Updated: Nov 11, 2020
Dissection by Kelly
Currently listening to: Black No. 1 by Type O Negative
"Loving you is like loving the dead!"
When I developed the idea for Kelly’s Taboo Terrors, I knew I would review the work of Germany's wonderfully odd filmmaker, Jorg Buttgereit. A few years ago I blind bought and watched both the original and sequel of his infamous films of necrophiles, Nekromantik 1 and 2. I was, and still am, in complete awe of both, so let’s start the necromancing with a look at Nekromantik from 1987.
Nekromantik is about a couple who exhibit unconventional tastes which includes fantasizing about performing autopsies, having a Charles Manson poster on the wall, keeping body parts in jars, and most famously, having a threesome with a corpse. The corpse in Nekromantik isn’t like our cute Warm Bodies zombies, or the sophisticated likes of the vampires in Interview with a Vampire, but a swamp soaked, bacteria laden decomposing thing. Rob’s job involves crime scene cleanups and he brings this corpse home for both him and his girlfriend, Betty, to party with.
Rob and Betty seem to have a unique relationship that is focused around the macabre and spending a lot of time together. We see all of their engagements occurring in the isolation and solitude of their apartment. Betty doesn’t have a job and is often seen lounging in a bloody bathtub, reading on the bed, and fraternizing with the corpse. We don’t know that much about her, but do get glimpses into Rob's like and we can see that he is struggling at this new job. Rob is small in stature and is ridiculed at work. He probably was bullied at school for being that “weirdo” and has very few friends due to his morbid fascinations. I can relate to Rob in more than a few ways, and I have been known to share my home with anatomical pieces in jars as well!
Rob’s job enhances his relationship with Betty and the corpse is the crux in their delicate balance as a couple. When Rob loses his job and the source of their ghastly delights, Betty berates and emasculates him. It seems he isn't quite enough for her if he is unemployed so Betty leaves Rob and takes the corpse with her! She had formed quite a bond with the slimy body. He is heartbroken. Rob then spirals into despair, taking everyone down with him; he violently kills his cat, strangles a sex worker (and has sex with her body) in a graveyard, and uses a shovel to literally deface the grounds keeper of said graveyard. In an ending that needs to be seen in ordered to be believed, Rob seeks the ultimate comfort in suicide.
Nekromantik was shot with a very limited budget, for fun, and with a group of Buttgereit’s friends. This wasn’t a film that anyone was meant to take seriously. Buttgereit did most of the work himself, from the directing, writing, and to the special effects and editing. In 1987, the Berlin wall was still in place and Buttgereit didn’t want to risk having the movie leave the city since if you wanted to go beyond the wall, they would search you, and he didn’t dare to be found with that kind of material. Two years later when the wall came down, he was able to screen his film for outside audiences. Within the small circle of people that Buttgereit knew, and its limited run in theaters, people enjoyed Nekromantik, though of course, it went on to become banned in many countries, including Germany, due to its graphic depictions of necrophilia. In an interview with Electric Sheep Magazine, Buttgereit said:
“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. When I see the film I have to laugh. I see some stupid little kids trying to do a horror movie, or trying not to laugh in front of the camera.”
Though Nekromantik was created for a laugh, some fans have labeled it as part fetish-part art film. It has an incredibly catchy score, great cinematography and centered around a romance, that includes a corpse, which makes it such an interesting film. It can also be read as addressing themes such as “the German working class, depression, the desensitization of violence in film and television, sexual dysfunction and fetish” (Morbidly Beautiful “Digital Dismemberment: Nekromantik). What stood out to me were the concepts of taboo sexuality and fetishism in the form of necrophilia. This lead me to read an article from Diabolique magazine called “A Subversive Portrait of The Outer Fringe: Nekromantik.” While most people would call the film offensive, disgusting and vile, this article gives it the respect which I personally think it deserves.
Necrophiles, both the grave/swamp robbing and the murderous ones, exist on the outskirts of society; they have romantic and sometimes sexual desires for the dead. The murderous ones aren’t up for discussion as this isn’t a true crime project, but the others could be placed on the spectrum with a variety of other sexual activities like BDSM, role playing, humiliation and more. These are unexpected (and not socially acceptable) forms of sexuality that make an outsider feel even more secluded from their environment. Rob was lucky to have found a woman that shared his interest in anatomy, death and romancing the dead. It turned him on that she was so turned on. A wonderful and interesting scene is the menage a trois with the corpse and the normalization of it. In another segment of the Buttgereit interview he states that:
“I think maybe where we were ahead of ourselves was in the fact that the movie pretends that everything you see is normal…..The fact that the corpse-loving scene is depicted in a way every normal love scene would have been, with piano music, with slow motion, all the clichés, I think that’s the trick, and that’s what gets people worried.”
Society would be worried about these corpse fuckers as they are completely thrown into alerity, their otherness, with their “abnormal” sexuality. This kind of necrophilia harms no one, except for maybe the families of the dead as it could be construed of defilement of the corpse, but that really comes down to our Western belief system surrounding death. Also, as stated in the Diabolique article, “While society would label them deviants, here they embrace what they consider a normal existence.” Inside the comfort and safety of their own apartment, Rob and Betty can feel the freedom to express themselves as they see fit, without the judgment of society, peers, and family. This scene normalizes necrophilia and that terrifies us. Or maybe it's just the big steel rod that Betty rides as a substitute for the sloughed off phallus that once was.
Nekromantik is a film, though oddly romantic, is deeply bizarre while at the same time incredibly beautiful to watch. It has some questionable acting, traumatizing imagery, and thankfully no smell-o-vision. It’s a movie that I enjoyed instantly, especially the delightful score. I love its DIY history and the practical effects are fantastic. Nekromantik is a memorable movie with more to say than I previously thought. I love how it pushes the boundaries without being exploitative. I adore how it normalizes a couple of outsiders, shows how complicated human beings are and packages it into an artfully done film with the most incredible cover art I have ever seen.
I would give Nekromantik a 3/5 on the Nightmare scale due to bloody ejaculation, rabbit skinning and the promise of mung.
Now, go listen to the Nekromantik theme over and over again like I do on a weekly basis. See you next month!