Ulli Lommel is a director who has certainly become infamous for his very long list of films which usually fit the bill of "worst movie ever made", especially in the 2000s and onward when he started making zero budget direct-to-video serial killer movies, such as "Zodiac Killer" (2004), "Black Dahlia" (2006) and "Son of Sam" (2008), as well as cheaply made horror films in general like the notorious "Zombie Nation" (2004) and "The Raven" (2006).
Lommel's infamy is also asscoiated to the Boogeyman 'franchise' that Lommel milked in the worst way imaginable. The series consists of sequels like "Boogeyman II" (1983) (and the even worse Boogeyman 2 Redux - Director's Cut version released in 2003) and "Return of the Boogeyman" (1993), these sequels did nothing more than have 40% (or less) new footage which was cheaply made and poorly acted while the rest of the films runtimes were just made up of flashbacks that recycled footage from Lommel's original 1980 film "The Boogeyman", a film that was famous for being a banned video nasty here in the UK and gained a little cult following. Lommel's original Boogeyman was a big hit in the States, an independently made slasher film that made millions in the box office and caught the interest of Paramount Pictures who wanted to sign Lommel up for a big budget sequel, which he turned down to make his independently made clip show sequel instead.
Lommel seemed to find his calling in the world of indie horror and would then go on to make decent horror, thrillers, like "Olivia" (1983), "Brainwaves" (1983), and "The Devonsville Terror" (1983). Far from masterpieces, but much better than his later work in the world of DTV. Lommel would then span out to different genres in the 80s, making all sorts of movies, like the hilariously bad and crazy gems "Strangers in Paradise" (1984) and "Overkill" (1987), and then bad movies like "Revenge of the Fallen Stars" (1986) and "IFO" (1987). To many, "The Boogeyman" is that one sole highlight in Lommel's much maligned career and the rest of his films range from either "so bad that they are bad", or "so bad that they are entertaining". Lommel has been considered to many as the next Ed Wood (Revenge of the Stolen Stars actor Barry Hickey called Lommel "probably one of the worst directors in Hollywood. Like Ed Wood.") and it's easy to see why, Lommel's films were usually packed full of bad acting, terrible dialogue, huge continuity errors, line flubs, crew or equipment visible in shots, incoherent story telling, strange angles and choppy editing, and much more that made his films, especially his later ones, on par with the legendary Ed Wood.
But things were not always this way, in the beginning, back in Lommel's native homeland of Germany, he was actually someone with a lot of promise. Ulli Lommel had a working relationship with the legendary auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder, acting in many of his films. But acting wasn't the only thing Lommel did in Germany with Fassbinder, he also directed and believe it or not but these films actually showed that Lommel was a director with style and skill, his early work showed a man who may not have been the next Fassbinder but was pretty close to being on par with him, and it all began here with this little seen and little known art house, sci-fi movie "Haytabo", starring Eddie Constantine who many may remember from Jean Luc-Godard's 1965 classic "Alphaville".
Now the plot of the film, for those who speak German, may be more deeper because they can understand it, I can't really say what happens too much story wise because the DVD only came with German audio and no English subtitles, but the synopsis on IMDB gives a clear idea what the film is basically about and due to the abstract and artistic nature of the film, I have a feeling that the movie is less about plot and more about the visuals which are stunning. Despite the language barrier, the structure of the film was easy to follow, and I never once felt lost when watching it. It's kind of funny when an abstract art film in a language I don't understand made by Lommel is much easier to follow than Lommel's later English films which jumped around spastically and virtually were hard to follow (Overkill for example).
Another thing unlike Lommel's later films is that this movie is actually photographed well, it is a visually beautiful and fascinating movie, it certainly is an art film, one could imagine a painter had directed it, one scene which stood out to me was a great shot of a sky in the middle of sunset, it was gorgeous and the combination of Elton John's Love Song added to the overall impact of the moment. The message of the film is evident in the film, it's about life and living it to the fullest, make the most of it and cherish it because no one can live forever, immortality is nothing more than an unattainable dream.
There are also many more great shots, creative framing, and unique filmed moments, a nice usage of slow motion here and there that adds to the art house nature of the movie, and an amazing soundtrack that complimented the visuals. It showed that Lommel had an eye and a distinct vision that would have made him an artistic pioneer right up there with Fassbinder had he gone down that road. Speaking of Fassbinder, the great director has a little cameo in the film.
However, the film is not 100% flawlessly made, even back then, working with Fassbinder himself, Lommel showed traits of becoming the next Ed Wood, there is one scene, ironically during the Fassbinder cameo, where there is a revealing error. Fassbinder's scene takes place in an old ruined building out in the snow, but for one brief moment, what seems to be an insert pick-up shot done later during the shoot, Fassbinder is standing in front of a sheet which has been painted to resemble the snow covered ruin. This wouldn't be so obvious if it wasn't for the fact that the camera is placed in such an angle that you can see the edge of the sheet and the hand of the crew member in the background holding it in what appears to be a stage.
These kinds of Ed Wood style goofs would later plague Lommel's career. The original 1983 version of Boogeyman II has an opening credits sequence for the original cut (which used the title Revenge of the Boogeyman) that uses white title cards with red birthday cake style text, and twice you see the crew member's fingers holding them.
But "Haytabo" was Lommel's first film and mistakes often happen for a first time filmmaker, especially one working on such a small budget. That one error aside during the Fassbinder cameo, the film is a fantastic first attempt and never feels cheap or low budget at all, it is very much a work of art. And his second film with Fassbinder producing, "Die Z√§rtlichkeit der W√∂lfe" (1973) (The Tenderness of the Wolves) is even greater, showing that Lommel was learning and growing under the guidance of Fassbinder. His other German works without Fassbinder were hit or miss, but his third film with Fassbinder producing and with actor Kurt Raab (who starred and wrote Tenderness of the Wolves) starring in, "Adolf und Marlene" (1977) (Adolf and Marlene) showed Lommel getting it right again. After that, Lommel went off to America and made two films under the guidance of another artist, the legendary Andy Warhol, "Cocaine Cowboys (1979) and "Blank Generation" (1980), two bizarre movies that have a nice mix of Lommel and Warhol.
It's clear to see with his directorial debut and following films that Lommel had untapped potential that worked best when working with Fassbinder. Without his guiding hand, Lommel seemed to stumble, sometimes making good films and usually making bad ones. Lommel naturally couldn't work with Fassbinder forever, and it was only normal for Lommel to want to spread his wings and make films by himself, but maybe he just needed a few extra years as an apprentice directing films with Fassbinder teaching him everything he knew, then when he did go off to America to work by himself, his films may have worked out far better than they did. Who knows, but one thing is certain, the three films Lommel made with Fassbinder must be seen. "Haytabo" is only available on a German DVD but isn't too hard to find, if you understand the language you will get even more out of it, if not, sit back and be ready to get lost in a surreal and dream-like journey. "Tenderness of the Wolves" is very easy to get, Arrow Films recently released a Blu-Ray DVD combo that is the definitive purchase. "Adolf and Marlene" sadly is more obscure and very hard to track down, if you can find it, watch it.
If you have ever wondered if Lommel ever could direct a film, "Haytabo", "Tenderness of the Wolves", and "Adolf and Marlene" were proof that he could.
Review by Rautus from the Internet Movie Database.