Jan 7, 2014


With the death of Rainer Werner Fassbinder—the virtual heart of German New Cinema—Teutonic film essentially became kaput and the kraut celluloid corpse has yet to be revived ever since, at least artistically speaking, so it is only fitting that Berlin-based sub-underground auteur Jörg Buttgereit (Der Todesking, Schramm) made a no-budget film about necrophilia that managed to create a marvelously misbegotten marriage between arthouse and splatter cinema. Indeed, I would argue that despite its next to non-existent budget and sometimes amateurish direction, NEKRomantik (1987) is one of the most important Germans films of the post-Fassbinder era as a work that is not only distinctly Teutonic in its gorgeously grotesque and perversely poetic essence, but is also more symbolic of the contemporary German psyche than any film ever directed by the likes of bourgeois kraut leftist filmmakers like Volker Schlöndorff, Margarethe von Trotta, or Alexander Kluge, which at least partially has do with the fact that Buttgereit is essentially an apolitical filmmaker who has more interest in entertaining Lucio Fulci fans than appealing to prissy and pedantic Frankfurt school schooled film critics. Rather bizarrely (or not if you consider how the general German populous originally received most films of German New Cinema), Nekromantik was not even a hit among German horror fiends, or as Buttgereit revealed in an interview with David Kerekes, “When Nekromantik was first released nobody seemed to like it. In Germany all these horror guys, these horror fans, said ‘Oh, it’s boring and much too arty’, Then they read the critics from England and America and suddenly they take it seriously. If you show an American film in Germany the audience call it a great film; if you have a German film shown in Germany then it’s not so interesting, unless you’re dead like Fassbinder, then it’s okay.” It is only a guess on my part, but I can only assume that Nekromantik was initially poorly received by German audiences because the film hit far too close to home in its daring depiction of a degenerate German couple who not only worship death, but fuck a rather foul corpse that looks it could have been taken from the ruins of Dresden after the Allied powers firebombed into oblivion during the Second World War. Directed by an archetypical blond beast with a Hallstatt Nordic profile, Buttgereit is a virtual posterboy for the Schutzstaffel, which only adds to the unflattering affect a film like Nekromantik might have on more ethno-masochistic Germans. Probably the only rightful cinematic heir to German expressionist poet Gottfried Benn, as well as Satanic National Socialist Renaissance man Hanns Heinz Ewers, Buttgereit demonstrated with Nekromantik that the “Haunted Screen” (as German Jewess film critic Lotte H. Eisner once called it) did not die when Uncle Adolf came to town, but merely went underground and became all more strikingly unhinged, venomously visceral, and decidedly deranged because of it. Banned still outright to this day in diverse countries including Iceland, Norway, Malaysia, Singapore, and the provinces of Nova Scotia and Ontario in Canada, Nekromantik is a film that ultimately manages to find singular beauty in the most savage and sickening of human behavior. 

 Robert Schmadtke (played by Daktari Lorenz, who was also responsible for scoring most of the soundtrack) is a born loser with a superlatively scrawny physique, but at least he has a quasi-beauteous girlfriend named Betty (Beatrice Manowski, who also appeared briefly as a prostitute in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987) of all movies) who shares his fiendish fetishism for serial killers, gore, and aberrant apartment decorating. Rob works for a company that sounds like it was named by a stupid American, JSA (‘Joe's Cleaning Agency’), which is responsible for, among other things, collecting human roadkill and other corpses from public places. Sometimes Rob likes to surprise his girlfriend by bringing home postmortem souvenirs from work, including human eyeballs, which makes his rather lecherous lady friend’s panties wet. Ever since Rob witnessed the brutal slaughtering and skinning of his cute pet bunny rabbit by his Heimat-esque Teutonic redneck father as a child, he has had a rather warped mind and routinely daydreams about performing autopsies on corpses, among other unsavory things. One day after picking up a rather rotten male corpse with his cleanup crew comrades at JSA, Rob has what proves to be a truly life-changing idea and decides to bring back the badly decomposed body home to his girlfriend Betty as a romantic gift. Needless to say, a majorly macabre ménage à trios begins between Rob, Betty, and the tall, dark, and handsome dead dude that would give Georges Bataille a hard-on. Since the corpse’s cock has been castrated by nature via decomposition, Rob cuts off the end of a broom handle to use as a pseudo-member for the dead fuck and Betty proceeds to rides it with grotesque glee, but not before putting a condom on it so as to avoid pesky splinters. Having bisexual coitus with a corpse that does not complain in the charming company of his cute girlfriend, Rob’s meta-risqué romantic relationship with body-buggering bitch Betty only grows stronger, but like all living things, all good things must come to an end. 

 Unfortunately, as his shabby appearance indicates, Rob is a major fuck-up and due to compliments at work from his comrades regarding his unsanitary work habits and incessant tardiness, the hapless necro is fired from his job. Meanwhile, Betty’s begins to develop a deep and deadly serious bond with the corpse, even going so far as reading it lurid love stories. After coming home and telling his beloved he has lost his job, Rob is verbally reamed into oblivion by Betty in a manner no self-respecting man would tolerate. Later, Rob buys a kitty cat and brings it back home to Betty as a reconciliation gift, but she has already left him for the corpse and has taken the hunky piece of rotten flesh with her. Naturally quite hurt and angered, Rob beats the kitty cat to death and pseudo-erotically bathes in its tiny entrails. Belittled at a movie theater by fellow audience members, Rob acts little a little girl and makes a pitiful attempt at suicide by taking a curious cocktail of whiskey and pills, but instead of dying he has a fantastic dream about emerging from a black plastic trashcan bag (!) as a partially decayed corpse and is given the gift of a rotten human head in a box by a beautiful blond babe and the two proceed to play a blissful game of catch with human guts. After surviving his patently pathetic attempt at self-slaughter, Rob becomes a stronger man because of it and becomes determined to get over Betty, so he picks up a bitchy prostitute and brings her to a graveyard so they can fornicate romantically amongst the dead. Rather tellingly, Rob is unable to ‘rise to the occasion’ for a living woman and the sleazy streetwalker belittles him for this, so he strangles her to death and busts a load in the slag corpse’s still warm cunt. Unfortunately, Rob makes the mistake of sleeping with the postmortem hooker in the graveyard that night, so when he wakes up he is less than warmly greeted by an elderly farmer. Rather uninterested in dealing with a petty nuisance like the police, Rob dismembers the old fart with a shovel and goes on his merry way. Tired of life and lacking the capacity to deal with heartbreak, Rob kills himself by stabbing himself in the stomach, which gives him the ultimate sexual kick and causes him to sexually climax in what is literally and figuratively one of the most singularly climatic scenes in the history of horror cinema. In a more than fittingly ironic twist, Nekromantik concludes with a young woman digging at the ground of Rob’s gravestone, thus setting the stage for the equally great and grotesque sequel NEKRomantik 2 (1991). 

 Undoubtedly, during my life, there have only been a handful of films that changed the way I looked at the art of cinema and Nekromantik is certainly one of them as it managed to combine two of my favorite, yet typically seemingly discordant, cinematic obsessions—extreme horror and arthouse—while also being pretty damn darkly hilarious yet beauteous at the same time. Rather unfortunately, by the time I discovered the cinematic oeuvre of Jörg Buttgereit about a decade ago, he had already quit filmmaking. After recently receiving a DVD featuring three of Buttgereit’s satirical horror stageplays, Monsters of Arthouse (2013), it only made me wish all the more that he would once again become serious about making filmmaking. Luckily, Buttgereit is currently attached as one of three directors for the upcoming horror anthology German Angst. As someone who was essentially born a horror fan, I can say without reservation that no other national  style of horror cinema has had a deeper impact on me than that of the Germans. Recently, Buttgereit has been ‘upstaged’ in terms of the cinematically unhinged by a pseudonymous German auteur named Marian Dora (Cannibal, Melancholie der Engel aka The Angels' Melancholy, Reise Nach Agatis) who, on top of being obsessed with real animal killings and unsimulated scat, has no interest in the biting irony typical of films like Nekromantik. Of course, like Dora, Buttgereit’s works, although humorous, demonstrate a certain apocalyptic and foreboding death-drive in the post-Auschwitz Teutonic Volksgeist. Indeed, Nekromantik is the sort of ‘celluloid holocaust’ that would make Spielberg and other hysterical Hebraic Teutophobes in Hollywood piss their pants in fear. In its delightfully deranged depiction of krauts copulating with corpses, Nekromantik presents a sort of unintentional allegory for the ‘Todestrieb’ that has overtaken the German collective unconscious after two singularly deleterious World Wars and the deracination of Teutonic kultur via American occupation. As Buttgereit anti-lovingly depicted in his short Mein Papi (1982)—a work that makes a mockery of the director’s father's slow but steady physical and mental degeneration and inevitable pathetic death—there is a generational self-hatred among Germans that has only grown since 1945. As anti-völkisch yet paradoxically distinctly German as horror films get, Nekromantik is ultimately a work that brought new meaning to the old school National Socialist phrase “Blut und Boden” (Blood and Soil) in a film where corpses are unearthed and dead flesh is the most devastatingly delectable.  Indeed, when it comes to true artsploitation and celluloid necrophilia, you will not find two finer films than Nekromantik and Nekromantik 2.

-Ty E

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