“Warning: Some of this film may be seen as grossly offensive and should not be shown to minors!!!” As this appears on the screen along with a childish home-made font with the movie title, everyone in attendance at the Kings Cross Scala cinema sunk that little bit lower in their seats. We had somewhat guiltily shuffled in to see a rare screening of German gore film Nekromantik (1988) and had no idea just what to expect from the movie we had heard about pre-web days through printed underground fanzines. Hell we did not even know if the place was going to get raided, the film seized and all of us carted off in the back of a van as some sort of lowlife deviants. One thing we did all know after sitting through this 66 minute movie is that it was never, ever going to get a legal certificate in the UK.
But 26 years later it miraculously has and Arrow have unleashed Jorg Buttgereit’s well documented and revered splatter full-length debut in all its gory glory.
Naturally most people seriously into underground horror already have this via more liberal countries releases as we have the follow up Nekromantik 2 (1991) and the directors other two films Der Todesking (1990) and Schramm (1993). However Arrow have gone all out here providing a host of extras on this three disc Blu-Ray, DVD, Soundtrack CD which I will come to later, making it the most authoritative version out there and one that even if you have already got the film elsewhere you will be jumping at the chance of picking up.
Historically it’s a very important film as far as serious horror is concerned. If you think about the splatter movie, first port of call would probably be Italy and then maybe Japan but this opened the floodgate in Germany for a new breed of film. In its wake films like Andreas Schnaas ‘Violent Shit’ started to spring up introducing a heavy un politically correct form of gore going way beyond what most people had seen. Karl The Butcher draped the screen with blood in ways that Jason Vorhees could only imagine. The underground revelled in things and filmmakers such as Olaf Ittenbach were encouraged to develop special effects in a similar way to Buttgereit with films such as ‘Black Past (1989). From there everything expanded into more gruesome and violent territories, the nadir of which I shall touch upon at the end of the review. Nekromantik was the film that defiantly started it all off.
After the titles the first thing you see are flowery knickers being dropped and a stream of piss hitting the grass. It’s hard not to think “what am I doing watching this” and as the lady gets back into a car urged on by her cajoling partner to swift demise on the autobahn in a heap of twisted wreckage and quite convincing splatter effects, you wonder just how safe your last meal is and whether it’s going to land in your lap. We are introduced to Joe’s Street cleaning crew who do the clear up after such mishaps and who start pulling the guts out the eviscerated woman whose flowery knickers are residing several feet away from her top half. Among them is new and probationary staff member Robert (Daktari Lorenz) who seems a bit of an unpopular outcast to the rest of them. Returning to his crumbling bleak looking apartment we find out that’s with good reason as he takes his work home with him, joyfully putting body parts into a collection of preservative jars. More surprisingly he has a rather attractive lady friend Betty (Beatrice M) who seems equally enamoured and even turned on by it all.
In a comedic scene a man is picking apples in his garden whilst his Aryan neighbour is taking pot shots with a gun at passing birds. Whoops, forget the apple pie here, the only place that our now shot in the neck fruit picker is going is to the local pond in a wheelbarrow. It’s some time before his mainly decomposed skeleton is retrieved but Robert has a sudden thought that perhaps Betty would be up for a ménage et trois and takes the skeleton home to his overjoyed lover. Inserting some piping to where his most private of parts should be (it’s OK she uses a condom) the three of them get down to it. I should point out that sex scenes are not graphic and are blurred and superimposed in slo-mo giving them a very arty and delicate feeling with love being very much at the forefront rather than exploitative sex (who am I trying to kid though we are talking about corpse fucking with an eyeball falling out mid passion at the end of the day).
The inevitable happens, Robert loses his job, with it the body parts dry up and not wanting to spend the best days of her life with a loser Betty leaves him taking the corpse and just leaving behind memories and a big stain on the wall. Beside himself Robert turns to pills and booze and finds his answer and redemption in the only conceivable way but I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who has not seen this. It will make your jaw drop off when you do!
The most contentious parts of the film are those depicting animal cruelty and yes a real rabbit is killed and skinned. The BBFC have obviously thought carefully about this and the simple fact is that it was being killed by a farmer going about his daily work and was filmed whilst he was doing so and used in the film. If it had not been filmed the rabbit was still destined for the pot. As for scenes with a cat they are well documented as not being real and anyone seriously thinking they are is bit on the simple side quite honestly.
Filmed in Super 8 the film is never going to look a million dollars and indeed for those wanting to relive the nth generation video copy look of the past there is a grindhouse version included on the Blu-Ray taken from the theatrical 35mm print showing it warts and all. The soundtrack is as important as the film itself and I like many seeking the movie down back in the day found it just as necessary to get my hands on it, thankfully Cold Spring released it on a limited edition along with der Todesking soundtrack. It injects a sense of pathos at times, joy at others and with the main score a foreboding climatic sense of outright terror. Daktari Lorenz, John Boy Walton and Hermann Kopp who composed it have done a wonderful job at musically breathing life (no pun intended) into the film with simple leitmotif melodies and moments of dramatic Teutonic terror. One great example is a joyous upbeat harmony as Robert in a dream skips through a meadow with a string of entrails like an innocent girl with a skipping rope. The Sound Of Music eat your heart out! All 27 tracks are included on the third disc here.
There are stacks of extras some seen for the first time ever. First up are two Buttgereit shorts along with commentary tracks and preview screening footage and outtakes. Hot Love (1985) is worth watching as it clearly shows the path the director was going to take. He stars in it along with Daktari Lorenz as two rivals in love (and not with a corpse.) It’s basic and a bit drawn but still amusing especially in the fashion and haircut sense as well as with the not so special, special effects. I think this was the first time I had seen this with subtitles, not that it made much difference. Horror heaven (1984) is pretty throwaway stuff to be honest. It’s just a showcase for Buttgereit’s developing style as he hosts Elvira style and plays tribute to Karloff with the likes of The Mummy and Frankenstein, his own creation super shithero Captain Berlin and Toho monster movies.
It’s as though he never found a proper direction and he unfortunately did not continue with what he was good at making an impromptu episode of sci-fi series Lexx as well as the odd music video. A couple of these are up next, the one done for goth rockers Shock Therapy shows his macabre side and is worth a watch but the other co-directed one really has nothing discernable about it. Time to pop on and watch trailers for all four features.
Naturally some all new material is a real coup de grace and we get a new interview with Jorg conducted in Aug 2014 specifically about the making of Nekromantik and the reaction to it. It’s insightful and fairly in depth and adds some new information to what has been seen, said and read before. I especially found it interesting that he took inspiration from concerts by the likes of SPK and Throbbing Gristle at the time more than anything else in the horror genre. I’m glad he mentions the feminist aspect of the film as this is often overlooked due to the other controversial elements but Betty is certainly a very empowered character, in fact by far the strongest in the film. There’s lots of interesting anecdotes about locations, cast and crew on this and I learned a fair few things here. Not so sure about his “I was never in it for the money” statement at the end though as he has stated that he was totally against making a third Nekromantik due to the bootlegging of his films and I have seen him react very badly to people wanting to screen his film in a private club situation recently too as he wanted payment for them doing so. Perhaps he is happy now to get some UK revenue at last!
Another all new feature is a Q&A session moderated by Callum Waddell at a Glasgow screening of the film this year. There’s plenty of meat on this 45 minute chat and bootlegging, censorship, the restoration of the film and naturally animal cruelty are discussed in length. It is reiterated that it is very unlikely Jorg will make anything of this nature again. He points out that his 2010 film Captain Berlin Vs Hitler (which is probably not of interest to splatter fans and indeed many outside Germany) was online within two days of its release. Whilst the likes of YouTube is out there, he will not be partaking in any more gore films. It’s just as well not all independent film makers think like this, if they did there would never be any low budget movies in production. Again this is coming from someone who was supposedly never interested in the money; although it’s something that seems to keep on cropping up. I have to add, ever thought about Crowd funding Jorg? I’m sure many fans would be keen to help you on your way to make part 3.
Next we have some shorter vintage featurettes, a making of that was included on the Corpse Fucking Art documentary (someone nicked my video copy of that grrr) with English and German commentary tracks. I appreciated seeing this again especially as it has been digitally restored. From the 10th anniversary German VHS release there’s a brief segment about the film’s production with interviews and some footage of the German premiere of Nekromantik. Finally there is an extensive photo gallery and in the box apparently a whopping 100 page booklet, phew!
Not having held it in my hands (I was provided with a screener of the film not the packaging) I am in two minds of what I have seen of the artwork, liking the somewhat cartoonish elements but loving the original art so much I find it slightly sacrosanct. Still the overall release is nothing short of absolutely essential!
The question you, as I am now doubt thinking is can Arrow follow this up with the UK first release of Nekromantik 2 and even Schramm (Der Todesking got a UK video release shorn of a couple of penis snipping seconds ouch)? I am intrigued as to whether the BBFC have been approached for an opinion of whether they would be passed or not (and I would not welcome them cut or interfered with in any form). Somehow though I consider it would be a no though, landmark decisions like this don’t come around that often even with a more lenient climate of late. I wonder if the tabloids have got hold of the fact that a shocking film about necrophilia being released for the proles to watch? Sure they will be on it when they get a sniff.
As a postscript and going out on a limb here, I have to ask just how shocking are Buttgereit’s four features now? I would say that with some of what is coming out of Germany more recently, not that shocking really and shall back that up. Take for example 2010 film A Fucking Cruel Nightmare by Sebastian Zeglarski. It’s a non-stop graphic orgy of butchery, dismemberment, torture, genital abuse and necrophilia. Then you have the films of Andreas Bethmann who really makes the misused “torture porn” tag legitimate peppering his Women In Prison movies with hardcore gore and pornography in unflinching detail. He even attempts to go beyond accusations of outright misogyny by including male sodomy as well. Then there is Marion Dora whose films such as Cannibal (2006) and Debris Documentar (2012) wallow in filth and depravity debasing the human form in every way possible. Unfortunately he also committed the cardinal sin with The Angels Melancholy (2010) of killing animals for the camera in a nauseating fashion negating any artistic merit in the process and making him a hated figure for any sensible horror fan. No, with all this in mind Nekromantik is quite tame but it’s legacy is far from innocent. Don’t go expecting any of the above films to appear legitimately unless all censorship breaks down in the UK in the future
(Review Pete Woods)