Within the first few seconds of Nekromantik, it’s obvious that director Jörg Buttgereit is going for something different, as we are treated to the sight of a woman pissing on a dead pigeon. Refreshed and relieved, she gets back into the car of her partner and they continue on their bickering way until a horrific crash brings the journey to an abrupt halt. She is severed at the waist; he is also dead and has an eye popped out for good measure. Joe’s Street Cleaning Agency, a low-rent team who seem to specialize in crime scenes, attend the carnage and one of the squad, Rob, keeps the aforementioned eye as a souvenir, which he adds to his body part collection on returning home. Rob lives with his girlfriend Betty and despite any tension their relationship may be under at present, she is quite accepting of Rob’s little ‘collection’. A few days later, Rob and his team at Joe’s... is called out to deal with the aftermath of a bizarre apple-picking accident and having been entrusted with disposal of the body, quickly whisks it off home as a surprise for Betty. One makeshift wooden penis later and things seem to be on the up for Rob and Betty. Has the introduction of a new man in their lives added the missing ingredient to their relationship, or will Rob come up short even when measured against a well-rotted corpse?
Apart from knowing that it was a fairly notorious title and included some necrophilia, I had very little idea of what to expect from Nekromantik and I have to say, it was pleasantly surprising. The corpse-shagging is handled in a relatively tasteful manner and is just one small aspect of a very dark tale. This is no exploitation quickie and is clearly intended to be a serious piece of work, that despite dealing with a number of horrendous subjects, does so in a fairly matter of fact way. If any film that includes necrophilia, bathing in entrails, severed heads, rabbit skinning, and a blood and semen ejaculation can be described as matter of fact, then Nekromantik is that film. It never feels as if the grim scenes are being laid on for our enjoyment, more that we’re taking a walk through a very disturbed world and the horrors we encounter are just part and parcel of that world. In that sense it feels akin to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer; deliberately downplaying the surreal nature of what we see and therefore heightening the shock. Much like Henry..., it’s not a film you can genuinely say you enjoy, but it’s a well-crafted, original piece of horror cinema and deserves to be revered as much as it is reviled.
Arrow Video give Nekromantik its first legit UK release in a three-disc special edition set, limited to 3000 copies and comprising a Blu-ray, DVD and soundtrack CD. Originally released in Germany in 1987 and shot on Super 8mm film, the movie looks surprisingly good considering the source material. Framed at approximately its original ratio of 4:3, colours are deep and rich. The overall image obviously lacks a bit of definition, but there’s a nice grainy sheen that keeps things looking filmic without ever being too distracting. Super 8 on Blu-ray is never going to be a stunner, but having once been part of a group of friends who dabbled with making a sci-fi epic on Super 8 thirty years ago, I can definitely say that this transfer has been handled superbly and I can’t imagine the film ever looking any better.
Audio is available in German language mono and stereo varieties and both handle a soundtrack that varies from soft and lilting to ear-bleedingly screechy, very well. Optional English subtitles are also provided for the main feature and accompanying shorts.
Extras are numerous and consist of the following:
The main feature has a commentary from director Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen, recorded in 1999. This is slightly disappointing, as although both participants never take things too seriously, are very aware of the film’s failings and seem slightly surprised by all the attention it’s received over the years, the film’s genesis and the process that went into getting it financed and made in the first place is never really discussed. Admittedly, this is handled in more depth in the accompanying interviews, but it would have been nice if the commentary had included a bit more on the background to the film.
A “Grindhouse Version” of the film is also included on the Blu-ray disc and although exactly the same cut as the cleaned-up movie, is taken from an unrestored 35mm print of the film and retains all the print damage, grime and burnt-in subtitles that long-time fans will have come to know and love.
Two of Buttgereit’s early short films are included, both with director commentaries. Hot Love runs 30 minutes and could be considered as a template for Nekromantik, whereas Horror Heaven running 23 minutes, sees Buttgereit putting a new spin on a few of his favourite horror classics. Apart from occasional bits of damage, both shorts are in very good condition. Also included are outtakes from Horror Heaven and footage from the premiere of Hot Love.
A couple of Buttgereit-directed music videos are included, along with trailers for the director’s Nekromantik, Nekromantik 2, Der Todesking , and Schramm.
In Conversation With The Death King is a 22 minute interview with Buttgereit conducted specifically for this release and although there is some overlap between this and a 45 minute Q&A taken from a recent showing of the film, both contain some good insights into the making of the movie and again illustrate that Buttgereit is as surprised as anyone that his little homemade film from nearly thirty years ago is so well-loved.
Morbid Fascination: The Nekromantik Legacy is a new 40 minute documentary looking at the impact of the film on the horror scene in the UK and abroad and features interviews with genre critics and fans alike, while also taking in the film’s shady distribution and its recent uncut pass through the BBFC and as someone who had little previous knowledge of the film, I enjoyed it a lot.
Two vintage behind the scenes documentaries are included and although short, both feature a decent amount of stills and film not seen elsewhere.
A few minutes of footage from the film’s original premiere in 1987 are also included and things are rounded off with an image gallery containing a wealth of behind the scenes stills, plus a copy of the rare German language Nekromantik comic, reproduced in full.
The retail package also includes a DVD copy of the film and extras, plus a copy of the film’s soundtrack on CD. Neither of these were included for review, nor were the five art cards or the 100-page book Romance Is Dead, which features a new article on Nekromantik from critic Graham Rae, alongside pieces from writers David Kerekes (Sex Murder Art: The Films of Jörg Buttgereit), Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women), Linnie Blake (The Wounds of Nations) and an archive interview with real-life necrophile Karen Greenlee, all illustrated with new artwork and original archive stills.
Nekromantik is a bold, original piece of filmmaking, which is long overdue a release in the UK. It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, but for all its shock and gore, it’s an intelligent and provocative film that offers a portrait of love and desire that although alien to most, is dealt with in a serious and sombre way. This was my first viewing of the film and despite not quite carrying the porno-corpse mayhem suggested by the original cover art, it’s still a strong piece of work. This release from Arrow Video treats the film with more reverence than Jörg Buttgereit would ever have imagined all those years ago and they should be congratulated for yet again going the extra mile for what many other companies would dismiss as a very niche title.
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