Sunday, 18 October 2015

Halloween 31 For 31: Nekromantik (1987)

Director: Jörg Buttgereit
Screenplay: Jörg Buttgereit, Franz Rodenkirchen
Cast: Bernd Daktari Lorenz (as Robert Schmadtke); Beatrice Manowski (as Betty); Harald Lundt (as Bruno)

Synopsis: Robert Schmadtke (Lorenz) works at Joe's Streetcleaning Agency, a company who who cleanup sites of murders and accidents, recovering dead bodies that are found. Robert however collects body parts from work, storing them in jars at home with his girlfriend Betty (Manowski). He later brings home the body of a man who was accidentally killed by an intoxicated neighbour taking pot-shots at the avian wildlife with a gun. The resulting festering corpse he takes home is more than welcomed immensely for Betty, as they are both necrophiliacs who practice sexual activities with the dead. However things soon start to go very wrong with their strong relationship when Robert loses his job. He finds himself struggling with the fact death and sex have been intertwined for him since his childhood, the image of his father killing and skinning a rabbit scared into his mind, the misery he feels from the resulting breakup with Betty leading to things getting bloodier for him.

Evoking the name Nekromantik will immediately get a reaction from some readers, many of us having grown up into cult film fans reading of its notoriety. In the British Isles especially it developed a reputation from being screened at the 1988 Shock Around The Clock horror festival in London, a popular title on bootlegs that would've been destroyed if customs got hold of them. Buttgereit's debut feature is still controversial, still banned in countries like Iceland and Australia, so for it to have been passed uncut in the United Kingdom was a shock for many British cult film fans like myself who read of its extremities in synopsises in magazines and books with screenshots. Actually watching the film is an entirely different scenario all together however from what was created in my mind reading those articles, with the cadence of shock from the writers as if they couldn't believe Nekromantik existed, the actual low budget film vastly contrasting in tone.

It's absolutely not for the faint of heart, the film itself graciously pointing this fact out in an opening text written in punkish and rough handwriting, but I found the film far from shocking. The reputation was built up over the years, but this is not suggesting a macho nature to myself where I'm above being disgusted as a sign of being better. Nor is it that this film isn't raw, which is still is and is not recommended for everyone. In fact, I'm a shy guy who at the sight of vomit will immediately feel sick myself, and I'm emotionally engaged to some films to the point they can affect me far more immensely than for many. But from an early age before I could ever see these films, I learnt the difference between the content of films and reality, made up scenarios with special effects and props starring actors. No one is insane enough to record actual necrophilia on film unless they want to spend jail time, and while I have to praise the special effects team for building a very realistic, gross looking corpse, it's still a fake prop the actors are using. Also never brought up in any article I've seen is that there are only two, very short sequences of the infamous necrophilia content that got the film into trouble amongst other scenes, and that they are depicted very artistically and with far less of the gruesomeness of the other moments within narrative, with a romantic piano theme that adds a subversive tone to them and a superimposition effect where the actors' limbs blur and multiply covering the depicted act in a hazy sheen.

The necrophilia is just a brief part of the film in fact, the rest of the events of the narrative about Robert after his relationship becomes sour. The transgression beyond the titular one is just as shocking, making this film one only for the strong of stomach, including real footage of a rabbit breeder carrying what he more than likely does for prepare a rabbit for meat that I must warn readers of. The film, barring a couple that feel like they're are from a splatter comedy movie, depict these moments with far more artistic mindedness than being for the mere sake of shock. The resulting film is a strange mix of the Cinema of Transgression films from New York like Nick Zedd's filmography, Peter Jackson's Bad Taste (1987), and with all seriousness the grim melodrama of Ingmar Bergman  when he went as far as having dream sequences and symbolism, only with the budget and roughness of the few Andy Milligan films I've seen. The film was a transition for Buttgereit from his short film work and it was a painful one as Nekromantik has the structure of various scenarios taking place after the halfway point rather than a single point behind it all. This makes it a difficult film for some to get into as much as the extreme content will, but this also proves to be a blessing as the result as its much more interesting as a film rather than if its controversial reputation was fully lived up to.

The real crux of the film is the idea of sex and death intermingling, and while it could be seen as convoluted, the fact the film is a character piece makes it far from a grab-bag of taboos but a far more fascinating movie. The film drifts along into various tangents - from a parody of slasher films in a movie-within-a-film, to Christ and nature imagery being juxtaposed together in the final act when Robert figures out how to deal with his malady - but this presentation keeps it all reined in if you can engage with its throw-everything-at-the-wall-to-see-if-it-sticks mentality. That the film is also very humorous, in the blackest sort of way possible, solidifies the film having a great deal of intelligence to it when moments are clearly funny, such as the death resulting from a drunk neighbour trying out his gun set to almost jubilant marching music and a close-up up of a smirking garden gnome.  The clear desire to shock and offend viewers is there but the willingness to try out more dramatic and serious content makes it more rewarding.

Technical Details:
An incredibly low budget film, shot on 16mmm with handwritten beginning and end credits, the muckiness of the film makes it even more unsettling in tone. The few details that reveal flaws in the film's logic are covered up in the grimy, filthy tone. The practical effects have a real, physically gruesome look to them that, even though I wasn't shock by it, are still alarming graphic, dripping and gooey body parts and visceral dismemberments are as nasty as you could imagine them being depicted in this type of cinema. Even the less effective props such as a dead cat still have sickliness to seeing them that causes you to be at least queasy witnessing them.

The music however is unbelievably rich. While the film's main theme is as lo-fi as you can get, it's an incredibly layered score by co-star Bernd Daktari Lorenz, Hermann Kopp and John Boy Walton that you don't find super low budget films like this at all. Juggling between beautiful compositions to a hair raising screeching noise for moments of stress and anxiety for characters, an entire well of emotional context is given to the film that drastically contrasts to the grubbiness of the material. It does, while with full credit to the director's own work, help in adding immense quality to the final product.

Abstract Spectrum: Expressionist/Grotesque
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low
A lot of Nekromantik is deceptively unconventional. Particularly when the moments of metaphorical imagery appear in the narrative, it becomes a lot more dreamlike in general for all its grubby realism, such as Robert imaging himself as a corpse skipping along with a woman on a field passing a severed head between them like a ball. Outside of this the uneasy mix of the serious to the humorous causes the tone to fluctuate into many at the same time. It's not just the transgressions that are disturbing but how you should react to them and the awkwardness you'd feel actually watching the film. It can go from the legitimately disgusting, such as seeing the juxtaposition of a pan cooking meat with body fluids dripping off the corpse, to the openly silly such as a semi-decapitation with a flapping tongue. By the end, Robert takes a very extreme line of action for his problems which is the most shocking part of the film but also places it into a heightened tone that you don't get in many films at all, as ridiculous and jaw dropping as you can get in cult cinema. Unlike other low budget films, which don't have this film's music nor its filthy atmosphere or the creativity shown, it also possess a real hypnotic presentation the more you think of what the plot actually consists of.

Personal Opinion:
Finally seeing this infamous film that miraculously got passed uncut in the UK on Blu-Ray and DVD, I was taken aback when the actual film in question was not a mere piece of shocksploitation. Its convoluted on a first viewing trying to get a grip of its various events, but at this point this presentation has grown on me, the willingness to step into this level of transgression but with skill to depicting it standing out immensely. That its also openly trying to offend with glee, with a clear black sense of humour and willingness to try anything, is also utterly praisable. I may have not been shocked by it, but I have to still warn many readers from viewing it because it's still edgy even on a widescreen television.

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