Thursday, June 14, 2012

Nekromantik (Jörg Buttgereit, 1987)

Unclean, unclean! My skin is itchy, but I'm afraid to scratch it. Don't look now, but a colony of flaky, dead skin has set up camp behind my right ear and there's nothing I can do about it. Someone help me! Okay, now that I got that out of the way, let's begin to explore the decayed world of Nekromantik in a calm and rational manner, shall we? Is it romantic? Yep. Is it disgusting? You better believe it is; a man ejaculates blood from his penis while stabbing himself in the stomach. Is it beautiful? Oddly, yes. Even though there are times when it mirrors several chapters in my inexplicably unpublished guide on how to be a Skinny Puppy fan in the late 1980s, it does feature moments of that were surprisingly beautiful. Take, for instance, the opening scene where a woman (Simone Spörl) pulls down her floral panties by the side of the road and begins to urinate. At first I thought: nice way to kick off a movie; as in, this is gross. But the longer I stared at her piss as it slowly began to form small pools in the uncut grass around her ankles, the more the image started to appeal to me. I don't know, there was something strangely alluring about the way the moonlight caused her steaming droplets of pee to sparkle like diamonds as it slowly evaporated in the dark. Now that I think about it, you could approach each scene using that mindset. At the beginning, you're horrified by what's transpiring in front of you. But as the horrifying scene in question continues, you gradually become desensitized by its awfulness. Sure, you might not be tempted to plunge your hand down your trousers while watching what the sick twists get up to in this film, but you'll find yourself empathizing with them more than you expected. Which is the point writer-director Jörg Buttgereit was probably trying to make with this ghastly tale of unorthodox love. It doesn't matter what kind of objectionable material we're exposed to, we all end up developing an immunity to it the longer we stare at it.  
In order to make my next point, I'd like to quote the principal from Heathers, as I think it sums up how I feel about the film's taboo subject matter perfectly: "I've seen a lot of bullshit... angel dust, switchblades, sexually perverse photography involving tennis rackets..." But as for necrophilia? I'm afraid I'm gonna have to plead ignorance on this one. Don't get me wrong, I find sex with corpses to be abhorrent, but I can sort of see the appeal. Excuse me, but my lawyer has just informed me not to finish that thought, as it might jeopardize my standing within the non-corpse fucking community. And while I dig the whole iconoclast thing I got going on, the non-corpse fucking community is a community I can't afford to alienate, especially if I expect to be the next President of the United States, or hell, even elected to Guelph City Council.
Instead of dancing around the subject of necrophilia, why don't you type some words pertaining to the film's plot? Excellent idea, as it will give the time I need to rehearse my fake outrage.
After the woman is finished peeing by the side of the road, she gets back in the car she was riding in with her male companion. Suddenly, the driver looses control of the vehicle and a loud crashing sound is heard. As night gives way to day, the next image we see is smouldering wreckage strewn across a clearing in the woods. And judging by the way the bloodstained rear view mirror dangled helplessly from the shattered windshield, the chances that anyone survived the accident are pretty slim. As the camera slowly inches its way through the scene, the damage is revealed; the peeing woman is missing her low half (there will be no more urinating in public for this gal), and her male companion is pined to the back seat.
I know what you're thinking: That sounds like one hell of a mess. Well, never fear, Joe's Streetcleaning Agency is here to save the day. A van full of highly trained men in hazmat suits are on their way to collect and bag any body parts you don't want littering the area. Oh, you don't want *any* body parts littering the area. Got it. Anyway, even though I was disturbed by the fact that none of them wore gloves while handling the body parts, the scene is clear of human remains in no time.
You would think that after spending all day knee deep in other people's intestines, the last thing anyone who works for J.S.A. would want to do is to go home and play with their body part collection. But that's exactly what Robert Schmadtke (Bernd Daktari Lorenz) likes to do in his spare time. Nowadays, someone like this would have his own reality show. However, back in the late 1980s, people who licked eyeballs for kicks were shunned by society.
Luckily, this oddball-shunning society is nowhere to be found in Nekromantik, as the world is pretty much reduced to his dilapidated apartment and the various crime and accident scenes where the bodies lie. Behind every deranged eccentric lies a beautiful woman, and in Robert's case, he has the gorgeous Betty (Beatrice Manowski) to share in his morbid lifestyle. I was gonna call it his "morbid hobby," but I think it's safe to say that Robert and Betty have gone way beyond the hobby realm.
Immersing themselves in the viscera of others is the only thing they care about it. Don't believe me? Just ask Betty. Oh, I'm sorry. You can't right now. You wanna know why? She's bathing in blood. Lifting her left leg every so often in order to admire its shape and to watch the bloody water drip off her calves, Betty bathes like she's in a soap commercial (the world's darkest, most upsetting soap commercial). As while Betty is killing the Calgon mystique (no one is taking Betty anywhere), Robert is watching television on the bed described in the lyrics of Fad Gadeget's "Collapsing New People." Okay, maybe it's not a bed made out of nails, but it's got a headboard made of chainlink fencing.
Which reminds me: Does your belligerent fifteen year-old son like industrial music? Well then, why not show him that you really love him and buy him a bed made entirely out of chainlink fencing.
It would seem that he isn't really watching television (a stuffy panel show about phobias), as we soon enter his mind and witness a bunny being skinned (don't worry, its throat was cut first), while Robert performs an autopsy in a different location all together. After the bunny's innards have been removed, the action moves to a sunny suburban backyard where we find a man playing with an air rifle. I don't think we are inside Robert's head anymore. Either way, the man with the air rifle accidentally shoots a man picking apples next-door in the neck. Falling awkwardly on a garden tool, the apple picker dies.
The air rifle guy's decision to dump the apple picker's body in a ravine turns out to be the defining event of Robert's life. Well, actually, Robert's decision to take the apple picker's body home with him was the decision that did most of the life defining. But let's not quibble over minor details.  At any rate, instead of hauling the apple picker's rotting corpse to the morgue, Robert takes it home with him, much to Betty's delight. Opening him like a present (he's wrapped in plastic), Robert and Betty molest the apple picker's putrid flesh set to creepy music.
You can tell Betty's hardcore just by looking at the runs in his stockings. I mean, she hasn't even attached the apple picker's makeshift penis (a modest chunk of metal) to his cesspool of a crotch and her stockings already showing signs of wear and tear.
As their unorthodox threeway moves to the bed, it comes to my attention that the music in this film is utterly amazing. Composed by Hermann Kopp, Bernd Daktari Lorenz, and John Boy Walton, the Nekromantik score is tuneful, and, dare I say, surprisingly beautiful at times. The so-called "Theme from Nekromantik" in particular, as it confuses the hell out of the viewer. What I mean is, the serene-sounding music doesn't quite match the repugnancy of the visuals. While your ears are being bathed in a soft piano melody, your eyes are watching two living Germans have sex with a dead German; and not a recently deceased one, either. 
The domestic bliss the wacky trio (the dead apple picker is hanging on the wall next to a vulva-exposing centrefold) are currently experiencing is soon turned on its head after Robert gets fired from J.S.A. (that Bruno has had in for him since day one). Realizing that he won't be able to bring any more corpses home now he's not working for J.S.A., Betty decides to leave Robert, and, to add insult to injury, takes the dead apple picker's body with her. One minute their happily eating dinner together (the apple picker's corpse is leaking fluids in the other room), and the next, it's all over. It just goes to show that even the most stable relationships can fall apart at any given moment.
Leaving him corpseless in Seattle (and by "Seattle," I mean, Berlin), Robert tries to fill the emptiness by bringing home a cat. But that doesn't quite work out, as he ultimately ends up bathing in its entrails (don't worry, unlike the bunny, the real cat wasn't harmed, at least I hope it wasn't). In desperate need of satisfaction, Robert attempts to fill the void left by Betty and the apple picker's departure by going to see "Vera," a horror movie playing at the local multiplex (cool, man, they serve beer). Even though the movie, a low budget slasher flick starring Suza Kohlstedt as "Vera," failed to engage the wily necrophiliac, I liked how the film within the film was actually pretty entertaining (a blonde in white fishnet stockings runs from a killer wearing pantyhose on his head), and judging by the grin on his face, the film critic taking notes in the back seemed to think so as well.
Since the depths of his despair can't be lulled by pills and booze, Robert dreams of being a corpse. Stuffed in a plastic bag, Robert breaks out it and finds himself sitting in a field. Suddenly, a woman appears (Christiane Baumgarten) carrying a box. Now, I don't want to say what's in the box. But let's just say, the scene ends with Robert swinging entrails over his head like a giddy lunatic.
If the dream was any indication, you would think that Robert would have figured out what he needs to do next. But he gives normalcy one last shot when he visits hooker row. Choosing a prostitute in all white (Heike Surban), Robert takes her to the local cemetery. As the tantalizing largeness of glorious behind grips the cold concrete of the tombstone he has selected, it's obvious that Robert won't be able to perform in the manner in which he is accustomed.  
Ghastly in all the right places, Nekromantik is the type of movie that revolts as it illuminates. Or, I should say, that it illuminates as it revolts. Unconventional, in that it fails to kowtow to the conventions put in place by the horror genre, it's obvious that Jörg Buttgereit is an artist. Sure, he's wallowing in a subject matter that is considered vile to most people, but he doesn't let that distract him from making an unflinching masterwork. And that's exactly what this film is once you put aside your hang-ups and prejudices.

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  1. This is a film I've read about a lot over the years. Reviews are drastically split between "masterpieces" and "overrated garbage." With reactions like "my eyes will never be clean again" and "some wounds will never heal" describing the viewing experience on both sides. Your review convinces me that it is worth a look.

    On a side note, I totally read your SKINNY PUPPY book. Along with SWANS, nothing is a more important source of focus in my life than SKINNY PUPPY.

  2. I wouldn't call it either of those things, but I would definitely label it as "romantic."

    Skinny Puppy is an important source of awesomeness. :)

    I don't know if I mentioned this before, but I purchased the SWANS' COP when I was fifteen. And I remember it fucking me up real good (the liner notes alone are worthy of seven or eight poorly written sonnets).

  3. Well, despite all the decaying ickiness, I can see how the whole concept of "romance" is dissected. (

    SKINNY PUPPY is absolutely essential.

    I was in to SWANS first, though. Living far away from a city in pre-internet days, it was hard to get hold of non-big label bands. Sonic-Youth's EARLY work and Ms. Lunch were my main highschool obsessions. I found FILTH when I was about 17, but the absolute skull and soul crushing of COP wasn't until I was 19.

    That album, more than any other, completely altered my mental landscape. Irreversibly. I don't listen to it as often as I used to. Its just so emotionally crushing. Its like the music rips open my chest and face, and chews and exposed nerve endings with its splintered teeth.

  4. Sounds perfectly dreadful. But then, I've lately been in a "screw romance" kind of mood.

  5. @ido: Sadly, COP is the only SWANS album I own (I have the "Time is Money (Bastard)" 12" single). Records were very expensive back when I was flipping through the wracks (import prices).

    That's an apt way of describing the COP experience. It's a scary album.

    @Nine-Fingered Menace: It's the ideal anti-romantic movie. Plus, it's German.

  6. I have only heard awful things about this one from reliable sources, and now you go and make it sound wonderful. If you have not seen "Die, You Zombie Bastards" it is a bit of a rip off, save that it's "Robert" saves the world from a zombie menace dressed in a costume made of human flesh.

  7. I'm sorry, I hope I didn't make it sound too wonderful. ;)