June 09, 2008

ANATOMIE (2000) - gutsy German thriller

(2000, Germany, Anatomie)

Go up the lab, and see what's on the slab...

Franka Potente is reason enough to watch this slick slasher from Germany. The actress scored an international success with Run Lola Run (1998), then starred in Antomie before a short run of Hollywood parts - in Blow (2001) opposite Johnny Depp, The Bourne Identity (2002) and The Bourne Supremacy (2004). She also starred in another horror, Creep (2004) in the UK.

Paula and Gretchen are two medical students who get the chance to study anatomy at an old revered college in picturesque Heidelburg. But while they dissect dead bodies during the day, two masked maniacs are using the same high-tech facility at night to carefully cut up victims while they're still alive.

(These scenes reminded me of the unfortunate runner in Scream and Scream Again (1970) who wakes up without a leg, then another leg, then his arms).

As the two roommates start to get popular with the male students, Paula starts to suspect that something nasty is going on in the college...

This is gripping and enjoyable while it lasts, but the climax arrives a little too quickly, leaving enough loose ends for a sequel (in 2003).

The special effects all look exactly like the squishy nastiness, though it's far less bloody than I anticipated. Plasticised bodies that look like those made famous by Dr Gunther Von Hagens, are used as exhibits in the research wing of the college. I felt they were under-used by the director and would have liked a closer look at these extremely creepy replicas. For instance, a huge set of shelves decked out with skulls deserved far more attention.

To ease the tension, and almost dissipate it, there are one too many scenes of upbeat college life, with an intrusive pop soundtrack - indeed Paula’s roommate Gretchen is played my German singer Anna Loos, who gets an unlikely sex scene on a metal dissection table.

Franka Potente ensures the character of Paula is as realistic as the medical mayhem around her. Benno Fürmann is also impressive as the self-obsessed muscle-boy, Hein. Fürmann has a long list of credits in Germany, but recently appeared as Inspector Detector in Speed Racer.

Anatomie avoids most of the cliches of modern horror, using more Hitchcockian suspense and a steadily-unfolding story, which is all the more creepy for remaining in the realm of the very possible.

What makes it different from American horror is the mixture of nudity, sex and death. Most of the corpses are young and good-looking, adding a necrophilic edge to the flesh on display.

The UK DVD from Columbia Tristar is presented in anamorphic 2.35 widescreen, and has plenty of extras (including an Anna Loos pop video and interesting interviews).

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