Few hardcore horror fans worth their salt will pass up the opportunity to see Nekromantik: widely regarded as one of the most transgressive films ever made, Jörg Buttgereit’s 1987 shocker was greeted on its release by the fanfare of widespread moral panic, with numerous territories refusing to release the film outright, our United Kingdom included. With its 27 year ban from the BBFC finally lifted, it is now widely available for the first time, uncut, in high definition, with an exhaustive collection of interviews, making-ofs short films and featurettes, packaged in a deluxe, limited edition slipcase, filled with gorgeous art cards. It’s as if Arrow Films and Video are some sort of British folk heroes for the Home Entertainment age; our Cult Crusaders.
Working for a crime scene clean-up company the mousy Robert (Daktari Lorenz) collects body parts – eyeballs, bones, organs – and brings them home to the glee of his attractive girlfriend, collecting them in jars in an apartment decorated à la Ed Gein. In the wake of a peculiar gardening accident, Robert steals a full corpse – already quite disgustingly decayed – which the couple quickly proceed to have sex with in one of the most disgusting yet tenderly shot scenes you will ever see.
Buttgereit has expressed that he had no articulate desire to be a film director and that Nekromantic was conceived simply as a repulsive rebellion against the German film classification system. His anti-bourgeois sentiment is felt no clearer than in the relationship that is drawn between sex and death, evoking a truly disturbing version of Freud’s uncanny in sickly detail. This duality is woven into the fabric of the film and instructs its form as well as its content, the camera gliding over a cadaver with soft-focus, slow-motion effects and a melancholic yet tuneful score; the hallmarks of softcore porn. It is, as it sounds, extremely troubling to watch.
Unlike the majority of it’s video nasty brethren that would have also been circling the UK on fifth generation VHS recordings, Nekromantik tends not to trade on jump scares and tension. It barely even trades on horror, the only bit of crowd pleasing splatter gore being largely forgettable and one particular scene openly mocking the tedium of the slasher genre. Instead, prominence is given to scenes of surreal personal anguish, memorably in a dream sequence during which Robert plays catch with a beautiful woman, the ball replaced with a severed head. In this sense, Buttgereit aligns his low-budget, amateurish and largely sloppy film closer to the arthouse, adding yet another layer of idiosyncrasy to what is already a wholly unique work.
The word ‘unforgettable’ is frequently bounded around in discussion of horror cinema but it has rarely been more apt. This will certainly not be for every film fan; it wont even be for every horror fan; but, like the Italian Cannibal Holocaust or more recently A Serbian Film, the film’s content and existence is as interesting as the stigma surrounding its release.
Nekromantik is out now from Arrow Video