“From time to time you have to make a film like Armageddon so people see that you’re still around.”
Udo Kier – born Udo Kierspe; 14 October 1944 – is a German actor who has appeared in over 200 films, across many genres, though his appearances in horror films have been particularly notable.
Kier was born in Cologne, near the end of World War II. The hospital in which he was born was bombed by the Allies moments after his birth and both Udo and his mother had to be dug from the resultant rubble. In his youth he worked as an altar boy and cantor. He moved to the United Kingdom to learn the English language when he was 18 years-old.
In 1966, Kier was cast in the lead role for the short film, Road to St. Tropez by director, Paul Sarne. His first major film, appropriately enough, was the notorious horror movie Mark of the Devil (1969) a production packed with extreme violence and, if you were lucky, a branded paper bag to vomit in, handed out at selected cinemas.
Working alongside one of the titans of the screen, Herbert Lom, Kier, with his good looks, was cast opposite the facially disfigured Reggie Nalder; to ram home the point, Kier’s character, Christian (the hero) is pitted against Nalder’s sadistic witch torturer, Albino. The notion of Kier wearing a metaphorical mask and adopting a larger than life personality would become one of his trademarks.
Two of the most important films in his early career were made back-to-back; Flesh for Frankenstein in 1973, directed by Paul Morrissey, a relationship which began when they met on an airplane flight, and Blood for Dracula, filmed by Paul Morrissey for Andy Warhol’s studio and produced by Vittorio de Sica and Roman Polański, with Kier playing the lead roles of young Dr Frankenstein and young Count Dracula (Warhol had little to do with either film, aside from the selling power of his name in the title). Udo’s thick German accent and wildly over-the-top performances immediately made him a cult figure with audiences. Indeed, Kier’s accent had led to many of his early performances being re-dubbed.
In a typically contrary fashion, rather than building on his now alluring performances and growing fan base, he continued to act in wildly disparate and, in a mainstream sense, uncommercial selection of films; Just Jaeckin’s inadvertently amusing erotic drama, The Story of O (1975) and the following year’s bizarre Spermula, in which he played an alien ‘popping out’ of a man, did little to sell him to a family audience.
Adding to his appearances on the list of DPP banned list of films in the UK, his role in 1975’s House on Straw Hill aka Exposé as an anguished writer is both intense and alarming and Udo attempts to break the world sweating record. Alas, the film was something of a bone of contention, the film’s producers allegedly doing everything possible to avoid paying him. It was to take another maverick member of the film-making community to drag him back to a medium he always felt happiest with.
Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) is now, rightly, considered a classic of the genre and though Kier’s role of the doctor can scarcely be considered the lead role, his association with the film and his mannered performance reminded audiences that Kier wasn’t just a pantomime ham. Ironically, he later appeared in Argento’s Mother of Tears, in which the director proves himself to be infinitely hammier than his actor.
It should come as little surprise that Kier also crossed paths with other Euro film philanderers: Poland’s Walerian Borowczyk cast the actor as Jack the Ripper in Lulu (1980) and in the following year’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne and Czechoslovakia’s Kurt Rabb gave him a role in his The Island of the Bloody Plantation, 1983.
Probably based on his cult status as Count Dracula, Kier has appeared in a number of other vampire movies, such as Die Einsteiger (1985), Blade (1998), Modern Vampires (1998, alongside Rod Steiger), Shadow of the Vampire (2000), Dracula 3000 and BloodRayne (2006).
Throughout his career, Kier has almost uniquely managed to balance his acting projects between ‘high art’ and gruelling trash (such as Evil Eyes and Fall Down Dead), a trick which has endeared him to audiences and filmmakers without necessarily leading to him being mobbed on the street.
Fans of the actor have included Walerian Borowczyk, the aforementioned Dario Argento, Andy Warhol, Paul Morrissey and Rainer Werner Fassbinder (which allegedly ruled him out from appearing in any Werner Herzog films, due to an unspoken agreement between the directors – there was some slight leeway with a fleeting appearance in 2001’s Invincible).
Kier has appeared in all of Lars von Trier’s movies since 1987’s Epidemic (with the exceptions of The Idiots, The Boss of it All and Antichrist) as well as the far more mainstream Hollywood blockbuster Blade (1998) as well as the ironic independent film Shadow of the Vampire (2000) produced by Nicolas Cage. He has also frequently worked with idiosyncratic German director Christoph Schlingensief.
He made an appearance in cult movie My Own Private Idaho (1991) directed by Gus van Sant. Well-known film appearances were in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) with Jim Carrey as a billionaire, Ronald Camp, in Barb Wire with Pamela Anderson, as a NASA flight psychologist in Armageddon, and as Ralphie in the film Johnny Mnemonic, though these flirtations with Hollywood did little to dampen his enthusiasm for horror and the absurd.
In the music world, the actor’s cult status led to an appearance in Madonna’s infamous 1992 attention-seeking book called Sex, as well as the video for her disco hit “Deeper and Deeper” from the album Erotica. Kier appeared in nu-metal band Korn’s music video “Make Me Bad”, in Eve’s music video “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” and in the music video for “Die Schöne und das Biest” by defunct German band Rauhfaser.
Kier also starred as the psychic “Yuri” in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 and its expansion, Yuri’s Revenge, played the villainous Lorenzini in the 1996 film The Adventures of Pinocchio, and then later reprised his role in the 1999 sequel. He also voiced Professor Pericles in the 2010 – 2013 animated series Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.
A documentary on his life and career entitled “ICH-UDO…der Schauspieler Udo Kier” (“ME-Udo…the actor Udo Kier”) was filmed for ARTE, the French-German culture channel in Europe, and released in 2012. The documentary won the New York Festival “Finalist Certificate”. He was honoured by the Munich Film Festival with its CineMerit Award in July 2014.
Kier continues to act with horror films still featuring heavily on the horizon and so it is fitting that this career overview should end with the news that in April 2017 he is about to play Toulon in the reboot of the Puppet Master franchise, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich.
Daz Lawrence, Horrorpedia
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1981 The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne
1983 The Island of the Bloody Plantation
1989 100 Jahre Adolf Hitler – Die letzte Stunde im Führerbunker
1990 Blackest Heart (The German Chainsaw Massacre)
1993 Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
1994 Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
1994 Terror 2000 – Intensivstation Deutschland
1995 Johnny Mnemonic
1996 Barb Wire
1998 Modern Vampires
1999 End of Days
2000 Shadow of the Vampire
2000 Dancer in the Dark
2004 One Point O
2004 Evil Eyes
2004 Dracula 3000
2005 Masters of Horror – Cigarette Burns (dir. John Carpenter)
2006 Pray for Morning
2007 Grindhouse (‘Werewolf Women of the SS’ fake trailer)
2007 Fall Down Dead
2007 Mother of Tears
2011 The Theatre Bizarre
2012 Night of the Templar
2012 The Lords of Salem
2012 Iron Sky
2013 The Trail of Dracula
2014 The Editor
2017 Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich