Known mostly for helming a string of god-awful video game adaptations including Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead and In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, there’s no question that German director Uwe Boll will go down in history as the Ed Wood of his generation. Sitting down with the infamous filmmaker recently to talk about his latest movie, Bloodrayne: The Third Reich – which was released on DVD/Blu-ray earlier this month – I intentionally attempted to steer the conversation away from the inevitably-bad sequel (no, I haven’t seen it) and got him to open up a bit about his feelings regarding the criticism that has dogged him throughout this career. You can check out the full story inside. Note: “The Third Reich” star Natassia Malthe was also there.
“[The criticism] hurts [my] feelings if it’s unjustified. Like when people say, ‘I will never watch an Uwe Boll movie because he’s so bad!’ And you think like ‘yeah ok, but how do you know that it’s bad?’…Like if you go on Ain’t It Cool [News].com or whatever, they just expect bad movies [from me], and they will bash whatever I do.” – Uwe Boll
Perhaps only the second director in film history (after Ed Wood) to gain a widespread degree of notoriety for helming bad movies, German filmmaker Uwe Boll first came to major prominence in the mid 2000s after helming a string of bottom-of-the-barrel video-game adaptations including House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, and the $60 million mega-flop In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale.
Nevertheless, he continues to make films at a near-feverish pace, with nine features under his belt in only the last three years. His latest is Bloodrayne: The Third Reich (which was filmed concurrently with an action-movie spoof entitled Blubberella), the second sequel in the unlikely franchise that originally starred Kristanna Loken as the title character before she was switched out with Skinwalkers sexpot Natassia Malthe.
Recently I sat down with Boll and his leading lady to talk about the film, though in all honesty I cared far less about gaining insight into the inner workings of the BloodRayne shoot than I did in getting the director’s thoughts on his career thus far, and how all the slings and arrows he’s endured over the years have affected him both as a filmmaker and as a human being. A notoriously forthright interview subject, it wasn’t hard getting him to open up.
While Boll has clearly invited much of the criticism he’s received over the past decade upon himself – most famously by challenging a group of critics who had panned at least two of his films to videotaped boxing matches in 2006 (he won against all five participants) – at the end of the day the most interesting thing about him is the fact that he’s continued making movies – lots of them – in the face of the sort of harsh, widespread public criticism that would break most people. And yet assuming he has actual feelings, there’s no way he hasn’t internalized at least some of the vitriol that’s been directed at him.
“[The criticism] hurts [my] feelings if it’s unjustified,” said the director, sitting in a conference room at the West L.A. offices of Hollywood public relations firm 42 West. “Like when people say, ‘I will never watch an Uwe Boll movie because he’s so bad!’ And you think like ‘yeah ok, but how do you know that it’s bad?’…Like if you go on Ain’t It Cool [News].com or whatever, they just expect bad movies [from me], and they will bash whatever I do.”
Balding and clear-eyed, Boll was quite a bit friendlier and much less abrasive than I might have expected given everything I’ve read about him. Though his voice – he speaks in thickly-accented German – occasionally rose in frustration when he spoke about the refusal of most critics to honestly review his more recent films (or, perhaps more accurately, review them at all), he never became surly or ill-tempered.
And in fairness, he does have a point when it comes to the knee-jerk response of most journalists to any film bearing his name. While critics are understandably wary of reviewing his recent works after previously suffering through such filmic abominations as…well, any of his past movies, a few of his later efforts boast shockingly decent user averages on IMDB. Take Rampage, his gritty 2009 action-revenge film that currently shows a score of 6.4/10 based on over 5,000 ratings (I should also note that it received a positive score of 3 1/2 out of 5 skulls from our own Mr. Disgusting). Nevertheless, Boll – who has two films in the IMDB “Bottom 100″ and several others skirting the edges of it – seemed irked when I mentioned even this modestly impressive score.
“If you go on the ‘Rampage’ [IMDB page], you still have [those] 60, 70 people that voted one [star],” he said. “Because [otherwise] it would have [an] 8.8 or something, if there would not be those Boll haters, like…boom, boom, boom, boom, voting [my movies] down. This is why it’s important that people don’t give up on me. That they just say, ‘no, we watched that movie, and then we judged it.’”
And yet as I pointed out earlier, if credibility with critics and audiences is indeed Boll’s endgame, then there’s no question he’s often his own worst enemy. While some of his more recent efforts – films like the serious-minded, graphically-violent Darfur (about the state-led genocide which occurred in that Sudanese region) and the button-pushing Auschwitz (which takes an unflinching look at a “day in the life” of the infamous concentration camp) – seem to be honest attempts at rectifying his dismal industry reputation, he undermines himself at every turn by simultaneously continuing to produce pointless sequels to some of his worst films. Right or not, if he expects people to take him seriously for the former while he insists on churning out more of the latter, he’s simply not being realistic. Indeed, he’s prone to seemingly delusional statements like the following:
“It makes no sense to compare ‘Bloodrayne 3′ with ‘The King’s Speech’… whatever!” he said, stating his opinion that many critics unfairly put his genre films up against award-winning movies when in the process of reviewing them. “You have to compare it with ‘Underworld’, or other movies like this, and not with movies where of course it cannot be on that quality level, like other movies that are more driven by real stories.“
And yet this may be less a delusion (Boll may be crazy, but he isn’t insane) and more his way of distracting from the fact that most of his films are simply bad no matter what you’re comparing them to. With quotes like the above he’s essentially blaming critics for not doing their jobs properly, when the reality is that he has shown himself to be a less-than-competent filmmaker in the majority of his past movies. If you put House of the Dead up against even a subpar genre film, it’s still unquestionably awful.
Regarding Auschwitz – which has yet to see U.S. distribution – Boll received criticism late last year when a teaser trailer for the film was released that depicts several naked Jewish prisoners dying in a gas chamber and, most horrific of all, a final shot that shows a murdered toddler being inserted into an oven for cremation. About 35 seconds in, a title card pops up with the words “Never Forget” set against a black background. Many saw it as exploitative; Boll claims he was merely attempting to show how the Holocaust really was instead of sugarcoating it like most Hollywood movies do.
“I felt that when people criticized me when that teaser came out because it’s so brutal, I said ‘yeah, but look, it’s time that somebody shows what it was’,” he told me. “It was a killing plant…half of the people came to Auschwitz and got killed the same day they came in, babies got shot in the head behind the gas chambers and stuff like this…And the other movies show only the heroes or the survivors or something, you know? But what [about] the six million people that had no hero to help them? That just got in a train, selected, and killed, and that was it? I show one day in a concentration camp, from the train into the oven basically. And I think it was necessary to do that. Even if it’s not nice to watch, I think in the long run that movie’s important.“
While I came away from the conversation basically convinced of Boll’s sincerity (however misguided his attempts at artistic legitimacy may be), there’s also no doubt that efforts like Darfur and Auschwitz are viewed by most as an overreach for a filmmaker who hasn’t, in the eyes of the mainstream, “earned” the right to make films tackling such large-scale, enormously tragic historical events. That judgment may not be entirely fair, but it’s also inevitable.
But then I’ve been ignoring Natassia, haven’t I? Oh yes – Natassia Malthe, the unquestionably stunning lead actress who was, after all, sitting across the table from Uwe and me throughout whilst simultaneously existing on a totally separate level of discourse as she giggled and batted her eyes and made jokes about running over Loken with a truck to get the part (the two are apparently friends). She also checked her phone a lot, and intermittently offered an observation or two during the final half of the conversation just to make sure we knew she was still there. While she unfortunately didn’t say much worth quoting, I will offer an anecdote from the set of Bloodrayne 2 – as recounted by Boll – that I believe accurately sums up my impression of her:
“The railway station [we were filming in] burnt down by accident,” he told me. “Outside it was explosions, and the fucking town was burning! And we were running out there because it was dangerous, because they had like 15 gas heaters in that building, and they were like exploding through the walls. And [Natassia] was in her trailer, and after like one-and-a-half hours I felt like maybe I should knock on her trailer. And I opened the door and she was…singing. …She had no fucking clue that outside [it] was like Hell!“
The above could be mistaken as a fitting metaphor for the director as well, and yet unlike his leading lady Boll knows of the fire raging just outside his door but is determined to go on singing anyway. Of course, that doesn’t mean he isn’t feeling the heat.