Film, Film Review

REVIEW: Blood & Gold (2023) dir. Peter Thorwarth

Streaming on Netflix Friday, 5/26


Note: If possible, Blood & Gold is best screened with its original German audio and English subtitles. The English overdub, unfortunately, takes away the tension and atmosphere poured into the film’s dialogue and eliminates the idiosyncracies of the characters and their inflections. Netflix tends to default to English language audio tracks, but you should be able to switch to German in your audio settings.

Blood & Gold is a gritty, chaotic modern classic gushing with gore, absurdity, and clever kills. Director Peter Thorwarth unleashes hell with Wehrmacht deserter Heinrich (Robert Maaser) and farmgirl Elsa (Marie Hacke), who meet at the grisly end of World War II. After Elsa’s brother Paule (Simon Rupp) is kidnapped by the Nazis, the duo goes on a bloody warpath against the marauding SS officers as they search for Jewish gold, led by depraved Obersturmbannführer von Starnfeld (Alexander Scheer). This riotous Nazi killing spree is an exploitation flick for the ages, and one of Netflix’s most enthralling features to date.

We’re dropped into Blood & Gold in the spring of 1945. In the sprawling, pallid farmlands just beyond a tiny village in Sonneberg, Nazi Germany, Heinrich is being hunted by von Starnfeld and his platoon. Von Starnfeld and his mangy squad are also on the run, having just fled their posts at a concentration camp as the Allies close in and Hitler’s regime collapses.

Heinrich is captured by von Starnfeld’s right-hand brute, Dörfler (Florian Schmidtke). When von Starnfeld interrogates him, the deserter condemns Nazi ideology and deems his country a nation of murderers. As punishment for his betrayal, the SS lynch him. Heinrich is saved by Elsa, who nurses him back to health with the help of the kindhearted, assertive Paule. The siblings have been hiding at their remote farm since the Nazis took power, in fear that Paule—who has Down syndrome—would be killed.

Von Starnfeld and Dörfler were told of gold kept in a nearby village by a former Jewish prisoner. The Nazis arrive there in search of it, much to the panic of the greedy townsfolk, who intend to keep it for themselves. Increasingly unnerved and ravenous for what could save them from the Americans, the SS officers frantically begin their hunt for the riches. When von Starnfeld orders Dörfler and the rest of his thugs to gather rations and loot the surrounding farmland, they encounter Elsa and Heinrich. In the ensuing bloodbath, Paule is taken by the SS. A tearful Elsa swears vengeance, and the duo set off to slaughter some Nazis.

Robert Maaser as Heinrich in ‘Blood & Gold’, Courtesy of Netflix 2023

Thorwarth’s second Netflix film follows his 2021 horror hit Blood Red Sky. While the director uses films like Inglorious Basterds, The Hateful Eight, and the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone as a springboard, he never tries to imitate them. His homage is respectful, loving, and aptly placed. It’s in the rustic, bold yellow font in the film’s credits, Elsa’s badass lines as she cocks her rifle, the sinister Ennio Morricone-like score that whistles through when von Starnfeld struts into frame, and Blood & Gold‘s offbeat comedy.

The violence in Blood & Gold is bold and campy. Thorwarth knows it, his cast knows it, and Blood & Gold thrives on it—maybe that’s what makes it so fun to watch.

From cyanide capsule poisoning by make-out to shooting a Nazi out of a belltower with a bazooka, nobody comes away from Blood & Gold unscathed by its riotous brutality. And that’s not even considering some of the film’s greatest moments: hot coffee being thrown on a Nazi’s crotch, prosthetic legs smacking into a Nazi’s face, impalement by pitchfork, and a Nazi falling hundreds of feet face-first into the town square in front of his comrades. Oh, and of course, a brick of gold is shoved into a Nazi’s mouth so hard it splits his face clean open. Thorwarth knows what his audience wants, and he doesn’t hold back in giving it to them.

Comedy aside, Blood & Gold uses music and visuals in its use of historic symbolism. Thorwarth cleverly lays the crooners of the Third Reich over fight scenes. The chipper voices of Rudi Schurike and Zarah Leander intertwine with automatic gunfire, swearing, screaming, and blood splatter. According to Thorwarth, the soundtrack was infused into the carnage to “remove the seriousness a little.” While it certainly does as intended, one can’t help but notice the irony of it. Many of these songs were used as nationalistic anthems to promote the Third Reich and Nazi sentiments. By laying this music over scenes of brutality, we see the sharp contrast between what the Third Reich tried so hard to be versus the repulsive failure that it became.

This theme is also evident in the costume design of von Starnfeld and Dörfler. Both men wear “sharp” uniforms that, at the time, were designed by fashion magnate Hugo Boss and, along with their insignias, were meant to promote fear and intimidation. These pristine uniforms were a significant part of the National Socialist image. Both men’s attire—and physical states—are decaying with dirt, wear, and tear, a sly symbolic visual to accompany the deterioration of the Third Reich.

Marie Hacke as Elsa and Florian Schmidtke as Dörfler in ‘Blood & Gold’, Courtesy of Netflix 2023

Blood & Gold’s cast is the heart of the feature. Our golden trio—Maaser, Hacke, and Rupp—foster palpable chemistry. Maaser, in his first leading role, brings a loving fragility to Heinrich, while keeping him rooted as a rugged, old-school action hero, à la Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name.

Hacke is brilliant as the fierce, feminist Elsa, playing her as caring but resourceful; she’s not afraid to break a few necks when a Nazi steps across her path. Rupp is a blast as Paule and creates a courageous, loving hero and force to be reckoned with. Rupp’s stand in the bell tower is one of the film’s finest moments, and is, quite frankly, badass.

Schmidtke basks in Dörfler’s clumsiness, arrogance, and menace; his turpitude is the perfect match for the altruism Maaser brings to Heinrich. Their fight scenes together are smooth, ruthless, and the best thing since Colin Firth’s church massacre in Kingsman: The Secret Service.

While Thorwarth’s main cast accentuates the film’s brilliance, Scheer steals every scene he’s in. In his second collaboration with Thorwarth (the first being Blood Red Sky, in which he plays bloodthirsty, loose-cannon plane hijacker Eightball), the Berlin native portrays the disfigured von Starnfeld with a distinctive creepiness that would make even Hans Landa’s skin crawl.

With a tin plate covering half his face and Heinrich Himmler specs perched on the bridge of his nose, von Starnfeld is a formidable villain. Scheer’s manipulation of his lithe physicality escalates the officer’s intimidating candor. He slinks through each shot like a snake, swaggering around with his cap tipped to one side and a smoldering cigarette in hand, his perpetual snarl encompassed by a cloud of smoke. His voice, slimy and off-putting, is an eerie contrast to Scheer’s natural convivial tone. He plays von Starnfeld as stoic but as Blood & Gold unravels, the real nature of the unhinged Nazi comes to light. Scheer cleverly hints at this throughout the film, from von Starnfeld’s addiction to Pervitin to his abhorrent, tragic backstory.

Alexander Scheer as von Starnfeld in ‘Blood & Gold’, Courtesy of Netflix 2023

Thorwarth exploits his love of horror through von Starnfeld in ways I can’t say here without spoiling. Together, he and Scheer create a villain that doesn’t try to imitate the Nazi bad guys of cinema’s past. Von Starnfeld is a cruel bastard with his own hateable, memorable quirks—the way he presses the plate to his face while he smokes, the cadence with which he sneers at others, his slanted, arrogant posture, and his (alarming) loss of touch with reality. Between his deranged performance in Blood Red Sky and his quiet, frightening take on von Starnfeld, Scheer revels in every role he plays. He deserves more exposure to English-speaking audiences; his dauntless and chameleonic approach to acting proves that Scheer is one to keep your eye on.

Blood & Gold is the explosive modern exploitation flick you’ve been waiting for—a homage to the spaghetti westerns of cinema’s past and the works of Quentin Tarantino. Thorwarth digs into the joyous fall of the Third Reich and executes a refreshing take on his source material. He creates a fun, good old-fashioned Grindhouse story that celebrates mayhem, courage, and, of course, anti-fascism.

My only complaint? I didn’t get to see it on the big screen.

Blood & Gold 
dir. Peter Thorwarth
100 min.

Blood & Gold is now streaming on Netflix.

Hungry for more flicks about killing Nazis and anti-fascism? Check out the Somerville Theatre’s month-long program, F*** THE NAZIS!

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