Instantly The Worst: Ulli Lommel’s Black Dahlia

Published on September 23rd, 2013 in: Horror, Movie Reviews, Movies, Reviews |

By LabSplice


One of the inevitable outcomes of Video on Demand services is that they tend to monopolize our conversations about film. Many people—and I do not exclude myself from this—would rather seek out a new title on Netflix Instant or Amazon Prime than spend the extra money to rent something not available through those channels. This creates something of a cinematic echo chamber, where a smaller selection of titles is given preferential treatment. We want to share experiences and recommend films to others so we focus on a platform that we know many people have in common.

Still, even accounting for the smaller sample size, there are still many interesting conversations to be had about the catalogue of Netflix films. Thousands of films across all genres and nationalities currently vie for our attention, waiting in the cloud for us to press a single button and bring them down to our devices. There are films that can educate, films that can move, and even titles by some of the greatest and most talented filmmakers of each generation. And thanks to the data algorithms and crowdsourcing efforts of Netflix, each title is provided with a handy numerical score to give us a quick snapshot of its quality.

And one of them has to be ranked last.

In my search to find the worst film on Netflix Instant, I was introduced to director Ulli Lommel, a German filmmaker who specializes in straight-to-video horror films and who seems to be the only director widely regarded to be worse than compatriot Uwe Boll. Lommel began his career as an actor, working with the likes of Rainer Fassbinder and Andy Warhol, and moved behind the camera in the 1970s to add his own take on experimental and shocking films. Lommel achieved something of a cult status with his 1980 film The Boogeyman and would go on to direct a series of films based on famous American serial killers in the 2000s. Of the seven lowest-rated horror films on Netflix Instant, Lommel has directed five. He is nothing if not consistent.

Ulli Lommel’s Black Dahlia—and it is Ulli Lommel’s Black Dahlia, a fact he reminds you of three times during the opening credits—is an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the Brian De Palma film of the same name. Like the latter, Lommel’s Black Dahlia is interested in exploring the timeless appeal of the original Black Dahlia murder. The plot—if it can be called that—features a junior police detective who is investigating a series of copycat murders in modern day Los Angeles. As he investigates the case, he becomes obsessed with the original Black Dahlia and begins to seek out any living figures who might have known her. Meanwhile, a small group of killers are re-reinacting the Dahlia murders under the guise of a film adaptation of the Black Dahlia’s life.

To go too far down the road of a traditional review is to treat Black Dahlia as if it were an actual film, so let’s switch to bullet points for a bit. Why is Black Dahlia considered the worst movie on Netflix Instant? Could it be . . .

  • The protagonist, played by Sutton Christopher, who bears a striking resemblance to comedian Demetri Martin and who seems to count among his worldly possessions a single red sweatshirt and one plastic gun? Interestingly enough, Christopher had only appeared in one movie prior to Black Dahlia and promptly stopped acting after its release. The first of the twelve steps is admitting that you have a problem.
  • The murderous female lead, played by Elissa Dowling to be something of a poor man’s Sheri Moon Zombie? Lommel has Dowling dressed as a blood-spattered schoolgirl and alternates scenes of her being aroused by splatter with close-ups of her screaming profanities at the girls that she is murdering. She is also followed around by two large bodyguards, one dressed as a butcher and the other as a baseball player, who help her wrap up the victims’ body parts and deposit them in scenic locations around Los Angeles. The butcher represents the trope of the malformed killer popularized by movies like The Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, while the baseball player might just be Jose Canseco on his day off.
  • The endless supply of wannabe actresses who turn up at the Black Dahlia “auditions,” only to be dispatched by Dowling and her cronies? The film repeats the same sequence almost verbatim five separate times: actress shows up, seems completely undisturbed by the silent people covered in blood, is tied to the table and hacked into pieces, and becomes somewhat alarmed that perhaps something bad is about to happen. In that order. Each sequence is also shot the same way, with Lommel speeding up and rewinding the shots and interspersing black and white photography of the original Black Dahlia also being oddly calm in the face of her ongoing murder. In his favor, Lommel does try to vary things slightly by having one of the actresses think she is auditioning for a porno, wherein she promptly takes of all her clothes and starts writhing around in pools of blood until Jose Canseco mercifully decapitates her. I am still waiting for my libido to bounce back.
  • The ongoing police investigation into the murders, overseen by the most amateur group of actors ever assembled on film? Lommel cannot decide if his police officers should be hardened towards or rattled by these acts of mutilation, so he alternates their responses as a fun way of mixing it up. Witness the police detective who spends one crime scene wishing she had a hearty breakfast of bangers and mash, a second crime scene actually eating said bangers and mash, and a third crime scene screaming at everyone around her that it is too much, that she can’t handle the violence anymore. The police scenes also provided me with the movie’s highlight, where Detective Demetri Martin tells his supervising officer the location of a potential witness, and his supervising officer immediately writes down the witnesses’ address and hands it back to him. Christopher’s character even points out this continuity error in the narrative of the scene, only to be told by his commanding officer, “Well, now you have the address again.”

The most impressive aspect of Black Dahlia is how it doggedly refuses to cross the mythical line from bad to so-bad-it’s-good. Fans of the horror genre are quick to latch onto any film that makes for good running commentary, but Dahlia does not even demonstrate an ability to be properly bad. Aside from the aforementioned witness note, there are no real continuity errors or memorably over-the-top performances. This is simply a no-budget horror film with poor acting, poor cinematography, and no chance at delivering anything resembling an enjoyable viewing experience.

2 Responses to “Instantly The Worst: Ulli Lommel’s Black Dahlia

  1. X:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    You forgot about the dancing, the victorious “we just killed another girl” dancing!

  2. LabSplice:
    September 23rd, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Some things are best left for the thrill-of-discovery by the viewers.

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