Ask any horror movie enthusiast about the best of the best or the worst of the worst, and they’ll happily rattle off a list for you. Should you inquire about the more disturbing films that the genre has to offer, the German splatter exploitation flick Nekromantik would make more than a few of those lists. Controversial after all these years, the film is still banned in numerous European countries for its “graphic necrophilia content.” And it wasn’t even until last year that the British Board of Film Classification passed an uncut version of the film with an 18 rating.
All of this is made even more bizarre by the fact that the writer and director of the film, Jörg Buttgereit, has stated that the film is first and foremost a romance. According to him, any romantic film is the story of the emotional entanglement of three people. It just so happens that one of the three involved in the love triangle that is Nekromantik also happens to be a rotting corpse. The violence and necrophilia that then ensue as a result are just smaller details. And yet as small as these details are, they don’t make the film any easier to watch.
Going back to the beginning, Jörg Buttgereit never really meant to be a filmmaker. Growing up in a still-walled Berlin, the now controversial artist spent his days as a child frequenting the cinema, cultivating an early interest in monsters and b-movies. As he got older, he began to tinker with film, but nothing really substantive came from him at this period of his life. It was mostly just the experimentation of an overly-creative adolescent mind. And though he produced content in the form of shorts and documentaries, it wasn’t until 1987 that Buttgereit really let loose and crafted the controversial film whose reputation far exceeded any and all expectations. It was then that Nekromantik was born.
Frustrated with the climate of state-enforced censorship, Buttgereit set out to craft a feature that, above all else, would push the boundaries of taste and acceptance as far as cinema is concerned. It’s doubtful that he knew that the film that he was making would forever go down in film history as one of the most controversial pictures ever shot. He was just trying to push buttons in the name of artistic freedom. Well, he succeeded, and Nekromantik, complete with its scenes of explicit violence and necrophilia, would take on a life of its own outside of the reach of the ratings boards of European government.
Just last year, Cult Epics, a distribution company specializing in horror and exploitation, acquired the rights to Nekromantik and released the film in high-definition. It almost feels wrong to view a film this visceral, this graphically vile in hi-def. And as gorgeous as the film now looks, it seems as if images these extreme shouldn’t be cleaned and sharpened for home video consumption. They should be left to wallow in the murky grain of VHS and Super 8. If we’re going to be voyeurs peering into the seedy underworld of Nekromantik, we should feel like showering after. You just have to decide if you’re going to take the plunge into that world.