The Haunting of Rebecca Verlaine
by Jason Coffman
Also known as Garden of Love.
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Olaf Ittenbach first made his name back in the early 90s with The Burning Moon, a film that had underground horror fans likening him to contemporaries like Andreas Schnaas (writer/director of Violent Shit) and Jorg Buttgereit (writer/director of Nekromantik). Although The Burning Moon still has never seen an official US release, the Violent Shit series got its own boxed set and Nekromantik and its sequel saw loving US DVD releases, Ittenbach is arguably the most commercially successful of these German low-budget horror auteurs, having parlayed his early underground successes into a steady career in directing and special effects work. The Haunting of Rebecca Verlaine (originally released as Garden of Love) is the latest of Ittenbach’s films to receive an official US release.
The Haunting of Rebecca Verlaine opens true to Ittenbach’s reputation, with the sadistic massacre of the members of a commune run by popular folk singer Gabriel Verlaine (Bela B. Felsenheimer). The murderer leaves only young Rebecca alive. Two years later, she wakes from a coma with complete amnesia and is adopted by her aunt and uncle. They are informed that even though Rebecca remembers nothing of the traumatic experience, she may someday recover her memories. This is what appears to happen ten years later when the adult Rebecca (Natacza Boon) begins seeing images of her father’s ghost, and so she decides to return to the site of the murders with her psychology professor/boyfriend David (Daryl Jackson). But naturally, not everything is as it seems.
The Haunting of Rebecca Verlaine is a vast improvement on Ittenbach’s other US releases (Legion of the Dead and House of Blood). While the storyline is predictable, Ittenbach keeps things interesting with some bizarre humor and a nice twist on the concept of the vengeful ghosts. While they were harmless hippies in life, death has turned them into rampaging gore machines that aren’t terribly picky about whom they take their revenge upon. The dialogue and the acting are mostly pretty terrible, but the increasingly ridiculous series of scenery-chomping villains (and James Matthews as the hilariously creepy Detective Munster) nicely fill the running time between the scenes of cartoonish gore that are the film’s real focus.
Overall, the film is an uneasy mix of horror camp and cruel violence—that opening sequence is truly horrific, but the rest of the violence in the film goes sailing over the top and into splatstick territory. It’s obvious that Ittenbach’s more interested in the gore than characters or storytelling, and the film’s unstable tone is just confusing. Still, The Haunting of Rebecca Verlaine is worth a look for fans of Ittenbach’s particular brand of blood-soaked b-movie antics and gorehounds in general, but it probably won’t win over many new fans. Maybe we just haven’t seen the right Ittenbach film(s) yet?
Jason Coffman is a film critic in Chicago.
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