It's a German horror movie about medical students. It's also pretty good. Not only is it better than the horror films coming out of Hollywood that year, which isn't difficult, but it even competed directly with them when Columbia Pictures dubbed it into English and released it into cinemas over here too. In Germany of course it did huge business and in 2003 got a sequel (apparently not as good as the first one).
What's cool about it, for me, is its look at the medical profession. Doctors are greatly respected all over the world, but this film has the disrespect of familiarity. It thinks they're just ordinary people, like you and me. When Franka Potente (Run Lola Run, The Bourne Identity) wins a place at the University of Heidelberg Medical School, all her family are doctors and they all have different reactions. Her grandfather's dying of conditions he knows inside-out, but also delighted for her, whereas her father's being a dick and wants her to give up her place and instead help him in his small-town clinic. She goes, of course. Once there, she finds that university life includes:
(a) a roommate (Anna Loos) whose top priority is boys and being a bimbo
(b) arrogant dickwads who think it's funny to run electrical cables into corpses as a prank
(c) a good-looking boy who knows potentially life-saving facts, but rarely seems interested in talking about subjects other than kissing
(d) obnoxious lecturers
...and more. There's a professor with wandering hands. The main thing I learned from this movie was that doctors can be cocks too. This is a lot of fun, because they're being sleazy and tasteless in interesting ways. Medical training opens so many doors. Anna Loos made me laugh, with her lack of tact and her tendency to talk shop at inappropriate times, e.g. during sex, or at the top of her voice in an expensive restaurant.
In fact, I found this a very funny film. It's funny in appalling ways, mind you, but that's what you expected. "Could someone stitch me up? Fucking medical assholes!"
The plot is inelegant, but fun. The film works, but it's also silly and doesn't make sense. For a start, there are two threats: (a) a secret order of Anti-Hippocratic doctors whose history goes back to Nazi times and are basically evil Freemasons, and (b) a psycho. The latter belongs to the former, but that's a flimsy linkage. For a while the film runs with its A-story as Potente goes up against the conspiracy, but then our psycho shows up and the Anti-Hippocratics jump through a plot trapdoor. They show up again to tell the psycho he's been a bad boy and they're not going to put up with it... whereupon the psycho murders one of them and they respond by disappearing from the film again. Well, that showed him. Worst secret society ever.
The Anti-Hippocratics are silly. I enjoyed the scene in which they justify their crimes by reference to academic pressures, university research budgets and winning contracts from pharmaceutical companies, but at the end of the day they're a secret society. They probably roll up their trouser legs and go "ob dob dob" to each other.
The psycho on the other hand is hugely entertaining. I found his arrogant delusions funny, given the extreme way he acts upon them. There's also black comedy in the scene where his similarly evil friend gets injected with his own poison and so spends a few minutes scrabbling around in increasingly slow motion.
There are further plot problems. Potente takes forever to go to the police, although of course anyone who's ever watched a film will know they're guaranteed to be useless. Students get murdered and no one notices they're missing. Potente gets chased around the campus by maniacs and never decides to, say, go home. How did a certain character get accepted into Heidelberg in the first place? This is the kind of silliness for which you'd be tearing a less entertaining film to shreds, but this movie gets away with it through energy, a sense of fun and saying bad things about the medical establishment. Changing course in mid-movie from The Skulls
will make you blink a bit, though.
I have some anecdotes. Apparently its anatomical models were inspired by Dr Gunther von Hagens's exhibition "Body Works", for which real cadavers are dissected and plasticised. The director (Stefan Ruzowitzky) decided not to use real corpses for this film, though. Also the person playing the medical assistant who's always cursing is now assistant medical director at the Institute for Gynecology at the University of Bonn.
Finally it's worth observing that this is a horror film by an Oscar-winning writer-director, having won Best Foreign Language Film for The Counterfeiters (2007).
Incidentally there's quite a lot of male nudity and only one naked woman, although the film knows enough to satisfy a certain demographic by putting her in its first scene. (Don't get too excited. She's dead and about to get opened up with a scalpel.)
The film's also not as bloody as you might be fearing, although of course there's a good-sized squirm factor from all the dissections, corpses, tissue sampling and so on. Overall I liked it a lot. It's making good use of the "So Nightmarish That It's Funny" trick, e.g. the worst waking-up in the world. It's also entertaining for what it's saying, so my favourite scene for instance comes in the closing credits as two medical students regret the downfall of evil and discuss their future plans for the abuse of professional standards. This is funny because it sounds realistic. They're so matter-of-fact about it.
"That's the clinic where they do illegal experiments on their patients, isn't it?"