The Germans have always had a rather, shall we say, "unique" cinematic language. Things are never quite as they seem in a German film, and one can count on odd symbolism and somewhat obtuse storytelling. Enter "Nekromantik", Jörg Buttgereit's opus of necrophiliac depravity. But, there's so much more to be had than just corpse-fucking. "Nekromantik" is as much about codependent relationships and coping with male inadequacies as it is about gooey, rotting bodies. That's not to say that the gooey, rotting bodies and corpse-fucking don't get the limelight, of course...it's just that, well...it's somehow touching, in a weird and less-than-comfortable sort of way. There are three ways to watch "Nekromantik", if you'll bear with me: first, you can watch it purely for the visceral, ugly, shocking images (of which there are many), eschewing the subtext and "point" that Buttgereit is trying to make. Second, you can watch it for the aforementioned subtext, soaking it all in as a true "cinephile". Third, you can watch about half of it and get so grossed out and offended that you take the DVD and use it for skeet-shooting practice. I recommend that, should you belong to that third category, you should sit it out and watch "Nekromantik" all the way through. Give it a chance.
Regular guy Rob (Daktari Lorenz) works for Joe's Streetcleaning Agency as part of a crew of guys who clean up the human remains from fatal car wrecks. His live-in lover Betty (Beatrice Manowski) apparently stays home all day, living off of Rob's meager income. Rob's livelihood works out well for he and Betty, as they have a rather sick preoccupation with the collecting of body parts, and storing them in jars around their apartment. One day, Rob brings home a new playmate for he and Betty; the half-rotted, slimy corpse of a guy he pulled out of a swamp earlier that day. He and Betty make sweet, sweet love to the corpse, and decide to keep the dead fellow around for a few days. The next day (I guess), Rob gets fired from his job for repeated tardiness. He goes home to tell Betty, who rebukes him harshly. She runs away, dead guy in tow, and leaves a "Dear John" letter explaining essentially that he is a loser and she can do much better. Dejected, Rob makes feeble attempts at pleasuring himself with various body parts, as well as a cat that he cruelly plays with and then kills. When that doesn't cut the proverbial mustard, he goes on the prowl...this time for a real live woman to fuck. He hires a prostitute, whom he takes to a local graveyard. When the prostitute laughs at Rob for not being able to "get it up" for her, he strangles her, and then fucks her lifeless body. Evidently, he falls asleep next to her, and is discovered the next morning by an elderly gravedigger. Rob dispatches the poor sap with his own spade...and luckily we are spared seeing whether or not Rob fucks his corpse. Finally, Rob goes back to his lonely, rank apartment, where in a final act of desperation and loneliness, he commits hara-kiri while masturbating. As he expires, we are treated to shots of his dick (clearly a cheaply-made prosthetic) spurting semen and then blood...all over the place. As the film closes, we see a crudely marked gravesite where Rob has evidently been buried. As the camera pulls back slowly, a shovel is suddenly pushed into the fresh earth covering Rob's grave...and we see a stilleto-heeled foot pushing the spade into the earth. Freeze frame...end of movie.
OK...so I'm not going to sit here and pretend that "Nekromantik" is anything less than one of the most offensive, putrid movies ever committed to film. However, it's so bloodly artistic that it's easy to forgive the film for its other shortcomings, be they moral or cinematic shortcomings. The film is downright depressing, and Buttgereit pulls no punches, gore-wise. Sure, the effects are somewhat cheap looking, but the "leading corpse" is quite realistic looking...at least enough so that it's suitably stomach-turning. What really works here are the performances, especially by Daktari Lorenz. His "Rob" is quite well-realized, and he brings just the right amount of likeability to the role. Yes, we're disgusted by his actions, and yes, we (quite rightly) think he's a psychopath. But, amidst all that there is the permeating sense that Rob is just a guy lookin' for love in all the wrong places. He's so damned sympathetic that we really relate to him, and that's one of the most disturbing successes of the film. It puts us into a pair of shoes that we don't feel comfortable wearing, and then makes us walk around in them.
"Nekromantik" is one of those movies that has developed a rabid cult following since its debut in 1987. I must admit to having first seen this film on a third or fourth generation bootleg VHS tape about 12 or 13 years ago...and it has stuck with me ever since. It's a film that's been frequently overhyped, and as such, it may well disappoint some younger generation viewers who have grown up in the age of "August Underground" and "August Underground's Mordum". In fact, "Nekromantik" seems quite tame compared to many gorier and sicker films. Still, it's important to refamiliarize oneself with one's roots, and I think it's safe to say that "Nekromantik" is one of "Extreme Horror's" most enduring classics. It's not a great film, but it's a fairly meaningful film, once you get past the corpse-fucking. It's a grand metaphor for lost love and for how loneliness can drive a man to the brink of sanity. Be warned, though...this film is not pleasant to watch. At an hour and 15 minutes, "Nekromantik" just flies by...thankfully. You just can't watch this stuff for too much longer than that without getting deeply depressed and somewhat sickened.
Barrel Entertainment has consistently created some excellent, feature-packed releases for what some consider to be less than deserving films, and in this case, they don't disappoint. The disc includes (thankfully) the sordid, completely fantastic, and justifiably famous cover art that horror fans know and love. The film was shot on extra grainy Super 8 and then blown up to 16mm for its theatrical release, and the full screen transfer on this disc does little to hide the films cheap-jack origins. Still, it's as great a transfer as this film is likely to see, and contains only the expected amount of grain and dirt. The sound has been re-engineered to be more dynamic, but there really wasn't any point. This could very well have been a silent film. The dialog is quite limited, and could have been just as easily represented in title cards. So, don't expect your surround system to be pushed to its limits. In true "Barrel" form, there are loads of special features: a commentary with director Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen, a collection of early Super 8 short films by Buttgereit, two "making of" featurettes, a huge stills gallery, a collection of trailers for all four of Buttgereit's major films, and more. These features do a commendable job of adding a bit of perspective to "Nekromantik". We are given the chance to see that Buttgereit wanted to make a creepy, offensive, meaningful film...and that's exactly what he's done.
While by no means a "great film", "Nekromantik" lives up to its reputation as a groundbreaking classic of modern horror film. It's required viewing, even though some viewers will no doubt have a rough time getting into the spirit of the movie, with its quirky, almost comedic synthesizer score. Still, it's a film that helped to usher in the age of the true extreme horror film, and for that, we owe Buttgereit a debt of gratitude. Like it or hate it, "Nekromantik" has cemented its position, and will be around for many, many years to come. Highly recommended!
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