Saturday, January 16, 2010


Directed by: Jörg Buttgereit
Horror/Comedy/Romance, 75min
Germany, 1987
Distributed by Blood Pictures (OOP)

At the end of last year, the wife and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary, and moved into our second decade as a married couple. This gave me the urge to go back and watch the first film that we saw together on our second date - the first date being a Dinosaur Jr. concert thirteen years ago. Luckily she didn't walk out in disgust, but instead realized what she was getting into and has been the biggest supporter of my compulsive cinephillia ever since.

And what a perfect first movie to break in a new relationship with, as Jörg Buttgereit’s taboo breaking Nekromatik is a riot, it has some brilliant scenes and is without a doubt one of the finest movies ever to come out of Germany. It’s packed with sinister sexuality, brooding angst, and wonderful dark nihilism.

Buttgereit followed up Nekromantik, his breakthrough movie, with Der Todesking (The Death King) 1990, Nekromantik 2 1991, and Schramm 1993 – a fascinating suite of movies that all focus on death, sex and the fascination we hold for these taboo crusted areas. Four movies that must be a goldmine for those wanting to divulge into psychological analysis. But that’s not what or where I’m going to go today. I dig those films at face value and take the entertainment value with me from them. Buttgereit vanished from the scene for a few years, working on TV shows, and supplying special effects on Swiss director Martin Walz brilliant adaptation of Ralf König's hilarious gay comic book Kondom des Grauens (The Killer Condom) 1996. The Killer Condom was incidentally designed by none other than H.R. Giger.

Last year Buttgereit returned to feature films with Captain Berlin Vs. Hitler 2009, a comedy based on a play written by Buttgereit,which goes in the vain of Universal Horrors, the many “they saved Hitler’s brain” movies of the fifties and sixties and good old German burlesque. – Keep in mind that it’s always a winner to sprinkle Nazi references in your alternative entertainment.

The quick fix for those who haven’t seen this fantastic film, or for those who need a refresher, goes like this: Main protagonist Rob [Daktari Lorenz – who only ever starred in two early Buttgereit shorts and Nekromantik. He also composed the music for the movie and later for Der Todesking with Herman Kopp and John Boy Walton], is a looser kind of guy, holding one of the most repulsive jobs ever – he cleans up accident places for Joe’s Cleaning Agency. Constantly in fear of his obnoxious boss, sick of his job and with very little future prospects, the light of his life is his cherished collection of pickled human trophies that he steals with him from crash sites. Not to mention his beloved girlfriend Betty. [Beatrice M – who went straight to Wim Wenders’ masterpiece Wings of Desire 1987 after this one, and later returned as Betty in Nekromantik 2 1991]. The prized trophies play an important part in the couples sexual relation as Betty takes romantic baths using the body parts as bizarre bath oils. Rob brings them home, Betty bathes with them.

When the guys at Joe’s Cleaning Agency get a call to dispose of a body found in a near by river Rob hits the mother load, and obviously takes the decayed corpse home to Betty. Needless to say Betty ignites on all cylinders and after making a prosthetic penis out of the end of a curtain rail, the three of them engage in the most bizarre ménage a trois ever put on celluloid.

Buttgereit poetically and sombrely sets this surreal scene of forbidden erotica to a minimalistic, romanticised piano score which give a strange almost blissful tone to the scene. Rob starts neglecting work and becomes the runt of his colleagues for his tardiness, but when he does get himself off to work, Betty just cant get enough of their new plaything and starts pleasuring herself with the corpse while Rob is out of the house. Rob get’s fired from work and telling Betty, she gives him a bollocking for loosing his job as she now sees her supply of entrails and corpses being shut off. This nails the rift between the two that lead to Betty leaving Rob and taking the corpse with her. In his frustration Rob burns all reminders of Betty and kills the cat he brought home for her. But as we all can relate to, letting go is never easy and he keeps the dead cat in that masochistic memorabilia game we all play with ourselves when coming out of a painful separation. Dwelling in self-pity and self loathing Rob downs a bunch of pills with booze and has a fantastically surreal erotic dream where he’s a corpse, and later in his state of depression he murders a prostitute he’s trying to screw in a cemetery when she laughs at his ability to get aroused. Only when she’s dead on the cold ground does Rob manage to complete his act finally getting that sexual release. Hitting rock bottom of his depression, Rob performs what must be the ultimate nechrophiliac ego trip; he takes his own life whilst jerking off and dreaming of that initial childhood memory which now plays backwards. As both Rob and the movie reach their climax Buttgereit presents us with images of Rob and his blood and semen spurting dick that will stay with you forever. Finally, setting it all up for a sequel, the movie ends as the camera gently sweeps over Robert’s grave accompanied by soft music only to be interrupted as a female foot rams a spade into the fresh soil…

Little things, like the Charles Manson picture on the wall, the jars of preserved pieces of bodies, the skeletal parts that decorate their bed, the slaughter of the bunny rabbit in Rob’s childhood flashback crosscut with Rob performing and autopsy all set the tone of the film in it’s initial quarter. It prepares us for the dark world, which we are about to step into, and establishes Rob’s background and that first incident that made him a nechrophilliac. Yeah, Rob got a stiffie watching that cute bunny die if you want a single line of Freudian analysis thrown in. It’s easy to understand why this movie was banned in several countries Strange stuff freaks the crap out of the censors.

The ending is by far one of the best in the genre, you gag, you laugh, but you can’t resist it. There's a forward motion in the very last scene, with the woman just about to dig up Rob’s body. And in the extension we can only imagine what Betty - cause you know it is Betty don't you - will get up to with Rob’s corpse. Ironically it’s in death that they will finally be reunited, and as I've mentioned on this site before, we always want lovers to have each other at whatever cost so you can interpret a happy ending in there if you want... in some fucked up way at least.

You cannot not like this movie, it's entertaining, fun, repulsive and delightful as it takes a very dark humoristic approach to its content. This is empathised even further by the oompa loopmaish soundtrack by Daktari/Kopp/Walton – what is it with German horror flicks and their synthesizer soundtracks? Wasn't that cheesy keyboard music but yet another reason to dislike the Andreas Schnaas Violent Shit movies? I’ve always had the feeling that the 16” film adds to the charm of this movie, as it’s soft colours and grainy grit bring a atmosphere to the film that is very fitting.

The bloody bathtub scenes, and overall look of Nekromantik where incredibly influential on me when I shot my own thesis film in early 1991. I showed my friend who created the special effects the movie and told him that I wanted the bloody bath in my own film to surpass Nekromantik. A task he pulled off with bravura, and still the highlight of that juvenile short I once made.

It’s easy to think of Lars Von Trier’s AntiChrist 2009 when watching this flick, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Trier’s movie parallels this one on many levels. I got really aggravated whilst working the cultural department of Swedish TV last summer due to the fact that so many of the staffers there where constantly praising Trier for his bold approach to his narrative and the disturbing way he chose to portray his characters inner demons. The statement ”He is so innovative and revolutionizes the horror genre like no one before him.” was uttered on more than one occasion, and it had me gagging at the ignorance of these people each and every time.

Naturally I find Trier a genius too, and his films are among some of the finest, but I admire him even more for the way he plays mind games with the cultural elite and movie critics. I’m sure that he sits down there at the Zentropa offices and laughs at the way people lap up every new approach he comes up with. The entire Dogma 95 movement! Come on, what was that all about – Lets ditch professional equipment, lighting, sound and real actors in favour of natural light, sound and real raw art on film. And the critics lapped it up calling it a revolution, a new wave, a unique experiment. I call it the stuff kids have been shooting on video in their backyards since the dawn of time. Then Trier took it one step further, and in Dogville 2003 he even removed the sets! Actors walked around in Spartan furnished locations with painted markers on the floor for walls and doors. Again the ”Experts” dove in, praising his daring new minimalist approach forcing focus on the actors – really? - is Nichole Kidman that good an actor? Once again, I’m certain that Trier sat down there in Denmark chuckling his ass off, as his ”art” enabled him to get away with whatever the fuck he wanted. Remember his 1998 movie The Idiots? Remember that there where so many discussions about the hardcore insert in that movie? Remember what happened when earlier visionaries tried these tricks? I discussed Thriller – A Cruel Picture 1974 some time back, and how it ended up being banned for amongst other things the hardcore inserts. Inserts that where part of the movies narrative, not just a “lets let the people who are pretending to be retards have a fuckfest in the grass” for no apparent reason like in The Idiots. Well how come the hardcore of The Idiots was considered fine art and not when others use pornographic images in their narrative? It happens all the time, Catherine Breillat, Michael Winterbottom, Peter Greenaway, etc. etc. – Go figure, why do some get the pat on the shoulder and the "fine piece of art there mate" reviews and others are considered smut peddlers. And don’t get me started on that whole bag of praise given to Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible 2002 for being innovative, non-linear and a shocking approach to sexual violation and violence– in our field we call it the rape revenge exploitation flick and nobody ever praised Shaun Costello’s Forced Entry 1971, or Buttgereit’s Schraam 1993 for their reverse narrative and offensive violence and sexual content did they. What differs Dame Helen Mirren’s nudity and shagging in Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover 1989, from Tinto Brass’ Caligula 1979. If you where to rant on about Greenaway’s film you’d be considered a connoisseur of fine art, if you rant on about Brass’ film you’d be considered a pervert. At least one of them will teach you some history.

Well getting back on track, I feel that this is exactly the case with AntiChrist, and during those discussions (and more recent ones as it hit DVD a few weeks back) Trier presented his mix tape of the horror and exploitation genres through AntiChrist, and I always make a point of telling people this when discussing the movie. I give them pointers to scenes that probably inspired him –The talking animals (well the Fox at least), the guilt of the dead child, the violence; the dick, balls, labia and clitoris maiming it’s all been done before. Which brings me back to Buttgereit’s Nekromantik.

The way Trier uses these tricks is just the same as the Transgressive art movement and the movies found there. Directors like Nick Zedd, Richard Kern, Kenneth Anger, George Kuchar, Curt McDowell, John Waters, Andy Warhol and definitely Buttgereit, all made movies that set out to rupture our stern views on basic values and emotions. I frequently claim that the beauty of Art is in the eye of the beholder. If you feel that Jesus Franco, Jean Rollin, Bo A. Vibenius, Ingmar Bergman, Akria Kurosawa, Bruce LaBruce, Bruno Mattei, Claudio Fragasso, or whoever is art, then I’m not going to argue. It’s your definition that set’s your experience, not mine, not theirs, but yours.

Now that’s a daring statement, because it would be easy to say that all horror and exploitation is after the same effect, to provoke the norm, and in the lot cases it is true. But only a few actually make a distinct definition between arty transgression, and gore, eroticism and shock value as pure entertainment – luckily exploitation directors make the movies that still are watchable. So the next time some stuck up cultural persona tells you about the daring symbolism of AntiChrist, tell them to check out Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik films an orgy of Corpse Fucking Art to quote Buttgereit himself, then they can waste your time when the have an authentic frame of reference and not the last poxy article published by some dick on the culture pages of the days newspaper.

Full frame 1.33:1

Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0- German Dialogue with optional English French and Spanish subtitles.

This Blood Pictures edition is packed with extra features: An audio Commentary by Jörg Buttgereit, it’s in German but if you speak the lingo decently enough you can follow it. Interviews and Outtakes with Buttgereit, a making of featurette, Trailers, still galleries and Buttgereit’s early short “Captain Berlin” Yes the same character he recently returned to feature films with.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your point of view. Nice article.
One question : if you had to write a paper about this movie for film school, what would you talk about ? Nihilism ? Psycho-analysis ? Theories of the grotesque ? I'm curious.
Thanks again.

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