Color, 1987, 71m.
Directed by Jörg Buttgereit
Starring Daktari Lorenz, Beatrice M., Harald Lundt, Susa Kohlstedt
Cult Epics (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Barrel (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
Color, 1987, 71m.
Less a traditional movie experience than a slimy slap in the face, Nekromantik was an instrumental title in the '80s gore renaissance and quickly passed in bootleg form from one eager collector to another, long before its official and short-lived VHS debut through Film Threat magazine. Unlike many German horror films which fail to distinguish themselves apart from the sheer level of bodily fluid spilled in front of the camera (e.g., The German Chainsaw Massacre and Violent Sh*t), Nekromantik demonstrated a palpable level of talent behind the camera and led director Jörg Buttgereit on a strange career that should have resulted in greater English-language exposure. How enjoyable this film will be, however, depends entirely on each viewer's individual sensitivities.
Quiet little Rob (Daktari Lorenz) seems like such a happy guy. Every day he goes to work for Joe's Streetcleaning Agency, where he and his coworkers mop up the gory remains of car accidents, and he goes home at night to his girlfriend, Betty (Beatrice Manowski, who later turned up in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire the same year!). The young lovers display an unhealthy fascination with all things dead, so Rob decides to spice up their sex life by bringing home - yup - a corpse. With the aid of a few household implements, they engage in a sticky menage a trois which should cause most sane viewers to flee for the nearest exit. When Rob loses his job, Betty takes off with the corpse and leaves him a farewell note. Unfortunately he's unable to cope with single life and experiments with various ways of recapturing that old magic, with one unforgettable bit involving a handy prostitute. If this all sounds too warped, well, just wait until the last five minutes...
A film whose reputation rests mostly on its lurid title, Nekromantik is at least not as realistic as one might fear. The special effects by and large are competent but exaggerated to the point of black comedy, such as a partial shovel decapitation that seems to have strayed in from a Peter Jackson film. The potential for black humor isn't squandered, either, with the funniest bit involving Rob's reaction when he stumbles into a theater showing a slasher film (with the soundtrack of Lucio Fulci's Zombie!). All of this would be far more unbearable without the excellent music score, partially composed by Lorenz himself, one of the finest and most memorable to grace an '80s horror film.
Shot on 8mm and blown up to 16mm for theatrical and video screenings, Nekromantik has always looked quite rough. The 2000 DVD doesn't seem too promising at first, with that notorious opening scene (at night, natch) still grainy and muddy as always. After that, however, this is a Nekromantik you've never seen before. The image is quite good for 8mm (perhaps the first ever released on DVD in America), and contrary to the packaging, the soundtrack is presented in a modest stereo mix which makes this film feel a lot more slick than it probably should. The channel separation during the music is very satisfying, with some hilarious directional effects tossed into the mix as well. The stereo is also more prominent and balanced when played in simple two channel stereo rather than simulated Dolby Digital surround. Even those who hate the movie (and they may outnumber the fans) should be impressed by the wealth of extras, including much participation by Buttgereit himself. Gorehounds in the late '80s assumed he must be one of those creepy guys you'd never want to meet in person, but he turned out to be s a clean-cut, charming guy with an obvious love for horror films and a quirky sense of humor. As anyone who heard his commentary on Combat Shock and Killer Condom could attest, he's good company for an entire film. He even offers some semblance of a defense for the film's most objectionable and repulsive sequence(s), the actual killing and skinning of a rabbit shot during standard procedure on a farm: "Just because we show it doesn't mean we like it." Co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen also chimes in on the commentary track and proves to be just as personable as the director, who also hosts a short making-of featurette packed with behind the scenes photos and anecdotes. Another brief feature, The Making of Nekromantik, covers similar ground in a more documentary style fashion, with a series of outtakes and clips. A lavish still gallery is accompanied by what appears to be the film's entire score, isolated in perfect stereo sound. Not enough, you say? Buttgereit's early short film, Horror Heaven, also turns up and sports loving homages to The Mummy, Frankenstein, cannibal girl flicks, and most amusingly Godzilla, all hosted in quasi-Hitchcock style by the director himself. His other work is represented by two(!) Nekromantik trailers as well as previews for Der Tödesking, Nekromantik 2, and Schramm. And for you Easter Egg hunters out there, be sure to check his filmography under Corpse F*cking Art.
When Barrel quietly folded a few years later, the DVD went out of circulation and Nekromantik started commanding ridiculous amounts of money for those who could still track down a copy. In 2014, Cult Epics finally got it back in circulation -- on Blu-ray, no less, with two viewing options. First up is a fresh HD scan of the original Super 8 negative, which looks about as good as you could imagine for a scruffy 1987 film shot in that format. There's plenty of inherent softness simply due to the film itself, and there's a fair bit of debris throughout, but it's safe to say this is about as crisp and clean as it's ever going to look without a ridiculously expensive restoration. There's also a "new grindhouse HD version" from the sole existing 35mm print, which is prefaced with Buttgereit's comment at Beyond Fest that he prefers this one in a way since it makes the film look "dirtier." Stains, scratches, and other damage swarm over the entire film (presented at the correct 1.33:1 aspect ratio just like the prior option), but it's definitely closer to the presentation horror fans of the' 80s grew to know and love. The main option features Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and 5.1 options along with that great commentary track from the prior release, while the grindhouse 35mm transfer is standard 2.0.
As for the rest of the extras, the original 12-minute making of is ported over here while Buttgereit's entire 2013 Q&A from Beyond Fest is presented here, running 40 minutes. Again he's witty and entertaining as he takes a look back at the market for horror films at the time, the circulation of a handful of 16mm prints to get the word out about the film, talking his friends into making it, and the pitfalls of trying to track down a real necrophile. There's also a different 9-minute vintage featurette with Buttgereit sitting at an editing table for 9 minutes speaking in German (with subs) about the circumstances behind the film while various scenes and outtakes unspool next to him; most humorous is the demonstration of the censorship imposed on the film in Japan, which understandably involved lots of pixelation. Of course, the big draw here is the 1985 Buttgereit short film, Hot Love, which runs 29 minutes and makes its legit English-language home video debut. There's also an optional audio commentary by Buttgereit for this outrageous story, which in many respects lays the narrative groundwork for Nekromantik as it follows the tortured love life of a meek guy (Lorenz) who meets and falls in love with a pretty girl (Marion Koob-Liebing) only to catch her in the sack with another guy (Buttgereit). After a few sweet montages, he catches her in the sack with another guy (Buttgereit) and gets into a violent altercation that ultimately leads to something even worse. Then the girl turns out to be pregnant, and things start to get... even crazier. Complete with a crazed central performance by Lorenz and a rhapsodic piano score, this is really the perfect companion for the main event on this disc. Also included is a brief Hot Love featurette (3 and a half minutes) with random attendees at a theatrical screening speaking in oddly overdubbed German and English about how much they loved it, including a few familiar faces from future Buttgereit projects. Lorenz even gets up on the stage to do a solo guitar number, too. The disc wraps up with the complete original soundtrack (with no chapter stops, oddly enough) and trailers for Nekromantik, Nekromantik 2, Schramm, Hot Love, and Der Tödesking, which is still way overdue for a digital American release. Included in the packaging is a pair of postcards, the graphic Beyond Fest artwork and a shot of Beatrice M. in her bathtub, perfect for sending to your mother.