolic of the unconscious and depths of the imagination, and the film is beautifully photographed by Peter Joachim Krause with sweeping shots of the Alps, dense woodland trails, and breathtaking valleys.

Admittedly the script is the film’s main weakness (I was surprised to learn that Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster supplied the original) and there are some promising scenes involving Jeanette as a child witnessing the slaughter of her parents, the flashback/dream sequences, and the last ten minutes where the psychopath pursues the remaining victim along a mountain path.

This Trimark DVD from Lions Gate boasts a beautiful transfer that does justice to the landscapes, and film’s murder sequences, but avoid the atrociously dubbed English soundtrack that accompanies the German language release.

Carl T. Ford

Directed by Michael Karen

German language with optional English and Spanish subtitles. Alternative English dubbed version

USA / 1999 / 94 minutes.

Interactive Menus. Trailer for USA release
Theatrical Trailer

A Lions Gate Films DVD Release

Region 1. NTSC. Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1.
WS (1.85:1) (16:9)


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