Vinegar Syndrome’s ‘Decoder’ (1984) 2K Restoration Blu-ray Review

Once again, it’s time for our regularly scheduled Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray release! For the end of summer 2019, we’ve got the 1984 indie sleeper hit, Decoder. Never heard of it? That’s probably because you weren’t a part of the antiestablishmentarianism counterculture of the early ’80s. Disco was dead and punk was all the rage. The further you were from mainstream society, the better. Conspiracy theories were on everyone’s lips. Chaos reigned. It was an anarchist’s dream. Nowhere was this more prevalent than in West Germany in the days before the Berlin Wall fell. And this is where the Decoder story begins.


A burger shop employee discovers that by changing the background music from pleasantly calming to industrial noise music, he can incite riots and a revolution against the looming power of the government.

Directed by Muscha, or Jürgen Muschalek (Humanes Töten 1980), Decoder was written by Klaus Maeck (The Edge Of Heaven 2007). Punk rocker FM Einheit (The Collector 2009), the late William Rice (Coffee And Cigarettes 2003), Christiane Felscherinow (Neonstadt 1982), Matthias Fuchs (Planet der Kannibalen 2001) and Genesis P-Orridge (Ghost At No. 9 2005) star in the film, along with a bunch of people listed only as either Pirate, H Burger Employee, Peep Show Girl or Crisis Staff.

Decoder was inspired by The Electronic Revolution (1970) by William S. Burroughs, the master of all things satirical and countercultural. The story goes a little something like this: fast food is the wave of the future. It’s going to be more profitable than pork bellies. Big Hamburger (the restaurants are called H Burger… get it?) wants to make sure this happens by influencing consumers to want more, buy more, consume more meat. What’s the best way to do this, you ask? Just insert a few subliminal messages into the ear-crunching Musak that’s being piped into every one of their stores. People won’t be able to help themselves. They’ll have to eat more!

Enter FM (Einheit), a man on the outskirts of society who thinks jobs are for wimps. His sexy ALT girlfriend, Christiana (Felscherinow), lets men rape her with their eyes in her job as a peepshow girl. She also thinks she’s going to create an army of killer frogs that will take out every enemy in her path, but I digress.

After over 30 minutes of shoving his blonde mop of hair out of his eyes and eating extremely loudly, FM makes the connection between the H Burger Musak and everyone’s sudden desire to eat more fast food. Rather than expose them, he and some “friends” create their own industrial sound that brings out the destructive animal in everyone who hears it and spreads it across the city, causing a ruckus. The powers that be, lead by Jaeger (Rice), try to take control. It all culminates after the most anti-climactic chase scene in history as the world FM knows is over. Cue the 1982 Berlin Riots.

Decoder is not a film for everyone. As a matter of fact, it’s hardly a film for me. It’s more of a period piece, a slice of life from the minds of the frustrated and hungry youth of the late ’70s/early ’80s. The film leaves you with more of a gritty, uncomfortable itching than a satisfying story, although there is a full tale being told here. I’m sure there are hidden meanings in all of the Argento-esque lens filters, tape decks and castration videos, but I have no idea what they are. Decoder is more an arthouse punk film than much of anything else, but it sure is pretty.

I will say that the Vinegar Syndrome restoration is very well done, although not nearly as slick as some of their previous offerings. The sounds are off quite a bit, especially during the industrial music scene, but the gorgeous color was a nice distraction from them. If anarchy, seedy underbellies and frogs are your things, then you best hunt down Decoder from Vinegar Syndrome as soon as possible.

Decoder Special Features

  • Newly scanned and restored in 2K from its 16mm original negative
  • “Sound As A Weapon” – a brand new interview with writer/producer Klaus Maeck
  • Audio commentary with critic, author and film programmer Kier-La Janisse
  • Archival audio interview with Klaus Maeck
  • Excerpts from “Pirate Tape” – filmmaker Derek Jarman films William S. Burroughs on set
  • Video footage from the 1982 Berlin Riots
  • Locations ‘then and now’ comparison
  • Stills gallery
  • Original trailer
  • A mini-doc on the Italian “Decoder Collective”
  • Reversible cover artwork
  • Newly translated English subtitles

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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