“Brennan Went to Film School” is a column that proves that horror has just as much to say about the world as your average Oscar nominee. Probably more, if we’re being honest.
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR KILLER CONDOM. ALTHOUGH THIS MOVIE IS PRETTY MUCH UN-SPOILABLE, READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
That article title might seem like clickbait, but I promise I’m not kidding. In 1996, German director Martin Walz adapted a Ralf König comic book into Kondom des Grauens, retitled Killer Condom when it was picked up for American distribution by the notorious schlock studio Troma Entertainment. Not only is it probably the best film Troma ever got their hands on, it’s one of the smartest horror-comedies of the 90’s.
Sure, the movie has its strikes against it: It’s a campy, low budget monster movie. The effects haven’t aged well, and weren’t great to begin with. Plus, it’s literally called Killer Condom… But it has a heart and a brain that set it head and shoulders above the rest of the pack.
Creating a blend of genres that was basically unheard of before or since, Killer Condom grafts a B-movie monster plot onto a hardboiled neo-noir romance. The film is set in New York City (even though the characters all speak German – it’s an interesting reversal of the Hollywood trope of everyone in foreign countries just speaking English with an accent), where we follow the chain-smoking Detective Macaroni (Udo Samel) as he investigates a rash of bitten-off penises at the seedy local Hotel Quickie. In the meantime he’s falling in love with a young hustler named Billy (Marc Richter), in spite of his reservations against opening his heart to anyone in this cold, cruel city.
The fact that there was a gay romance in a movie at all in the 90’s is pretty stunning, but it’s especially remarkable because, in spite of its raunchy foundation, it really is deeply romantic. Nearly everything about this movie is transgressive and taboo-busting in a campy, hyperbolic way (you might need a strong stomach for the pitch-black humor, which involves things like a coroner laughing over the gross, personal details of a man who was accidentally smothered to death by his lover), except for this. A quiet, human story is playing out in the middle of all this chaos; it’s like John Waters and Pedro Almodóvar got in a three-car pileup with Nora Ephron.
But enough about the gooey romance. Let’s talk about that gooey monster which, by the way, was designed by none other than H. R. Giger, with all the gleefully disgusting erotic horror that implies. The titular killer condom could very easily have been a throwaway villain, created just for shock value. But would you believe it that this movie also has the most potent metaphor for AIDS in perhaps the entire horror genre?
There are plenty of scary movies that have been perceived as a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic – including David Cronenberg’s The Fly and John Carpenter’s The Thing – but those connections are questionable at best and probably unintentional. Whereas Killer Condom is about as intentional as it gets, using the deeply queer bedrock of its story to turn this silly monster tale into practically an on-the-ground account of the horrors of the early 1980’s.
As the condom chomps its way through the genitalia of the city’s gritty underbelly, the threat becomes more and more pervasive. However, the police – other than Macaroni – don’t seem to care one bit. In the words of the police captain himself, nobody cares if a bunch of “queers and hookers” are bumped off. While the brass refuses to believe Macaroni and investigate further, the condoms seem to be multiplying, spreading across the town until they end up attacking a Republican presidential candidate.
At that point, of course, people begin to care. But by the time the problem has begun to affect straight white people, the damage has been done. Dozens of men have already been subject to impromptu dick-ectomies, and it could have been stopped long ago if anybody had cared to give it a try. This is a morbid, but extremely precise mirror to the real life circumstances around AIDS, a plague that devastated the gay community, and which President Reagan ignored for years because at the time it was only believed to affect the LGBT community.
Macaroni literally ends the movie with a speech denouncing religious extremism and advocating for love as the purest form of human expression, whatever shape it takes. And it lands, because Killer Condom has always been operating at the level it requires to be profoundly effective in ways that most movies involving squeaking monsters skittering around the room just aren’t.
Basically, what I’m saying is forget The Normal Heart. Killer Condom is the powerful, romantic, queer drama about AIDS the world needed, got, and completely ignored. The cartoonish monster mayhem provides an incredibly fun horror movie experience, but the way the film slips in real life politics and terror around the edges makes the film a surprisingly subtle delight. It can be hard to find now, because goodness knows the general public loves to ignore cool movies, but I assure you – Killer Condom is well worth the hunt.
Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. On his blog, Popcorn Culture, he is running through reviews of every slasher film of the 1980’s, and on his podcast, Scream 101, he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror reviews with a new sub-genre every month!