Nekromantik (1987)

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If you really want to disturb your neighbors this Halloween, have I got a tip for you: get hold of a copy of Nekromantik, play it on the biggest TV screen in your house and open all your curtains and blinds so anyone who walks past your living room can get a good old eyeful. This movie will have you driven out of the neighborhood in no time. Jörg Buttgereit’s 1987 shockfest has become notorious for its subversive and highly controversial content. Depending on who you’re talking to, it’s either one of the unsung classics of the video nasties era or one of the worst films ever shit into existence. I’m here to convince you that, at the very least, it’s worth 75 minutes of your time.

Rob Schmadtke (Daktari Lorenz) works for “Joe’s Cleaning Agency,” a company that specializes in disposing of dead bodies. This line of work is highly convenient for Rob, being that he and his girlfriend Betty (Beatrice Manowski) get their kicks from fucking corpses in their spare time. As you might have guessed, Nekromantikis a depraved little movie that is as slimy and sleazy as the corpses in Betty’s bed. But that means it’s got something. It’s got atmosphere and it’s got texture. Believe it or not, Buttgereit is something of a world-builder. There’s nice background detail peppered throughout. Look out for the photo of Charles Manson in Rob and Betty’s apartment and the pentagram logo stitched into the Joe’s Cleaning Company overalls. This film exists in its own little bubble which makes for a unique viewing experience beyond all the necrophilia.

Now, full disclosure, there are scenes in this film some will find incredibly disturbing. Corpse-fucking aside, there is also real footage of a rabbit being slaughtered, so if that stuff doesn’t agree with you, stay well away. Nekromantik, by design, is a nasty picture and all the grotesque sights amount to a handful of memorably icky images. You’ll remember the bedsheets stained with dead-body gloop, the flies buzzing around Rob’s apartment, and the slime that rubs off of the body whenever Betty decides to get freaky with it. One of the film’s most infamous moments features Betty using a piece of metal piping as a substitute for the dead body’s decomposed penis, but she’s still a practitioner of safe sex–she slips a condom over the pipe before mounting it. You don’t forget shit like that in a hurry. You’ll feel the need to disinfect your living room after watching Nekromantikbecause the smell of rotting flesh practically oozes from the screen and onto your clothes. It’s not that the special effects are convincing–they’re not–but there’s something inherently repulsive about the film that really makes it effective as a visceral piece of work.

Buttgereit–who made a string of cheap horror movies in the West Germany throughout the 80s but none that had the international impact of Nekromantik–shot the film on Super 8 with a shoestring budget, and I was actually gobsmacked to discover it was made in the late eighties and not the early seventies. The film looks much older and more forbidden than it really is, which adds to its identity. I think this, combined with the taboo nature of the central ideas, suggests a film that is far more unappealing in reputation than reality. To watch Nekromantik and write it off as a sick and disposable cheapie about necrophilia is to miss half of the point because, surprise surprise, the film is also very funny. Poor Rob hardly catches a break throughout the entire film and Betty is constantly finding ways to emasculate him. When he is fired from his job for having stinky work overalls, of all things–grave robbing can do that to you–Betty packs up and leaves his sorry ass, taking the corpse with her! To Betty, even a rotting cadaver is more of a man than her useless boyfriend.

The film is quite experimental at times too and frequently blurs the line between dreams and reality. It’s not the most original trope, but it enhances the idea that Nektromantik is a peek into the sickest corners of the human psyche. It’s an exploration of the repressed and depraved, fertile ground for making a horror movie. Also take into consideration that Buttgereit himself wasn’t exactly a blockbuster name in the genre but still committed himself to making a film so intensely yucky. It’s not like he could finish the film and show his mother and family friends. This is the kind of thing uptight parents disown their kids for! To make a low-budget horror movie is one thing, but to make Nektomantik is something else entirely. It takes serious balls to bring a film like this into the world, and the horror genre thrives off of filmmakers with that kind of conviction. My hat goes off to Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen for tapping into the darkest depths of their imagination and not holding back for a second.

Thankfully, Nekromantik makes up for its grueling content by clocking in at a nicely digestible 75 minutes. If even that sounds like a lot of time to spend in this world, I promise it’s worth the endurance as the film concludes with one of the wildest and most excessive final scenes I’ve ever seen. I’m not going to spoil it by going into specifics but let’s just say it gets my vote for the greatest “climax” in horror film history. If you think by minute 70 that Buttgereit has pushed things as far as he’s willing to go, hang tight and let him prove you wrong. Oh, and don’t forget to keep those curtains closed if you’re wanting to keep your place in society.

Reviewed as part of Dim the House Lights‘s Ten Days of Terror.

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