Starring: Daktari Lorenz, Beatrice M
Director: Jorg Buttgereit
How times have changed. Back in the days of the video nasty, imports of Jorg Buttgereit’s dour underground movie were seized by customs; now it’s receiving the deluxe steelbook treatment from Arrow. Whatever your ultimate opinion of the movie, one thing’s for sure – you’ll need a strong stomach to sit all the way through it. At a mere 71 minutes long it might sound doable enough, but over twenty years on, it remains one of horror’s grimmest tests of endurance.
Shot on Super 8 by an amateur cast and crew over a period of two years, Nekromantik (1988) is about Rob (Daktari Lorenz), a wimpy guy who works on a crew cleaning up after car crashes and crime scenes, and who brings choice gobbets of flesh, and then a whole juicy cadaver fished out of a river, back home to his appreciative girlfriend Debbie (Beatrice M). Exactly how and why the two of them have fallen into this unhealthy habit is never explained; this isn’t a film that troubles itself with much in the way of backstory or character development. There are some graphic scenes of a butcher skinning and gutting a rabbit which might be a traumatic memory of Rob’s, a trigger for his morbid syndrome, but then again, the footage might just be there for the hell of it.
That particular scene is the one that viewers have always found most challenging, although my own personal stumbling block was the bit where Rob disembowels a dead cat – the first time I’ve ever thrown up in my mouth while watching a movie, and hopefully the last. Even for the toughest of gorehounds, the charnel house atmosphere of Nekromantik is almost overwhelming, abetted by sticky-looking Super 8 visuals with a rotten green tinge. And for as long as it’s dealing matter of factly with Rob and Debbie’s strange hobby, this piece of dark, experimental German cinema undoubtedly excels at creating a morbid, disturbing atmosphere.
Where it falls short is when the two of them take their slimy new house guest to bed. Here, the dispassionate approach goes out the window, and the montages of Debbie getting amorous with her vitally challenged beau are tricked out with blurry, cascade-style video effects that look like they could have been nicked from an Emmanuelle movie. (Apparently this was done so you couldn’t see the nuts and bolts holding Mr Crumbly together.) It’s all a bit snigger-worthy and something of a letdown. After that, the film never quite recovers its air of conviction and it seems to struggle to sustain itself even to the 70 minute mark, nor does it help that Debbie, the most forceful character on screen, makes an inexplicably early exit (although this might have had something to do with the fact Beatrice M didn’t get on at all well with Daktari Lorenz).
Still, even if Nekromantik isn’t quite the gobsmackingly outrageous corpse-shagging shocker it’s reputed to be, you can’t quibble with the quality of this limited edition release. The transfer from the original Super 8 has a surprising lushness and delicacy, particularly in some of the outdoor scenes, most notably the early car crash sequence, with body parts strewn over plush green turf (shot in the producer’s back garden, we learn). We also get a transfer of the film from unrestored 35mm – a look at the movie as it was seen by audiences at the time.
The extras include two of Buttgereit’s earliers. The 23-minute Horror Heaven is a mildly enjoyable and very student anthology of spoof horror movie clips (the director’s version of the Mummy and Frankenstein, etc). The half hour long Hot Love starts out gently enough as a boy meets girl story, then turns dark and violent.
One of the highlights of the disc is a 39-minute documentary about Nekromantik and its legacy. This turns into a fond evocation of the British horror scene of the ’80s, with fans and critics recalling how the film was latched onto by fanzines and then shown at the famously seedy Scala cinema in King’s Cross amid fears of police raids. By the end of it, it’s hard to avoid the impression that to really love Nekromantik you had to have been there at the time.
There’s also a new 22-minute interview with Buttgereit, who talks in detail about what it was like making the film at the weekends, without a finished script or any money, but with some equipment lent by the producer, shooting many of the scenes in the cameraman’s flat. We also learn that the cadaver had two left feet. The director is back again, being funny and charming, in a recent 43-minute Q&A. Here he talks about the sequel and his desire to frustrate audience expectations, and he goes into some detail about the reconstruction of the film presented on this Blu-ray, which apparently entailed a number of technical challenges. Throughout, you sense a certain ambivalence in Buttgereit’s attitude – grateful for the kickstart Nekromantik gave to his career, but doubtful of its merits.
In addition, there are several other short featurettes and bits and pieces, with some revealing behind the scenes footage and shots of excited Germans attending premiers. Plus there’s a very jolly audio commentary with Buttgereit and co-author Franz Rodenkirchen, who have chuckle at the film’s technical shortcomings and reveal that the woman in the opening scene is taking a pee on a dead pigeon.
Whether this limited edition will win Nekromantik any new admirers is an open question, but it will certainly delight long-term fans who have the T-shirt and who remember the days when this was a film you had to buy under the counter.