Sukkubus Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: February 8, 2022 (following October 21, 2021 site-exclusive limited edition)
Audio: German DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Run Time: 90:07
Director: Georg Tressler
In the summer, three herdsmen – two adults and a young apprentice – took their cattle high up on the mountains where the pastures are richer. One day, the boy finds a peculiar tree root shaped like a face. He brings it back to the hut and makes a kind of wig for it out of old straw. That night, the two older men get drunk and, upon seeing the strange root, they decide to create a life-sized female doll, using bits of old clothing, straw, and wood. They baptize their creation with strong liquor and, then, to their shock, the doll comes to life in the form of a beautiful woman (Pamela Prati). Resisting their abuse of her body, the demonic doll hunts them down one by one and takes a terrible revenge. (From Mondo Macabro’s official synopsis)
Not to be confused with a number of other European horror/exploitation movies with similar titles – Jesús Franco’s Succubus (German: Necronomicon - Geträumte Sünden, 1968) and Jean Brismée’s The Devil’s Nightmare (Italian: La plus longue nuit du diable; aka: Succubus, 1971), in particular – Georg Tressler’s Sukkubus (German: Sukkubus - den Teufel im Leib, 1989) is based on an Alpine Swiss myth not known as Sukkubus, but Sennentuntschi or The Guschg Herdsmen's Doll. As indicated by the synopsis above, the legend concerns three herdsmen, who, in their listlessness, create a human-sized doll to interact with and bed. Eventually, she is given life and begins killing the men for their sacrilege. Like the traditional succubus (the one with two Cs that probably originates from Jewish fiction), she represents a warning to lustful men, though less as a caution against unwanted advances/sexual assault and more as an admonishment of a kind of blasphemy. This movie version acknowledges the sacrilegious aspects of the warning, but also turns the legend into a unique rape/revenge movie.
Sukkubus works so well, because Tressler and screenwriter/co-producer Franz Seitz Jr. endeavor to combine a faithful rendition of the myth with an equal parts arthouse and exploitation approach. At best, it’s as if Werner Herzog came down with a bad cold and had to take time off from filming, so the producers invited Jess Franco to fill in for a couple of days and shoot the naked lady scenes. Tressler is good at teasing the audience, inviting us to leer at the nudity, while also forcing us to feel uncomfortable with any blatant sexuality. Actual sex is, of course, exclusively rape/threat of rape. Even simple chores, like feeding cows, cleaning wounds, and cultivating cheese take on a grotesquely horny quality. The whole mood is exemplified in a sequence where the youngest and most innocent herder is forced to feed the Sennentuntschi milk straight from the cow’s teat. Also, while the violence doesn’t veer beyond an R-rating, the implication of greater gore is thoroughly disturbing, specifically the parts where people are skinned (a real cow is also skinned on-screen, for the record).
What’s most interesting of all is the constant feeling that Sukkubus doesn’t obviously belong to the late ‘80s, aside from the title monster’s hair metal appearance, nor is it clearly a horror film, at least not until more than halfway through its runtime. It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, to learn that Tressler was a hardworking everyman director for hire without a penchant for horror. He had been in the business since the ‘30s as an actor and the ‘40s as a director. Outside of television, his work tended to follow exploitation trends, including a hit juvenile delinquency drama called Die Halbstarken (English: Teenage Wolfpack, 1956) and sci-fi sexploitation epic 2069: A Sex Odyssey (German: Ach jodel mir noch einen - Stosstrupp Venus bläst zum Angriff, 1974). This was (as far as I can tell) his only horror movie and his final theatrical release. In 1972, the legend of the Sennentuntschi was adapted as a controversial stage play by Hansjörg Schneider, in which the herdsmen create a sex doll. That version remains popular and a filmed version aired on Swiss television. It was also adapted by director Michael Steiner in 2010, entitled, simply, Sennentuntschi. It was a troubled production that ballooned into the most expensive film in Swiss history.
The week after Mondo Macabro released a limited edition web-exclusive version of this disc, German label Subkultur Entertainment released a Blu-ray that utilized the same new transfer and included a DVD copy, but, otherwise, Sukkubus has been completely absent on home video in any country, save for a German and Italian VHS tapes with zero English subtitle options (there might have been a subtitled version uploaded to YouTube, but who knows?). According to the advertising material, this transfer (and Subkultur’s) is derived from a 4K scan of the original film negative. Cinematographer Rudolf Blahacek conjures dramatic photography from natural lighting and locations that could easily have turned to snowy fuzz, but the 4K source is rich with detail, fine grain, and neatly separated elements, especially during the extensive wide-angle shots. The lush greens pop against the earthy tones and nighttime/dark sequences have a consistent blue tint that doesn’t flatten the deeper black levels too much. There are small hints of machine noise and a few bits of print damage, but nothing that hinders the experience.
Sukkubus is presented in its original German mono and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. It is an audibly sparse film that invites the audience to take in the sounds of the mountain environment and spikes the subtle din with the clang of cowbells, roar of wind, crackling thunder, and occasional musical cue. Dialogue is sporadic and largely incidental, but clear when necessary, if not obviously dubbed (Peter Simonischek claims that the outdoor audio was unusable, due to highway noise). Rolf A. Wilhelm’s music is actually quite moving, given that it is relatively standard-issue spooky classical stuff. It never works against the natural atmosphere, as I suspect an electronic score might. I noticed one or two slight cuts in volume during music-heavy moments, but, generally, there’s little in the way of distortion.
Interview with actor Peter Simonischek (29:31) – The Austrian-born Simonischek discusses his early life, making movies to sustain his stage career, the mythology behind the film, taking the job because he assumed Sukkubus would be shot like a Bergman movie, learning to make cheese, shooting around Pamela Prati’s behavior (she was sensitive, afraid of cows, and her contacts were blinding), Tressler’s directing style, working with other members of the cast & crew, learning how to fly fish on location, and his personal opinion of the film (he thinks it should’ve been more explicit).
Mondo Macabro trailer reel
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.