Apr 9, 2008

The Legacy of Nekromantik

Super 8 mm has become an almost extinct film format. Released in 1965 as an improvement over 8 mm film, Super 8 mm provided American (and abroad) families with a clearer format for home movies. Oddly enough (or not so when considering monetary factors), Super 8 mm would be later utilized by underground horror guerilla filmmakers. The inexpensive and easy to use Super 8 mm film format only accented the already gritty nature of countless macabre masterpieces. The greatest of these films being German auteur Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik.

Nekromantik grabbed my attention due to its reputation for its controversial subject matter (Necrophilia isn’t the most common subject found in films) and disturbingly perverse cover art. After viewing the film for the first time, I was surprised by its beauty and artistic merit. I expected it to be more on the lines of cheap Euro trash exploitation such as SS Hell Camp and Erotic Nights of the Living Dead.

Director Jörg Buttgereit is not only obviously a fan of horror, but of European master directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Ingmar Bergman, and Jean-Luc Godard. Witnessing the killing and skinning of a rabbit at a young aged might cause some undesirable psychological effects. Nekromantik protagonist “Rob” was certainly effected as he has incorporated death into his sexual activities.

Rob takes a job at a street cleaning agency and decides to bring a fairly rotten body with him. Girlfriend “Betty” has become aroused by the dead causing a truly bizarre love triangle. It seems very unlikely that necrophilia (and the blood that drips out of it), could look so good on anything other than Super 8. Of course Buttgereit proved this theory wrong in his sequel Nekromantik II: Return of the Loving Dead.

Jörg Buttgereit’s three subsequent films: Der Todesking (1989), Nekromantik II: Return of the Loving Dead (1991), and Schramm (1993) prove his progressiveness and maturity as a director over the years. It’s a shame that it has been so long since he has produced a feature (he has been director TV episodes for over nearly 10 years).

One has to wonder whether or not Mr. Buttgereit is unable to secure finances or decided to call it quits after making four masterpieces. Nekromantik has already shown its inspiration in the German production Cannibal (based on the 2001 real videotape of German cannibal Armin Meiwes and his lunch/willing victim) directed by Marian Dora. Buttgereit’s influence has no doubt also become international.

Russian Director Andrey Iskanov (Nails, Visions of Suffering, and Philosophy of the Knife) and Spanish director Nacho Cedra (Aftermath, Genesis, and The Abandoned) are two other auteurs that have combined sex, death, and art to give viewers the most sensual of cinematic experiences.

The Bloody Hitler mustache sporting Ilsa - She Wolf of the SS parody featured in Der Todesking.

When I think of the true New German cinema (or at least over the past 25 years of it), I don’t think of Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run or Wolfgang Becker’s Good Bye, Lenin! Nekromantik is a truly German film. Its dichotomy of the beautiful and the rotted, the empathic and the brutal, and live and the dead speak more about a country with a conflicting history. Jörg Buttgereit is also one of few German directors to confront Germany ’s National Socialist past. He goes even far as to make a joke about it (with the pseudo snuff Nazi exploitation film seen in Der Todesking). Jörg Buttgereit is not afraid of showing blond haired, blue eyed boys and girls in the middle of postmortem sexual activities.

Nekromantik is not the only great horror film shot on super 8. Leif Jonker’s Darkness: The Vampire Version (1993), J.R. Bookwalter’s The Dead Next Door (1988, Sam Raimi secretly produced), and more the recently John R. Hand’s experimental Frankenstein’s Bloody Nightmare offer the horror fan a different way to look at the genre. Canadian psychosexual auteur Guy Maddin has also utilized Super 8 in various shorts and features he has created (Cowards Bend the Knee 2003, Brand Upon the Brain 2006). These films made me realize that super 8 is a highly neglected format in regards to its possibilities in film. Although these various films and directors greatly differ, they all guarantee the most demanding of horror fans a different world to become enthralled in.

The future of the Super 8 mm format (and film in general) looks bleak. If Jörg Buttgereit were to finally make a fifth feature, would it be shot on DV? If so, it is safe to say that Nekromantik would still dominate that feature aesthetically. A lot of great Hollywood filmmakers have even gone the route, including David Lynch who vows he will never shot on film again. Super 8mm will always have a place in film history. There is something special about a film when it looks like it was dead and buried then unearthed from hell.

-Ty E

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