Who is the world’s worst director?
That’s a question that can really lead to lot of conflict. First off, it’s a deceptively simple question. The more you think about it, the more you realize how fragile concepts like good and bad truly are. Some of the greatest films ever made were critical flops. Some of the films that have been embraced by contemporary critics will definitely be less acclaimed by future viewers. There’s a lot to take into consideration when it comes to determining whether or not a filmmaker is good, mediocre, or one of the worst of all time. It’s something that requires a lot of careful thought and consideration and research.
Of course, if you don’t have time for all that, you can just say that the world’s worst director is Ulli Lommel and save yourself the trouble.
This German director has been making movies for longer than I’ve been alive. He got his start in the early 70s, as an actor who frequently collaborated with the great German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder. With Fassbinder as his producer, Lommel made a few surrealistic (and, it should be stated, critically acclaimed) films in Germany and then, in 1977, he moved to the U.S, and became friends with Andy Warhol. He also married Suzanna Love, an actress who was the heiress to the Standard Oil Fortune and who starred in a handful of Lommel’s early films.
Today, Lommel’s reputation for being the world’s worst director is largely the result of an endless series of low-budget, straight-to-DVD films that he’s made about various real-life serial killers. I’ve seen quite a few of these movies (and I reviewed Lommel’s Curse of the Zodiac three years ago) and they are truly bad. Normally, I can find something to love about almost every movie that I watch but Lommel’s serial killer films are beyond terrible. They’re so bad that they are almost impossible to review. I mean, how many different ways can you find to say that a movie sucks so much that it will make you question whether Eadweard Muybride should ever have filmed Sallie Gardner at a Gallop in the first place?
But here’s the thing with Ulli Lommel and this what makes it especially so frustrating to see him currently doing a thousand variations on Curse of the Zodiac. His first two horror films — both of which were filmed in the early 80s and starred Love — are not that bad. Don’t misunderstand me. They’re not particularly good but they still feature enough hints of genuine talent and inspiration that you have to wonder just what the Hell happened.
The first (and best known) of Lommel’s horror films was 1980’s The Boogeyman, an incredibly stupid film that still featured some good atmosphere and a few memorable deaths. Lommel followed The Boogeyman with 1983’s The Devonsville Terror.
The Devonsville Terror may not have the same cult status as The Boogeyman but it’s actually a far more interesting film. The film opens in the 17th Century. In the Massachusetts town of Devonsville, three women are executed for being witches. After the final witch is burned, her spirit appears in the sky and announces that the town is now cursed.
We then jump forward 300 years. Dr. Warley is researching the Devonsville curse. By researching, I mean that he continually invites citizens in Devonsville into his office and hypnotizes them, which leads to them having flashbacks to 1683 and those of us in the audience having to continually rewatch the first few minutes of the movie. The spirit of the witch curses Dr. Warley and soon, he’s having to pull maggots out of his arm. It doesn’t add up too much but Dr. Warley is played by Donald Pleasence so he’s at least entertaining.
Meanwhile, a new school teacher, Jenny (played by Suzanna Love), has moved into town and she’s teaching the kids to think for themselves and even goes as far as to suggest that God might be a woman! The town leaders are shocked and more than a few of them start to suspect that she might be a reincarnated witch…
At the same time, a loser named Walter (Paull Wilson) has just murdered his wife and soon finds himself having nightmares where Jenny allows him to drown in a swamp. “The legend’s true!” Walter shouts in his dream, “You are a witch!”
On top of that, two other liberated women have recently moved into town, which leads to a panic as the townfathers realize that their town — best known for executing three witches — is now home to three feminists!
Of course, it all leads to an attempt to duplicate the executions of 1683. Heads explode. Faces melt. Don’t mess with the witches, y’all. That’s all I’m saying.
The Devonsville Terror is a huge mess but, much like The Boogeyman, the film has a lot of atmosphere and features a good performance from Suzanna Love. (As well, just as The Boogeyman features John Carradine not doing much of anything, Devonsville Terror features Donald Pleasence not doing much of anything.) But the main thing I liked about The Devonsville Terror was its feminist subtext, which is not something you would typically expect to find in a horror film from the early 80s.
You have to ask yourself — how did the director of The Devonsville Terror ends up becoming the guy who directed Curse of the Zodiac and Mondo Americana? One huge clue is probably found in the fact that Suzanna Love is nowhere to be found in any of Lommel’s later films. According to the imdb, Lommel and Love divorced in 1987.
With Suzanna Love, Ulli Lommel was an occasionally interesting, if uneven, filmmaker.
Without her, he’s just the guy who directed Curse of the Zodiac.