Shortlist – Uwe Boll

Uwe Boll has received an innumerable amount of criticism and hate for many movies he directed. Now that he has retired from film-making (since 2017), we will try to look at his oeuvre, and briefly review the movies that are arguably his best. He started his career with a handful of German thrillers, that were all fairly below-average productions. With the 1994 movie Amoklauf he established a theme that would be recurring and central in many movies he made in his career, though. Briefly speaking, he examined the question how far can you push a person before they lose it, and take their grief and anger out on the world. Even though the psychological aspects related to mass murderers are typically only treated superficially in Boll’s movies, the criticism of the many problems and contradictions of our Western capitalist society was always strongly present. One thing that seems to indicate that this is a serious topic of interest for him, is that since a couple of years he runs the highly political website Uwe Boll Raw where he frequently lashes out against Western governments, Corporate America, and the “Deep State”.

After his period of German-language movies, he then went on to direct a few direct-to-video flicks in English language, but became really known to a wider audience only with the theatrical release of House of the Dead, an adaptation of the Sega arcade video game. Many more video-game adaptations followed, and almost all of them were slammed by professional critics and the public audience alike. The release of allegedly C-grade material on the big screen, is one understandable explanation for the outrage. I would still argue in any case that the amount of hate he drew over the years was unjustified insofar as he was simply just a guy making movies. He may have contributed himself to this attention by pulling some publicity stunts such as challenging movie critics to a boxing match and offering to retire if one million sign a petition, but I found them more entertaining than irritating.

All of his big-budget productions were serious box-office bombs. Due an apparent loophole in the German tax system that existed supposedly to subsidize and stimulate the production of movies in Germany (where Boll’s production company was registered), investors were able to make money even if the movie tanked. A more detailed account of this financing scheme can be found here. So possibly Boll did not really care if these movies generated a profit at the box office, or anybody liked them. The loophole was closed in 2008, and this ended his period of making movies for the big screen. After that, I think the stigma just remained there, and every new movie he released was somehow evaluated under the prejudice that nothing good come from Uwe Boll. He continued to make movies, all of them fairly low-budget affairs. He shot a couple of sequels to BloodRayne and In The Name of the King, and re-visited the “amok” movies with the Rampage Series and Assault on Wall Street.

Uwe Boll directed more than 30 movies. Many of them were indeed sloppy and/or boring affairs, the majority was fairly average stuff, and there are actually a few that are thoroughly entertaining to watch, or at least interesting. The top five of them that we think are worth checking out will be discussed below.

BloodRayne (2005)

Rayne is a half-human, half-vampire creature knows as a Dhampir. In a medieval time and country, she lives in captivity as an attraction for a freak show, and manages to escape one day. Her mother was raped by the vampire Kagan, and Rayne now seeks to exert her revenge on him. On her way to his castle she joins forces with three members of the Brimstone society, a group which seeks to exterminate all vampires. Kagan also has some plans of his own, as he is looking for three mystical talismans, that when combined will instill him with the power of the primordial vampire Belial. On her quest to defeat Kagan, Rayne gets enmeshed in a game of betrayal and deception, as various factions are trying to gain possession of the artifacts at all costs.

BloodRayne is an incredibly haphazard, inconsistent affair, with a bunch of bored actors in it. So one may say that this is another of Uwe Boll’s movies that failed miserably. And while he may not even have cared what sort of a movie he put together, BloodRayne oscillates between a fairly average vampire movie and unintentionally funny trash. The good stuff: lots of bloody and gory action (put together by German underground splatter movie legend Olaf Ittenbach), beautiful landscapes, castles and monasteries. The bad: all the major actors, the dialogues, the plot, and the wigs. Good or bad depending on your point of view: a decent amount of cleavage and nudity.

There’s a whole bunch of Hollywood celebrities in the movie, but especially Michael Madsen, Michelle Rodriguez, and Ben Kingsley seem like they are not even trying to play a role, but just stand around most of the time looking irritated or uninterested. Not all is bad, though. Kristanna Loken plays the part of Rayne well, and Udo Kier as slightly deranged, but well-meaning monk is always great to watch. There’s also a rather weird cameo by glam-rock legend Meat Loaf that contributes to the trash character of the movie. BloodRayne indeed hits many lows during its run-time, but if you can get past its inconsistent composition, it’s an almost decent horror-action flick.

Postal (2007)

The Postal Dude lives in the desolate town of Paradise, Arizona. His life is made miserable by an unsuccessful job interview, an unfaithful wife, and a futile attempt to apply for unemployment benefits at the local office that ends in a violent shootout. He decides to leave town, but has no money. After a visit to his uncle Dave, who runs an Armageddon cult, he decides to join him in a plan to steal a shipment of Krotchy dolls. What they don’t know is that Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda are also planning to steal the dolls for their own reasons. The Postal Dude soon gets caught up in a cascade of violent events as Dave’s big-breasted gun-wearing cult-members, the Al-Qaeda terrorists, corrupt policemen, and a bunch of heavily armed citizens are going up against each other.

Postal may arguably be Uwe Boll’s best movie. For once, everything fell in place for him. A good budget, engaged actors, a funny script, plenty of well-staged action, and a plot that moves at a good pace. It’s even surprisingly faithful to the video game. This may make the movie rather off-putting for some people, as some jokes are really low, and the movie overall takes an extremely cynical perspective on US society. Even the most offensive incidents are delivered with a fairly lighthearted vibe though, and characters are moving from one absurd scene to an even absurder one. The conspiracy theory that Al-Qaeda was free to operate in the US and could blow up the Twin Towers with the US government knowing is also ridiculed in the best way one can imagine. You think of any aspect that makes patriotic Americans uncomfortable or irritated when it’s brought up, and Postal will bring it up. I can imagine why it was another hate magnet, as the satirical aspects probably did not sit well with a significant fraction of the US population, and an equal amount probably found the jokes too tasteless. There’s a great Cameo by Uwe Boll as himself in the movie, that suggests he has a good sense of humor and is fully aware of what he is doing. If you only are willing to watch a single Uwe Boll movie, I think Postal is the best candidate.

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007)

Farmer lives happily with his family in a village in the Kingdom of Ehb. The evil mage Gallian has mastered control over the Krug, a race of ferocious orc-like creatures. They attack the kingdom, and devastate Farmer’s village. His son Zeph gets killed in the ambush, and his wife is imprisoned together with many other villagers. Together with some companions, he leaves his home to free them and to kill Gallian. On their quest, they encounter powerful allies and foes, and Farmer discovers a secret about himself that will change the destiny of the kingdom forever.

In the Name of the King may be the most average fantasy movie I’ve ever seen. All the elements of your typical Lord of the Rings type epic are there, and reasonably well connected with each other by a fairly standard good-vs-evil story with some royal court intrigues thrown into the mix. We got monsters, magic, forest fairies, beautiful landscapes, and plenty of sword-fighting. Cinematography is professional, CGI effects don’t look cheap, and Uwe Boll was able to put together some fairly large set pieces. On the downside, everything you will see in this movie you will have seen in several movies that came before it. A couple of scenes are really just copies from comparable sequences in Lord of the Rings. The link to the video game is almost non-existent, as the Dungeon Siege game was a RPG/strategy hybrid, and thus not very heavy on story. As in every movie from Boll’s brief high budget phase, we got a noteworthy celebrity density in the movie, with Jason Statham and Burt Reynolds leading the ensemble. Everybody plays their part okay, which is what one can say about the whole movie: it’s okay. Still, it’s an entertaining two hours of fairly harmless fantasy action, so if you need a movie to relax your brain, I can recommend this one.

Seed (2007)

Psychopathic killer Seed imprisons his victims in his basement, lets them starve to death, and films them during their agony. Detective Matt Bishop is on Seed’s trail, and manages to capture him in a bloody assault on his house. Seed gets sentenced to death, but the electric chair fails to kill him multiple times during the execution. He’s proclaimed dead, however, and buried alive. He manages to dig himself out from his grave, and now seeks to torment and butcher the people that were involved in his arrest and execution.

Seed is a movie about atrocious things being done to people. It is unpleasant to the extreme, but I can’t say it’s a bad movie. Still, there’s so much nasty stuff in it, that I cannot really recommend to watch it, unless you’re willing to take a risk. The opening credits for Seed are intermixed with videos depicting scenes of extreme animal cruelty. These scenes are basically unwatchable, but it sets the tone for everything that follows.

The world of Seed is a desolate, bleak one. The movie is shot in darkness most of the time, and the desolate setting of 1970s rural America provides invokes a rather depressive atmosphere. There’s plenty of extreme violence and disgusting scenes of humans and animals being butchered and rotting away, but I’d argue that Seed takes a completely different angle that your average torture porn or pseudo-snuff film. Gorehounds may find some scenes likable, but the killing scenes are embedded in an overall atmosphere of total despair and pessimism. The movie is certainly not a philosophical treatise from Boll’s side, but rather a visualization of a world where the worst things that can happen to people will happen to them. There’s no coherent story that drives Seed, it’s really more a sequence of images from the most shocking nightmares you can think of. Seed certainly stands out in Uwe Boll’s cinematography, as it’s not his only true venture into the horror genre, but a very unique, if extremely gross and disturbing contribution to it.

Assault on Wall Street (2013)

The 2008 banking crisis hits the global economy and population hard. Jim Baxford works as a security guard for money transports. His wife just underwent a successful tumor therapy, but needs to undergo more treatment to alleviate the side effects of the therapy. Jim cannot afford to pay for the medical expenses, and tries to withdraw some money from his US army pension fund. Almost all of the money is lost, however, due bad investment choices by his financial adviser. His home is also threatened by foreclosure, and he hires a sleazy attorney to file a lawsuit to get his money back. Things go from bad to worse rapidly, though. With nothing left to lose, Jim decides to take revenge on all the people that he thinks are to blame for his misery. Armed to the teeth, he starts a one-man war against Wall Street.

Assault on Wall Street is one of the few movies that deals with the economic crisis of 2008 from the perspective of the lower and middle class, that was affected heavily due to massive layoffs and mortgage defaults. The plot buildup is simple, and checks all the boxes to maximize the tragedy that overcomes Jim and his wife. The series of events depicted in the movie is not extremely over-dramatized, though. The story presented in the movie can rather be considered one of the worst-case scenarios that happened to people in the 2008 crisis.

Production values are not spectacular, and the whole visual presentation is very modest. This is no problem, however, as it allows the audience to focus all the more on the story and dialogues. The acting by everyone involved is solid, with Dominic Purcell giving a good performance as mostly stoic main character that is pushed to the brink of breakdown, as events unfold. The action scenes are fairly low-key, but the extreme outburst of bloody violence towards the end of the movie is fitting as a cathartic moment for Jim. The final sequence of the movie is almost a discourse on the nature of capitalism, which rounds off a fairly thoughtful movie. One reason why Attack on Wall Street actually works so well as a movie, it that on an emotional level most people will be able to easily identify with Jim and his campaign of vengeance. The major controversial aspect of the movie is certainly that it visualizes the fantasy of taking revenge on the banksters that allegedly steal money from ordinary people, but if there’s a person that does not shy away from controversy, it’s Uwe Boll.