Jörg Buttgereit’s notoriously moist horror/gore film Nekromantik (1987) has been churning stomachs for two and a half decades. In honor of this German film’s 25th anniversary, a new DVD release is planned for May 2013 by Titan Video. While this news may excite many a die-hard gore-hound, the film is a tough sell to many other horror fans. Nekromantik - still banned in numerous countries around the globe - has a tendency to upset and nauseate its viewers… whether they adore or deplore the movie.
The film is about a young couple, Rob and Betty, who gain sexual satisfaction from the use of human remains. Rob has a job removing dead bodies and body parts from public areas. Thanks to this grisly career, Rob and Betty have a constant supply of human pieces. One day Rob comes home with an entire corpse, and it becomes the couple’s obsession. Unfortunately, Rob is soon fired from his job. This upsets Betty, who leaves him - and takes the corpse with her… plunging Rob into a downward spiral of depression and violence.
Despite being a very low budget movie, shot on grainy Super 8 film, and crafted by a group of friends working for free, Nekromantik causes an emotional reaction… something few genre films muster the power to do. The subject matter - necrophilia - is revolting, but that does not mean every movie made about sex with corpses is going to generate the emotional response Nekromantik conjures. It is wrong to dismiss this unsettling film as empty exploitation. It is not a goofy “b-movie” or simple gross-out exercise. Such fare does not tend to summon the emotional reaction Nekromantik brings. An intelligent, aware, and capable director was at the helm of this controversial shocker. This - more than the graphic gore, violence, and upsetting subject matter - is what makes Nekromantik work.
Director Buttgereit has stated why he believes Nekromantik succeeds the way it does and impacts its viewers so uniquely. He points out that the gag-inducing material is presented as ordinary. Seen through the eyes of the main characters, the acts of necrophilia are nothing to be upset or concerned about. Rob and Betty aren’t bad guys. There are no good guys hunting them down for their deviant acts. Necrophilia isn’t shoved in the viewer’s face in a blatant effort to shock. It isn’t served up as brainless exploitation. It’s incredibly abnormal behavior presented as if it is normal - and this is exactly why the movie upsets so many audiences. If Nekromantik were just another gross-out b-movie, it could be laughed off, dismissed, and forgotten about. The vast majority of those who have seen Nekromantik over the past twenty-five years still have it lodged somewhere in the dark recesses of their brains.
Certainly, there was some youthful audacity and rebelliousness in Buttgereit’s motives when he made the film. Most notably, Nekromantik was the director’s protest to German censorship. As he was in his early 20s when the film was made, perhaps his age was the key to Nekromantik being made at all. An older director would have been concerned about making a more commercially viable film. An older director would have had more trouble assembling a cast and crew of friends who would work for free. An older director may have seen the controversy on the horizon and decided he just didn’t feel like dealing with it.
Considering Buttgereit’s youth at the time, it is even more remarkable that he made a graphic film, on a shocking subject, that was infused with intelligent subtext and pensive rumination on the connections between love, despair, sexuality, and our physical bodies (before and after death).
Buttgereit began toiling on short films in his teens. He was one of the directors to contribute to Jesus - The Film (1986), a 35 episode German film project, shot on Super 8, that tells the story of the New Testament. Nekromantik was Buttgereit’s first narrative feature. He continued to deliver his distinctive brand of unnerving horror with The Death King (1990), Nekromantik 2 (1991), and Schramm (1994). After this, Buttgereit shifted his focus from filmmaking to stage plays, radio dramas, and writing.
With a new DVD release to celebrate Nekromantik’s quarter-century of making audiences very uncomfortable, it is likely a new batch of admirers will join the film’s cult following. The Titan Video DVD release will include a new 1.33:1 digital transfer mastered from producer Manfred O. Jelinski’s 16mm inter-negative, removable English subtitles, audio commentary by director Jörg Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen, outtakes and interviews with director Jörg Buttgereit and producer Manfred O. Jelinski, behind the scenes footage, a stills gallery, and liner notes by director Jörg Buttgereit, former Deep Red Magazine writer Graham Rae, and Combat Shock director Buddy Giovinazzo.
If you want to get your hands on the Titan Video DVD release before it streets nationwide in May, you can grab it at the Chiller Theatre convention, April 26 - 28, in Parsippany, NJ. Convention details are right here. Get more deets on the release right here.
Here’s to another twenty-five years of debate, awe, appreciation, and revulsion over Nekromantik.