I’ll start this piece with a confession.

As much as I am writing this piece as an exploration of a particular film, I’m also writing it as my own way of working through the internal response I had to it; one that is still swirling in my mind and unsettled in my chest. A lunging attempt at some kind of catharsis…something I must exorcise from myself. The film is Jörg Buttgereit’s infamous 1987 oddity Nekromantik…and far from the abhorrent and irredeemable shocker I had braced myself for…it’s remarkably adroit to the point of strange poeticism, and within the layers of grime and grit, holds a strange and uncomfortable beauty.

Nekromantik needs no introduction really. Held in the highest (or lowest depending on your perspective) stead as one of horror cinema’s most infamous and beguiling artefacts, the film concerns Rob and Betty, a couple who share a very particular sexual proclivity: necrophilia. When Rob brings home a corpse for them to indulge in, Betty becomes rather attached to their new companion…leading Rob down a path of darkness and sadness from which there will be no escape. Suffice to say, this is not a film for the fainthearted or particularly squeamish.

Nekromantik is a work of pure underground cinema, imbued with a do-it-yourself rawness that channels the energy and drive of Kenneth Anger in his rebellious prime, pulsing with a confidence that is as completely magnetic, as the film is revolting. This sense of expressive individualism courses through the heart of the film, imbuing it with a rough, punk spirit. This punk vibe filters into the film’s caustic humour, framing a coupling in turmoil where the other man is in fact a dead one…and still more vital than our hero. For all its punkish sense of humour and self-awareness, Nekromantik oozes into spaces of visceral and moral darkness that are truly disconcerting, in particular the real killing and skinning of a rabbit. It has an uncanny power to shock and disturb, but it never feels as if Buttgereit uses this moment simply to assault the viewer. It almost stands as an important break from the fantasy. It’s the reality of death bursting into the film, and serves to frame the ridiculousness of Rob’s morbid obsession with the physical remains as lurid trophies, and keep the audience in contact with what death really means (beautifully twisted when the footage is reversed later in the film in an act of that brings life and death into sharp and strangely emotive contact, while playing with the malleability of the film body itself) and it’s almost banal, painful simplicity in contrast to the hyper reality of events. It’s within these surreal contrasts that the film finds rhythms that cruelly jar at times, and also gain a thematic poetry within the fluidity of concepts. Even the music itself underscores the intention to subvert and directly draw attention to the surreal relationship between love and death, romance and horror in the film, as the light and almost optimistic piano theme dances over the most startling images of the film…the rabbit being skinned, the necrophilia and Robert’s…ahem…climatic frisson. The schism between the two serves to elevate the complete experience further, and rather than startle, suggest the beauty in the graphic nature of the imagery, and the lurking menace and threat in the romantic score.

Visually, the film holds a texture that is so distinct and filthy that it clings to you. Surfaces are caked in grime and viscera that drip with blood and decaying tissue, as the very world around the characters seems to have already deteriorated into something rotten and illogical. In this sense the film shares a visual quality not unlike that of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, shot on rough and sun-bleached 16mm stock, as ragged, damaged and volatile as the Sawyer Family on screen. However, where the aching Texan sunlight gives The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a stark burning visual hue, the aesthetic conjured in Nekromantik is a dank wash of muddy and drained tones. At once, it is a sickly vision that reflects the overwhelming decay in the morals (and the very relationship itself) of central couple, but also suggests a pervasive sort of otherness about their very world. It’s fundamentally corporeal…and yet incorporeal, a ghost writhing in the squalor. This is what I believe to be key to the film…the challenge of the images is not in the repugnance of the acts depicted itself; it’s in their distinct sense of freedom, and Buttgereit’s invitation to perceive them as representative of something more, as an act of expression…to peak behind the gossamer and confront the content from outside the realms of taste. In truth it isn’t a pleasant aesthetic experience; such an overwhelming presence of decrepitude and disgust weighs heavily, and you can argue that a vast degree of the bite is inherent in the low-fi underground style than intentional artistic decision. However, whatever weird alchemy was at work in the creation of the visual storm on display, the effect is so utterly overwhelming that it holds an almost phenomenological sting that lingers and unsettles to the core.

The power of Nekromantik’s lasting impact is evident within the very fact that I have written and you are reading this piece. That I sit here still and wrestle with the meaning of the images that Buttgereit has conjured, framing them within romanticism, poetic expression and punk philosophy. Perhaps that’s the point of the experience…to never settle on any singular ethos; a film whose viscosity is too abundant and engrained in awareness, created as a work of pure self-expression, with no pretention. Nekromantik exists not for any greater meaning, but because it could. It was created with no intention to be seen outside of Buttgereit’s own circle and carries that sense of anarchic truth. In my opinion, Buttgereit’s perspective on upon his film illustrates exactly what makes it unique and valuable perfectly: “I’m amazed that it gets so much… not attention, because I understand why it gets attention. The poster we did back in 87 is an attention-grabber, but the movie doesn’t deliver on the poster. It does something else, and that’s nice, but I would never dare to hope that it really works.” It’s a window into an uncanny, unconventional and uncompromising vision, one that never asks you to like it…and I admire for its rare and ethereal nature. Nekromantik is something else indeed.

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk