Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)
Review by Chris Repholz

Leave it to those whacky Germans to make a movie about Spanish conquistadors, lost in the jungles of Central America, circa 1561. Directed by the legendary Werner Herzog (director of other Kinski flicks like NOSFERATU and FITZCARRALDO), AGUIRE is about a lost expedition of some of Hernando Cortes' noblemen.

When in Germany, if you're going to make a film about greed, incest, power, and megalomania, then you have no choice but to hire the man... the myth... Klaus Kinski. As Don Lupe de Aguirre, Klaus grimaces, broods, snarls, stares at faraway objects and sometimes squints. He is a vicious, paranoid-psychotic-megalomaniac who will kill anyone that stands in his way. After shooting the leader of the expedition, he convinces the other noblemen to mutiny with him so that they may have the wealth they seek, instead of giving it to the King and Queen of Spain. He declares himself ruler of the new lands in which they roam.

AGUIRRE is basically a character study of a man whose greed overcomes his sanity. I say "basically," because neither the screenplay nor Kinski is strong enough to truly make the man come alive. K2 doesn't have much dialogue, though some of his lines are incredible. He informs his men that he is ruler and punisher, the "wrath of God" (hence the title). The wide-eyed stare that Kinski affects as he gives his demented monologue is especially hilarious. Maybe he is a complete lunatic, or maybe it was the gun that Herzog reportedly held on Kinski to make sure that he finished the film. Legend has it that K2 wanted to quit halfway through the flick and leave Brazil, but Herzog threatened to kill him if he did. Today, both men laugh about it, but Kinski has never come out with the "truth." [NOTE: Actually, on page 202 of All I Need Is Love, Kinski details the incident. According to him, when he threatened to leave the production mid-way, Herzog threatened to shoot him eight times, and then use the ninth bullet on himself. Kinski then informed him that no gun with nine chambers existed and that he was the only one with a gun on the crew. "A Winchester."]

If you want fast-paced, crazy exploitation, DO NOT rent AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD. It has "European style" stamped all over it: slow moving, sparse dialogue that borders on wordy. If you want to see Kinski playing a full tilt psycho with wild abandon and trying his damndest to act, you just might enjoy the flick. The subtitles aren't as well done as they could have been, so be warned. Definitely not for everyone, but an interesting film overall.

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