Udo in T.O.

Yes, this movie is REAL.On Sunday August 30th German actor Udo Kier participated in a conversation about his career at Toronto’s Bloor Cinema as part of the Festival of Fear weekend, via presenters Rue Morgue and David Daniloff Productions.

The event, billed as Diabolical Revelations: An Intimate Evening with Udo Kier, began with a chunky 20 min. intro by host/interviewer Bruce LaBruce, and Kier periodically provided anecdotes from the various films in his lengthy career, and the diverse filmmakers with which he’s worked since 1966.

Friend and filmmaker Peter Cho attended that night (I was plowing through reviews and was unable to join in on the fun) and he kindly provided the pair of pictures that show Kier on stage in a relaxed atmosphere, and standing outside of the Bloor Cinema (RM publisher/filmmaker Rod Gudino is more visible than the lucky fan posing with Kier).

... Udo relaxed...


Apparently the Q&A with the appreciative audience went short due to a time overrun, but some clips of the night will undoubtedly appear online, like this brief excerpt on YouTube.

Why is Kier so beloved by horror fans, and regarded as one of the most charismatic cult figures in indie and European film?

Perhaps the best starting points is his horror diptych for director Paul Morrissey, Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (1973) and Andy Warhol’s Dracula (1974) – the former filmed in 3-D – which gave Kier starring roles after he’d enjoyed minor starring and supporting parts in The Road to St. Tropez (1966), a short that marked the film debuts of Kier and writer/director Michael Sarne (Myra Breckinridge); the Italian film Season of the Senses / La stagione dei sensi (1969), one of Dario Argento’s early screenwriting efforts; and Mark of the Devil (1970), with its infamous tongue-ripping scene, capping a litany of gory and grotesque torture sequences in the film.

Kier’s career mostly consists of cult films (some notoriously violent and sick flicks made during the seventies), stunt casting (a more recent trend where director-fans have used the actor’s value among horror connoisseurs to boost a films’ marquee value), and more serious work for respected directors like Fassbinder and Lars von Trier.

The Warhol films are important starting points and Kier samplers because they also showcase the actor’s comedic gifts. In both films, Kier plays striking men with emotional sensitivity being overwhelmed by outrageous behaviour – some inflicted upon him by unlikely villains, or bad behaviour from within that’s rationalized by simple needs to survive (blood from ‘were-gins’ in Dracula) or improve humanity (using body parts to make beautiful people in Frankenstein).

It also helps that Morrissey’s films are meant to be ridiculous. Dracula really doesn’t like killing and is a fuddy-duddy; he just can’t help himself and is ultimately dismembered by a jealous Marxist workman (Joe Dallesandro) wielding a big ax. One also begins to feel sympathy for the poor bastard when he keeps retching from the toxic blood of whores.

Frankenstein often seems befuddled, though part of that might be Kier himself wrestling around some fantastically insane dialogue; when Frankie-boy utters the immortal phrase “To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life... in the gall bladder!” it’s said while the character is getting off on a cadaver.

The fact Kier was willing to perform such crazy behaviour with a mix of conviction and amusement is kind of endearing, and one senses he’s winking at audiences so they know the whole movie is supposed to be an over-the-top assault that’s meant to amuse and shock.

I don’t’ recall in which film it happens, but there’s a specific scene where Dallesandro, playing a beefy servant, was told by director Morrissey to slurp the armpit of the actress playing the rich matriarch that’s having an affair with the household boy-toy. The scene goes on and on, and it’s hysterical for the banality of the actors’ performances and their engaging in a completely bizarre fetish.

Both films are on DVD, and it’s worth listening to Morrissey’s explanation in the commentary tracks of specific scenes – including the slurpfest – to understand how the films were meant to be absurd.

Kier also appears on both Frankenstein and Dracula commentary tracks (you just have to shuttle through Maurice Jacowar’s painfully dull and snotty observations) and voices his own memories of trying to act in wacko scenes. (His recollections of copulating with the aforementioned gall bladder amid the stench of real fetid organs is priceless.)

Probably Kier’s best known mainstream work in horror is Blade (1998), and it’s probably one of his best because he’s not in the film for novelty. He’s compelling as the head of a vampire clan whose murdered by a rebel out for total control of the species and humankind. Kier plays a careful bureaucrat, and it’s rightfully upsetting when he’s betrayed and left out in the morning dawn to disintegrate and explode.

(An example of stunt casting, though, is feardotcom, the inept and incoherent shocker where Kier’s character is dead within the first 5 mins. That unfortunate event is proof positive that, just like Bruce Campbell, if you kill a cult icon in the first reel, the film will suck. Try watching feardotcom, and if that doesn’t convince, just attempt to sit through the big studio garbage that’s Congo after Bruce has been dispatched.)

Kier’s also known for appearing in Argento’s Suspiria (1977), but like most of the actors in an Argento film, he’s smothered by the fantastic kill sequences.

The actor has also appeared in erotic films (The Story of O), Hollywood comedies (Ace Venture: Pet Detective), American and German TV shows, as well as dramas (My Own Private Idaho) and the occasional weirdity (Spermula), and he showed an uncharacteristic menace in von Trier’s Breaking the Waves (1996).

More than any director, von Trier has perhaps given Kier more opportunities to stretch his talents in recent years, which is why The Kingdom / Riget (1994) is another superb intro into Kier’s skills and screen charisma; he can play a bureaucratic doctor and a giant mutant baby-man, whining for its mother.

This Danish TV series is quite nuts, but it’s an engrossing fusion of supernatural dramas, TV soaps, and Lynchian weirdness, and even though the series never reached its final round in Season 3 (two major actors died before the final season could be shot), it doesn’t matter that there’s no end. The Kingdom is about mood and eccentric characters, and it’s no surprise Kier is very comfortable in von Trier’s epic genre recombination.

For passing fans and newbies of Kier’s work, it’s worth checking out some of the aforementioned titles (as well as Norman Wilner’s recent interview with the icon for NOW).

I just wish I could’ve been there to ask Kier one question: Why Spermula? WHY?



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