|Directed by||Jörg Buttgereit|
|Produced by||Manfred Jelinski|
|Distributed by||Leisure Time Features (US)|
Nekromantik (stylized as NEKRomantik) is a 1987 West German horror exploitation film co-written and directed by Jörg Buttgereit. It is known to be frequently controversial, banned in a number of countries, and has become a cult film over the years due to its transgressive subject matter (including necrophilia) and audacious imagery.
The film opens to a night-time scene. A woman urinates on the grass by the side of the road. She then pulls up her underwear and enters the nearby car, where her husband is waiting for her. Then they drive away. The couple have lost their way in the night, and subsequently run off the side of the road. The next scene occurs in daytime, and depicts their corpses. The man has lost an eyeball, but remains inside the vehicle. While the woman was thrown off the vehicle, and her body was cut in two pieces.
The film centers on Rob Schmadtke, the tragic hero, who works for "Joe's Cleaning Agency", a company that removes bodies from public areas. They clean up the mess after traffic collisions. Their emblem is the Totenkopf symbol (skull and crossbones variant) within a pentagram. This job leaves him the perfect opportunity to pursue his full-time hobby: necrophilia. He returns home from his job to his apartment and girlfriend, Betty. He plays with his assortment of preserved human remains and watches television while Betty takes a bath in blood-laden water. Their apartment is decorated with centerfolds featuring models, pictures of famed killers, and jars containing human parts, which are preserved in formaldehyde.
Rob watches a televised interview of a psychiatrist, speaking on the topic of arachnophobia and ways to overcome phobias. Rob then enters a daydream of a young lop rabbit being caught on a farm and graphically slaughtered. By implication, these are memories of his father killing "a beloved childhood pet". Followed by memories of a pathologist performing an autopsy on a human cadaver. The following scene is seemingly unrelated. A man drinks beer and practices with his rifle at the same time, while listening to an oom-pah rhythm. The character would not seem out of place in a Heimatfilm. He accidentally kills a nearby gardener, and then discards the corpse.
Rob then returns to work and discovers his new obsession, a whole rotting corpse. The corpse of the unnamed gardener. It is discovered in a pond, and during the removal process Rob absconds with it. He excitedly returns home to Betty like a husband returning with a romantic gift for his awaiting wife. They immediately cut a steel pipe and put a condom over it so Betty will have a phallus to straddle during their ménage à trois. This is immediately followed by a jump shot of grilling meat which is never established as either human or otherwise.
Betty and Rob dine and converse while watching their new "toy" hang on the wall, while plates collect the fluids that drip out. Rob goes to work the next day to be confronted by his co-workers, who are tired of him leaving his dirty suit to fester in his locker and for his constant tardiness. His foreman Bruno (Harald Lundt), who disliked him to begin with, bullied him up the stairs to see the boss. Rob is fired on the spot.
The film then jumps to Betty in the apartment, reading a love story to the corpse. She asks the corpse if it could feel the love in the story and begins to straddle the face of the corpse. When Rob returns, he informs Betty of his termination and she berates him for his failure as well as the fact that he did not stand up for himself. He comes home later and finds that Betty has left and has taken the corpse. In a violent outburst, he kills their cat and bathes with its blood and entrails in the tub while the body hangs over the tub. He then leaves to go to see a film, a low-grade horror film. After being bullied by a fellow movie-goer, Rob leaves to go back to his apartment, visibly despondent.
Once there, he attempts suicide with pills and whiskey. He begins to drift into a dream where he emerges from a garbage bag as a partially decaying Rob. He is soon greeted by a woman in white who gives him a corpse's head and they begin to dance, tossing the head and entrails of a body back and forth. Once he wakes up, he leaves his apartment and hires a prostitute. They go to a cemetery, where he hopes the environment would help satisfy his libido. He fails to perform sexually and the prostitute mocks him. He strangles her and then has sex with her corpse. He is startled as he awakes beside her with an old gardener standing over them. Rob grabs the man's shovel and chops his head off. This is followed by Rob running along the coast.
The film closes with Rob's suicide. A grisly "climax" to the film, which is composed of Rob stabbing himself while ejaculating. This scene is filled with flashbacks to the rabbit slaughter seen earlier in the film, but in reverse. In a final ironic twist, the camera depicts seeing Rob's gravestone while a woman starts digging him up. Only her foot is depicted, in stockings and high-heeled footwear.
Buttgereit had previously directed featurettes in Super 8 format, but this was his first feature-length film. Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen conceived the basic concept of the film while discussing the relationship between love, sex, and death. The idea to connect an orgasm to the moment of death, somebody actually enjoying his own death, was part of their initial ideas.
The film was a no budget film, with inexpensive special effects. The film makes use of actual animal intestines and the eyeballs of pigs. The rabbit-related scene used documentary-style footage of a professional rabbit breeder at work. The man was depicted as Rob's father, and the rabbit as Rob's favorite childhood pet. Providing the reason that Rob is psychologically scared.
According to Bartlomiej Paszylk, the film revealed its roots in amateur film techniques through use of poor acting and inferior cinematography. What actually made it a "must-see" for horror fans were its taboo-breaking scenes and dwelling in filthy, disgusting subjects. According to Kris Vander Lugt, in terms of genre Nekromantik is a mix of elements from several genres: splatter film, “schlock” film, black comedy, exploitation film, and softcore pornography. The title itself implies a mix of death (necro-) and romance. The film then serves as both an ode to necrophilia and an attack on the perceptions of morality of the bourgeoisie.
Other than his hobby of collecting specimens from corpses, Rob is depicted as a typical member of the German working class. On the other hand, the company which employs him has fascist allusions in its naming and emblem. When Rob loses his job, his romance with Betty also ends. She berates him for his lack of both money and manliness. Then she abandons him. Introducing the theme of emotional and financial impotence.
Several times in the film, the exterior of the apartment of Rob and Betty is depicted from a street-view. This unexceptional exterior is contrasted with the grotesque scenes taking place behind its walls. Linnie Blake argues this is an evocation of the uncanny in Freudian terms. Rob owns a miniature version of The Glass Man. Created in 1930 by Franz Tschackert, it was a life-size model of a male figure with transparent skin. Making visible the skeleton and several internal organs. The placement of this artifact along with specimen jars in the apartment, makes it seem like a mad scientist's laboratory.
Linnie Blake finds it telling that the murderer of the young gardener is previously seen shooting at birds, and is so similar to characters from the Heimatfilms. This was an essentially conservative West German genre which depicted "morally unimpeachable family and community lives". She argues that Buttgereit both evokes and derides this genre, and by implication the culture which produced it. The supposedly upstanding member of society kills, hides a corpse, and then disappears from view. Getting away with murder.
The film within a film is a slasher film. While a knife-wielding killer traces his knife across a female victim, the desenzitized audience of the movie theater seems bored. They kiss or fondle each other, they eat or talk during a misogynist torture scene. A testament to their lack of empathy.
The suicide scene is a depiction of extreme masochism. But also concludes the story of the character's sexual dysfunction, existential crisis, and social isolation. Rob is not only a person with a fetish of the dead, but one who constantly fails in his relationships with the living.
NEKRomantik defied the censorship standards of West Germany. Since 1984, all horror films released in West Germany were edited to remove violent scenes, both in cinema release and video release (for example, Day of the Dead (1985)), while a total of 32 films were banned from release in any format, including The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Mother's Day (1980), and The Evil Dead (1981). The creators of Nekromantik did not submit the film for review by Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft, though still making the film available only to an adult audience.
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The film has had a mixed reception since the time of its release. It currently holds a 50% at Rotten Tomatoes.
The film critics of Berlin were typically favourable to the film, commenting it on its taboo-breaking, its artistic merit, and the quality of its special effects. A magazine article on Sex and Death in the Modern Gay Cinema perceived a film as an allegory for AIDS and the necessity of safe sex.
The film initially faced no significant reprisals. The radical left of West Germany, which systematically boycotted screenings of sexist or pornographic films, seems to have ignored it. It was only the scandal over the sequel Nekromantik 2 (1991) which caused the German authorities to temporarily ban sales by mail order of the original film.
The film is currently banned outright in Iceland, Norway, Malaysia, Singapore, and the provinces of Nova Scotia and Ontario in Canada. In 1992, The Australian Classification Board banned the film outright in Australia due to "graphic necrophilia content". In 1993, the film was banned in Finland. The film was banned outright by the New Zealand Office of Film and Literature Classification in 1999 due to "revolting, objectionable content (necrophilia, high impact violence, animal cruelty and abhorrent behavior)". The film is banned in a number of other countries as well. In 2014, the British Board of Film Classification passed the film uncut with an 18 certificate.
- "Nekromantik". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
- Mullin, Frankie (4 September 2014). "Cult film shocker Nekromantik to get UK release after BBFC grants 18 certificate". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
- "Nekromantik (1987)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
- Kerekes (1998), p. 35-50
- Blake (2004), p. 195
- "Nekromantik (Original 1987 Motion Picture Soundtrack) All Formats". One Way Static Records. Retrieved 13 September 2015.
- Paszylk (2009), p. 199
- Vander Lugt (2013), p. 166-168
- Blake (2004), p. 196-197
- Blake (2004), p. 198
- Blake (2004), p. 200
- Blake, Linnie (2004), "Jörg Buttgereit's Nekromantiks: Things to do in Germany with the dead", in Mathijs, Ernest, Alternative Europe: Eurotrash and Exploitation Cinema Since 1945, Wallflower Press, ISBN 978-1903364932
- Kerekes, David (1998), "Nekromantik: what's the message with the rabbit?", Sex, Murder, Art: The Films of Jörg Buttgereit, Headpress, ISBN 978-0952328841
- Paszylk, Bartlomiej (2009), "Schramm (1993)", The Pleasure and Pain of Cult Horror Films: An Historical Survey, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0786453276
- Vander Lugt, Kris (2013), "From Siodmak to Schlingensief: The Return of History as Horror", in Fisher, Jaimey, Generic Histories of German Cinema: Genre and Its Deviations, Boydell & Brewer, ISBN 978-1571135704