In 1987, German filmmaker Jörg Buttgereit released a film that soon became a popular fix of underground cinema. Shot on weekends with next to no budget, Buttgereit created one of the most startling and depraved films, not to mention one of the most darkly hilarious, in cinematic history; its taboo-breaking content was hailed by critics and audiences alike. To this day, Buttgereit’s first film is hailed as a masterpiece of horror/art cinema. This is Nekromantik.
Corpse Fucking Art
The idea for Nekromantik germinated during a time when Buttgereit was reading a lot of true crime novels and was unsatisfied with how death was portrayed in films. He wanted to make a film that dealt with death on an honest level and without supernatural connotations. At the same time, he wanted to make a film like John Waters, one that pushed the boundaries of “good taste.” What better way than to make “the first erotic film for necrophiles” (John Waters)? Anger also propelled the making of Nekromantik as Buttgereit was unhappy that he couldn’t see uncut horror films in Germany, nor could he get into film school.
Buttgereit and his friend, Franz Rodenkirchen, began writing the script, which amounted to about twenty pages. Much of the script didn’t end up in the film as better ideas came along or locations were unattainable. Manfred O. Jelinski was brought on board as the producer. He worked at the lab where Buttgereit brought his short films, Hot Love and Bloody Excess in the Leader’s Bunker, to be copied. That is where he met Buttgereit.
Buttgereit’s friend Daktari Lorenz plays the part of Rob, while Beatrice M. plays Bettie. Beatrice M. got the part because she wasn’t appalled at the act of having sex with a corpse. Lorenz and M. did not get along at all, often fighting and arguing. Shortly before the filming of Nekromantik’s infamous ménage à trois, the two came to blows and nearly beat the hell out of each other.
As filming went on, Lorenz began distancing himself from the film, wanting less and less to do with it. Buttgereit practically had to kick him to get him to finish out the shooting. According to Rodenkirchen, “Daktari was such a pain in the ass to work with.” Lorenz spent most of the time complaining and letting his ego get the better of him, thinking that he could do everything better.
The centerpiece of the film, the corpse, took approximately 3 – 4 weeks to build and cost roughly $200. It was designed by Buttgereit, Lorenz and Rodenkirchen. A full-sized skeleton was covered with plaster, then painted over. The corpse’s eye was a real pig’s eye. After the film’s release, rumors abound that a real corpse was used for filming. And yes, Lorenz actually did suck on the pig’s eye during the ménage à trois sequence.
Rob (Daktari Lorenz) works for a street cleaning company, cleaning of the aftermath of accidents. This puts him in constant contact with all sorts of goodies like bodily organs or limbs – which he takes home to his apartment and preserves in jars of formaldehyde. One day, he is given the charge of disposing of a corpse. Instead, he takes it home so he and his girlfriend Bettie (Beatrice M.) can have some fun. But when he gets fired from his job and Bettie leaves him, it is only a matter of time before Rob finally cracks…
Nekromantik is one of those film that’s considered both an art film and an exploitation film. Emphasizing the former, a write up in a porn magazine described Nekromantik as an allegory for AIDS and the needs for safer sex. I don’t know about all that, but it’s definitely a fun movie geared towards those whose weekends are filled with “cracking open cold ones.”
While the content of the film is repulsive, the execution is more on the goofy and humorous side. Okay, maybe a lot on the goofy and humorous side. Watching it, I certainly wasn’t grossed out. But I was certainly laughing. A lot. Especially during the film’s climax which I liken to the Three Stooges vs a broken Slurpee machine. For FX hounds, ol’ corpse-y is nice and gooey. Those with weaker stomachs will be ejecting the contents therein.
For me, the high point of Nekromantik lies in the soundtrack composed by Daktari Lorenz, John Boy Walton and Hermann Kopp. While most of it is composed on a synthesizer, the central theme, titled “Ménage À Trois,” is a beautiful piano piece that wouldn’t be out of place in a schmaltzy romance film. I’d rank it as one of the best horror themes out there. And yes, I have it on my MP3.
Release and Aftermath
Filming was completed in 18 months. Nekromantik had its premiere at the Sputnik cinema in Berlin. The filmmakers did not submit Nekromantik to the Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft, the German ratings board, for classification. Therefore, it was only allowed to play in adult movie theaters. It was adored by critics and audiences alike.
In Oslo, Norway, the film was showing, alongside Buttgereit’s follow-up Der Todesking, to between 700 – 800 people. Two minutes into the showing the authorities showed up and halted the screening, claiming that necrophilia is illegal in Norway. Buttgereit had to explain to the authorities that it was just a movie. Eventually, the authorities were convinced and let the screening continue – but not without taking two copies of Nekromantik with them. This would be a taste of the controversy that would surround the release of Nekromantik 2…
Nekromantik is currently banned in numerous countries including Norway, Iceland, Finland, Australia, Singapore, and certain areas in Canada, amongst many other countries. The ban in the U.K. was lifted in 2014.
Nekromantik became one of the most bootlegged films of all time. DVD copies existed but were out of print and very expensive. In 2014, Cult Epics released Nekromantik on a two-disc limited edition DVD and a one-disc limited edition Blu-ray (2,000 copies on DVD; 10,000 on Blu-ray). The film is also included in Sex Murder Art: The Films of Jörg Buttgereit Blu-ray collection, also available from Cult Epics. Special features include A Q&A with Buttgereit at the 2013 American Cinematheque, two versions of the film, the making of Nekromantik, a featurette, an introduction by Buttgereit, audio commentary by Buttgereit and Franz Rodenkirchen, trailers, photo gallery, and Buttgereit’s never-before-released short film, Hot Love, which also features an introduction and audio commentary.
After Nekromantik, Buttgereit made three more films: Der Todesking, Nekromantik 2, and Schramm. Afterwards, he quit directing feature films and focused on documentaries, shorts and music videos. His latest directorial effort is the “Final Girl” segment in the film German Angst.
For fans of underground and cult horror cinema, Nekromantik is a must-see and must-own. While Buttgereit produced a few more films afterwards, Nekromantik will always remain his masterpiece because of how fresh it is. So what are you waiting for? Crack open a cold one and experience Nekromantik for yourself!