Grimm Love - Review by KILTER magazineGRIMM LOVE a.k.a. ROHTENBURG and BUTTERFLY: A GRIMM STORY (2006)

Reviewed by Bryan Schuessler

Every so often, one of those films comes along that is truly much more FACT than FICTION. In regards to director Martin Weisz’s depiction of Germany’s notorious “Cannibal of Rotenburg”, the true-life account of real-life cannibal Armin Meiwes which the movie was based-on. After watching Grimm Love (2006), starring Keri Russell (TV’s Felicity, Waitress) and Thomas Kretschmann (Resident Evil: Apocalypse, King Kong (Peter Jackson’s remake), I had to do a bit of background research because watching the whole film gave me a very unnerving feeling of deja vu.

Grimm Love is the story of Armin Meiwes (portrayed by Thomas Kretschmann as character Oliver Hartwin), a bonafide cannibal born in Kassla, Germany. At a fairly early age, Meiwes started to fantasize about eating his friends so that they could stay with him forever. Meiwes was a very lonely child growing up, getting picked on regularly, and was an only child. After his mother died in 1999, Meiwes was left the family’s large mansion house in Roteburg. A middle-aged man with a career as a computer technician and left alone to his own devices, Meiwes decided to live out his fantasy and make it become his joyful reality and everyone else’s dreadful nightmare. Meiwes went on internet chat rooms and message boards and placed an ad stating that he was looking for a willing victim that would give him the pleasure of allowing themselves to let him eat and consume them. The film, Grimm Love, follows the events that occurred in Meiwes’ life very closely. Meiwes, after many attempts (several articles stated almost 200 potential victims) to find a willing candidate, finally found one in 43-year old Bernd-Jurgen Brandes (portrayed by Thomas Huber (Aeon Flux) as Simon Grombeck in the movie). Meiwes, after talking with Brandes on-line via email and receiving a photos of him decided he would make a good “meal”.

In the film, director Weisz goes into the upbringing of Meiwes (Hartwin) and the psychological impacts his atrocious family-life had on him. Throw into the mix the morbidly dark fantasies the young child was having, his obsession with violent and very gruesome horror films, and the fact that the boy was emotionally unbalanced and lost-he had no emotional link to his parents and the link to his mother was extremely unhealthy-it is no wonder that the boy craved to consume flesh as a way to never losing the connection the meat that he was consuming. In some very sick and twisted thought process, this writer can somewhat understand the reasoning and rationale Meiwes (Hartwin) had in consuming human flesh (don’t worry, I respect individuals’ rights to live and breed no matter how stupid they appear to be!).

Interestingly, when Oliver Hartwin (Meiwes) logged in to his cannibal message board (entitled “Cannibal Cantina” in the film), three of the thread titles are named after death metal band Cannibal Corpse song titles: “Meat Hook Sodomy”, “I Will Kill You”, and “Orgasm Through Torture”. I was hoping that there would be some Cannibal Corpse songs playing in the background, but Grimm Love was far to classy to have some extreme double-bass drumming, guitar wailing, low-guttural growls gracing the film’s stoic soundtrack. The film may be categorized in the horror genre, but I would most likely throw the film under the banner of True Crime, for there does not appear to be any stretching of the truth or facts. Grimm Love plays out as a non-fictional account of a cannibal’s upbringing as a child and life as an adult.

Grimm Love does not have any major nudity or sex scenes in it, minus one intimate moment Hartwin (Meiwes) has with his homosexual lover, but it does show some blood and gore-alluding to more sinister scenes of butchery than actually showing in the film. I think that this works in the filmmakers’ favor (sorry gorehounds!), for the validity of the whole affair is taken up a notch with the approach of showing less than more.

Getting back to the real-life events of Meiwes, eventually Brandes (Grombeck in the movie) agrees to let Meiwes’ drug him and cut him up for consumption, starting first with Brandes’ penis. Again, the scene is not fully shown, but one gets the picture as to what is happening and it is still very gruesome. I felt that if the scene was fully shown (such as a similar scene was filmed in the ultra-controversial film A Serbian Film), the impact would not have been quite as huge. Eventually, Brandes (Grombeck) is killed and cleaned up for future consumption. If one does not believe that this could truly occur, don’t worry, Meiwes (Hartwin) videotapes the most of the actual process with 2 hours of footage. Allegedly, journalists have seen the tape and some of the footage. In the film, Armstrong (Keri Russell), while doing her research throughout the film as a very curious student writing a paper on it and the movie backing her scenes of research with flashbacks throughout, acquires a copy of this videotape. The actual tape was used as evidence in court. Allegedly, journalists have seen the 2 hour murder tape but it has not been released publicly.  The film is based on true events covered in the media so I don’t feel bad letting readers know the outcome of the these events (stop reading now if you want).

After Brandes (Grombeck) is prepared for consumption, it took Meiwes 10 months to consume him. The room in which Brandes was killed in (stabbed in the throat after consuming alcohol, painkillers, and sleeping pills at the victim’s own request) was named the “slaughter room” by Brandes. Interstingly enough, Brandes read a Star Trek novel while Brandes lay in a bathtub bleeding. Meiwes consumed over 50 lbs. of human flesh taken from Brandes’ body. Although many of these facts are not revealed in the movie for then the film would have much more of a documentary feel and look to it, Meiwes was arrested in December of 2002 after a college student saw ads for more victims. At this point, many of those frequenting the cannibal message boards felt that Meiwes was really looking for someone to digest and not just “joking around”. I find it slighly appalling that a message board was invented with the sole purpose to portray serious information on how to prepare a human body for meal consumption. Police found the murder tape and body parts in the house. Meiwes was convicted of only manslaughter and given an 8/8.5 year sentence, but later in April of 2005, there was a retrial and he was sentenced for murder and received life in prison. At this retrial, Meiwes again confessed to having a predilection for craving human flesh (although feeling somewhat remorseful for killing Brandes) and he still wanted to eat human flesh. Apparently the rest of the world found this to be disturbing and thought he should be locked up for the rest of his life. I tend to agree with the prosecutors.

One can almost call this film Meiwes’ biopic, although I really doubt that Armin would actually approve, considering the amount of trouble the filmmakers went to actually get this film distributed in theaters in Germany (On March 3, 2006, the state court in Kassel upheld a complaint by Meiwes (44 years old at the time) against the film ROHTENBURG, due for release in Germany that year in March 9th). The film was scheduled to be released in German theaters on March 9th, but the court favored Meiwes in ruling that Meiwes’ rights as an individual outweighed artistic freedom and that he should not become the object of a horror film. On May 26, 2009 Germany’s highest civil court overturned the ban, ruling that freedom of arts took precedence over Meiwes’ personality rights. The court also ruled that because the film did not distort the well-known facts of the case, Meiwes’ right were not violated. Grimm Love was finally released in German cinemas on June 18, 2009. The film was so intense for some viewers that someone fainted when watching it at Sitges.

Grimm Love is not the most shocking, violent, or gory film on the subject of cannibalism, but the story is based on true events (which are adhered to rigidly) and came as somewhat of a shock because the events portrayed in the film were mostly factual and not fictitious. I have a strong interest in true crime, the macabre, and serial killers (as well as horror films!), so Grimm Love (flying under Fangoria’s FrightFest banner) was a well-enjoyed treat. It was well directed, acted out, and researched in profiling a very sick individual and one of Germany’s most notorious men (aside from Hitler, of course!).