Please note images used to illustrate this article do not reflect the quality of the stunning transfer presented here by Arrow.
Even when Arrow pulled off the unimaginable and released Nekromantik earlier this year the prospect of Nekromantik 2, its follow up from 1991, getting a UK certificate as well was highly doubtable. After all this was a film that the German authorities had seized and attempted to destroy after it was first shown in the Fatherland and it was very lucky that a print even survived to get secretly viewed and shown after. Of course as we have seen with the recent surge of hi-definition transfers of the former video nasties all getting a release, sensibilities have become a lot more acceptable and censorship is having to reassess what we can and cannot see. Still though Nekromantik 2 was no video nasty, it was beyond that. Sneaked into places like the Scala cinema and viewed by those in the know, the film was a real underground shocker. From there nth generation video copies were distributed and some lucky people managed to get the official German tape directly from the source. This was upgraded eventually with Barrel Entertainment releasing it Stateside on DVD. Still we never truly believed it would appear uncut (and it’s not a film that could really even be cut in any sensible fashion) here. History has been made though, perhaps it is due to the fact that it’s an arty foreign subtitled film on a very limited print run, and perhaps taboo subjects like necrophilia are not so contentious now? Maybe when sat down and dissected properly the fact that this is a sensitive and pro-feminist love story meant that it was deemed acceptable after almost quarter of a decade? Despite the relaxation certain internet auction sites are still stopping anyone attempting to sell either films if they catch them but as a craggy voiced guitarist once said “the times, they are a changing”.
We start straight after the gruesome events of the first film have taken place. Our hero Robert had shuffled off this mortal coil in a shower of blood and spunk (can’t believe I wrote that), dispatched by his own hand after being rejected in love at the preference of a corpse. He is not allowed to rest in peace though as a young woman Monika (Monika M) ironically decides to dig him up and take him back to her place for some loving. It’s even more ironic that after she does so his ex-Betty comes along to do the same, but tough, she had her chance. How Monika manages to dig up a corpse in broad daylight and take it back to her apartment is left for the viewer to fathom out but once there she loving cleans and polishes it and embarks upon a love affair, which is sensitively handled with blurry camera focus as per the first film. Repulsed by what she has done or by the stench perhaps, it ends with her throwing up. Monika is also dating a “normal” guy Mark (Mark Reeder) who has a respectable job dubbing porno! Their romance also blossoms as the corpse begins to become ever more rotten. Finally Monika is forced to undertake the grizzly task of hacking it up in the bath but can’t bring herself to dispose of the head and penis. Mark is starting to suspect that there is something “perverse” about his lady friend. It’s got something to do with the fact that she wants him to play dead during sex and she also has strange friends who come over and watch videos of seals being dissected. Things really do build to a head and the finale still packs a considerable punch no matter how much time has passed since this was made.
Buttgereit defies film convention. The editing process is thrown out the window and every scene is torturously elongated. Sometimes this works as in the cemetery where the beauty of death and indeed life is lingered upon in breath-taking fashion. Nature sparkles along with decay and a lot of attention has been made to create an other-worldly fairy tale etched dreamscape. It is here that the director also utilises his other key effect the music. Dialogue here is pretty much forgotten (indeed not a word is uttered for the 1st 20 minutes) but the fantastic score textures each and every scene packing things full of emotion and atmosphere. The soundtrack by Hermann Kopp, Monika M, &. John Boy Walton is excellent and included here on an extra disc too, so you can really get to grips with it. Be warned though once the music gets in your head it won’t let go and will go round with some very disturbing accompanying images for days and days. As far as the long scenes are concerned they also can be painful to watch, a cinema trip showing an existential (or should that be eggsistential) film is far too long as is a date to the zoo and funfair by Monika and Mark. The scene with the seal is horrifying to watch and as the girls sit around eating with the corpse head sitting proudly on a table you can only wonder just what is going on in these people’s sick heads. I guess it is partly used to show that Monika is not the only depraved person and it would have been interesting to look further into the lives of the others perhaps, if the series had expanded into a third part. Nekromantik 2 is a challenging film, its ambiguity leaves you somewhat puzzled and the gory parts that it has become so notorious for leave you appalled. It is a landmark horror film and one that is revered as much as reviled though and for those who have not seen it, at least you now have the chance to confront it and make your own mind up! Having seen it countless times myself it’s still not a film I would put on randomly and it is one that I still approach with a degree of caution and trepidation. Naturally I was keen after this latest and best ever looking viewing to see what new features on the film would unveil.
First on the slab a new documentary ‘Masters Of Life And Death’ with Buttgereit, producer Manfred Jelinski and stars Monika M and Mark Reeder. The makers discuss finding funds after making Der Todesking and overcoming the biggest obstacle of getting a suitable actress on board. Luckily Monika was discovered alone in a cinema enjoying Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead and knowing of the directors previous work keen to get involved and do something different in her life; she certainly achieved that. It’s impressive that the cemetery was made in the producer’s garden and that the scenes there were intended as just a rehearsal but were so good they used them. As far as Mancunian Reeder is concerned it was a love of German electronic music that led him to Berlin, probably never expecting what he was going to end up involved in either. An 18 hour day at the end of the shoot for those final scenes may have been trying but they all look back on the whole experience fondly. Grim subject matter aside it sounds like they had a right old laughing making the film too. The much cheaper costs of filming in East Berlin just after the fall of the wall are talked about too and the decaying buildings there really add to the character of the film. Although not filmed in the East it does remind a lot of Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession (1980). Naturally the censorship furore is talked about, I didn’t realise the film had been shown for 6 months in Germany before it was seized. The fact they wanted to destroy the negatives really is quite preposterous, luckily they were stashed in the flat that would later be used to film Schramm(1993). Yes this film is “art” albeit “corpse-fucking art.” Next is a short segment revisiting some of the locations from the film, these features always prove interesting even if much of it does still look the same. Just to help get things completely in context next we have film historian Dr Marcus Stiglegger talking about the historical use of Berlin for the film. It’s only a snapshot but a fascinating one detailing the differences between East and West and the creationism of art and music as a medium. I love the way he talks about the film being a dream of a necropolis, a city of the dead at the beginning; exactly what I was not quite so eloquently trying to express. Next up is a vintage featurette on the making of the film as per the Barrel Entertainment release; here available with 2 different commentary tracks. Plenty of archive footage showing the shooting and set up of scenes as well as the construction of the corpse makes this particularly interesting.
Quite rightly the music gets a fair bit of attention and not only is there the complete soundtrack on a bonus CD but there is also some footage of a live concert performance of it to the film on its 20th anniversary and the complete concert as WAV files on BD Rom. Perhaps now the film is legal we could get this happening over here! You’ll have got those emotional, haunting themes going round in your head by the end of that lot for a month of Sundays’ after wading through all this. If you want more music there are also a couple of Buttgereit directed video clips for songs by Die Krupps and Stereo Total. Also of particular interest as I had certainly never seen them are short films by Buttgereit ‘Bloody Excess in the Leader’s Bunker’ (1982) and ‘A Moment of Silence at the Grave of Ed Gein’ (2012). Neither particularly amount to much, the second in particular doing just what’s suggested on the tombstone. Add to this outtakes, trailers for all his films, commentary, stills, excellent box set artwork, polaroid snapshots and cards and 100 page booklet which I have not got to yet. Honestly Arrow could not have crammed more in here or bettered it short of making the set scratch and sniff flavoured with the eau de corpse! There’s hours to dig through which I did over several sessions. That’s the good news, the bad is that the 5000 limited release sold out pretty much prior to release so you are going to have to keep your fingers crossed that as with the first part the label release in the future as a stand alone disc version. (At the time of writing there are a few copies still at Amazon UK, HMV and Zavvi, grab one while you can),
Where does this all leave the director in the UK? Well Der Todesking and Schramm would be welcome on Blu Ray, both have one eye watering scene that could prove problematic but time will hopefully tell here. Then there’s anthology German Angst which Buttgereit has one short segment in along with other German splatter directors. Having seen this, it should get through without any particular problems and would be a great release for the UK. What about Nekromantik 3? Well Buttgereit has been pretty vocal about refusing to make it due to being ripped off by the amount of bootlegs made of the first 2 films. Could this free him up some funds and give us what we want or is his heart and wallet simply not into the idea? I guess that too remains to be seen. Somehow I’m not going to hold my breath.