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Feature


Rob (Daktari Lorenz) works for a street-cleaning agency. He visits roadside accidents to clean up the viscera from the scene. Incidentally, Rob collects the body parts and shares them with his girlfriend, Betty (Beatrice M.) When Rob presents her with a complete corpse taken from a swamp, their undying love reaches its peak. Soon after, Betty leaves Rob with the corpse in tow, leading him down a road of violent destruction. (From Cult Epic’s official synopsis)

 Nekromantik 8mm Original
 Nekromantik 35mm Blow-up
Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik is one of those rare and controversial cult films that actually lives up to its revolting reputation. Like T. F. Mou’s Men Behind the Sun, Fred Vogel’s August Underground, and the Guinea Pig movies, it delivers exactly what it promises on the tin – disturbing content and shocking images. It’s also absolutely no fun to watch, whatsoever. It is the crown jewel of the German underground horror movement of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. German underground horror is usually defined by DIY filmmaking (several were among the first feature-length movies shot on video), direct-to-video release, and extremely graphic violence. This growing list of filmic atrocities includes Johan Vandewoestijne's Lucker: The Necrophagous (1986), Andreas Schnaas’ Violent Shit (1989), and Olaf Ittenbach’s The Burning Moon (1997). Unlike their American counterparts, who enjoyed the freedom to make and distribute all the crappy, disgusting horror movies they could dream up (assuming they didn’t commit any actual crimes while filming), these Deutschlanders had to contend with strict German censorship standards that restricted availability and even threatened the young filmmakers with jail time. Like the films banned in the UK under the BBFC’s Video Recordings Act of 1984 (aka: the ‘Video Nasties’), these films became legendary in fan circles, rendering their actual qualities moot against the ‘victory’ of their existence and accessibility.

Nekromantik stands apart, partially due to the originality of its core concepts, but mostly because it’s not an impulsively-made fan film – it’s a really gross and thoughtful art film. Buttgereit wasn’t necessarily interested in reveling in gore for gore’s sake when he made Nekromantik. It’s definitely squirming with slimy, stomach-turning footage that made plenty of theater patrons reach for their barf bags when it premiered, but also leaves a lot to the imagination, both in terms of the film’s explicit content and the context of its images. Fans and critics have spent years interpreting the meaning of these images. Besides the obvious allusions to financial politics (the main character’s blue collar job and the fate of the apple picker whose corpse is eventually a ‘victim’ of the film central three-way sex scene) and clear-cut Freudian subtexts (I suppose any movie about necrophilia would include some Freudian subtext), some analysts glom onto the message of cultural desensitization (the blasé reactions to the slasher film within the film are a big indicator), while others consider the entire project one big HIV/AIDS allegory. The ‘beauty’ (not the best word to use in conjunction with Nekromantik) of Buttgereit’s ambiguous screenplay and nebulous images is that the audience can draw any conclusions they want. This is where the film distinguishes itself in comparison to its more straightforward, shock machine counterparts and why it endures as a supremely disturbing experience.

 Nekromantik 8mm Original
 Nekromantik 35mm Blow-up
All appearances mark Nekromantik is an amateur production – the lighting sucks, the performances are stiff (no pun intended), and the pacing is glacial – but it wasn’t hastily constructed. Even the roughest and ugliest shots permeate with purpose. Buttgereit’s grim and grimy tapestry makes it impossible to separate his many failures as a novice filmmaker from his modest successes. The film’s relentlessly dreary tone is inescapable and, in the end, the most appalling sequences become a release. The gleeful manner in which Buttgereit and his cohorts portray bisected car accident victims, eyeball-slurping, necrophilic three-ways, and blood-and-cum-spurting penises remind us that we’re just watching a really obscene fictional movie, not the depressing home videos of genuinely suicidal, sociopathic people that achieve sexual climax while fondling slime-caked dead bodies.

Video


Cult Epics has put a lot of love and effort into this limited edition Blu-ray release (I’m actually surprised that they sent out review screeners given the 2000 unit run), but they can’t change the fact that Nekromantik is an extremely cheaply-made indie production that doesn’t exactly lend itself to digital restoration. Buttgereit also shot on 8mm film, which, unlike 16 or 35mm, doesn’t quite match the resolution of a 1080p Blu-ray disc. Cult Epics has combated the problem by offering fans a choice of two different HD transfers. The first is a ‘director approved’ transfer taken from Buttgereit’s Super 8 negative (the top images) and the second, which they’re calling their ‘Grindhouse HD’ version, is taken from a blown-up 35mm print (the bottom images). Note that the Barrel Entertainment’s DVD version was taken from producer Manfred Jelinski’s 16mm copy (I tried to get comparison caps but it appears my copy has succumbed to age). There are minor differences between the two versions in terms of content (title credit placement, mostly) and big differences between the transfer’s qualities.

 Nekromantik 8mm Original
 Nekromantik 35mm Blow-up
I’m not an expert on the process of chemically blow-ups, nor am I certain that the comparison here is a fair assessment of an 8mm source vs. a blow-up on a digital HD format. As per my assumptions, however, it seems that the source format is the better choice. Though still very limited compared to a native 35mm (or even 16mm) format feature, the 8mm version is significantly brighter, cleaner, and more colourful than its grittier, darker 35mm counterpart (some shots on the blow-up are completely washed out with blackness). According to Buttgereit’s introduction, this may just be a matter of maintenance. The 35mm version is possibly one of a kind and has apparently been making the rounds around the world for something like 25-27 years. The overuse has resulted in a series of large and intense artefacts. The cleaner Super 8 transfer includes a completely different set of scratches (enough that we would complain if it was a ‘normal’ release), but these are comparatively smaller and emblematic of a cheaply shot and badly maintained small format film on its way to celebrating a 30th anniversary. Neither transfer is particularly stunning, because Nekromantik was never meant to look particularly stunning. It’s worth noting that the Super 8 transfer, which features more information on all sides of the frame, is the default version, while the blow-up is included as a special feature. Note that the 35mm version includes burned-in English subtitles.

Audio


Not surprisingly, Nekromantik was mixed in mono and was presented that way on Barrel Entertainment’s OOP DVD. The various German releases carried stereo remixes. This Blu-ray includes a new 5.1 remix alongside that German release’s stereo track. Both tracks are presented in a lossy Dolby Digital format. The remix is mostly unnecessary, especially since the 2.0 version already does a fine job of spreading Hermann Kopp, Daktari Lorenz (the film’s star), and John Boy Walton’s keyboard and piano music (I had forgotten how often the music contradicts the tone of a scene with disturbingly upbeat, baroque-inspired melodies). The 5.1 track’s discrete LFE helps give everything, especially the music, a fair bit of bounce, but I am not a fan of its tinny sound qualities and awkwardly expanded effects tracks. The stereo track ends up having more satisfyingly centered dialogue and its overall flatness (aside from the music, which was likely mixed in stereo before being added to the Super 8 movie) is much more natural, as far as I’m concerned.

 Nekromantik 8mm Original
 Nekromantik 35mm Blow-up

Extras


  • Audio Commentary by Jörg Buttgereit and co-author Franz Rodenkirchen – This commentary, which appeared on Barrel Entertainment’s release and is recorded in English, is a bit uneven, but still informative and likely still beneficial to other independent filmmakers. It’s also very funny at times.
  • Introduction by Jörg Buttgereit on the Grindhouse 35mm version (1:20, HD) – The director describes the process of transferring the 8mm negative to 35mm and the history of this very old print.
  • Q&A with Jörg Buttgereit (40:00, HD) – Footage from the director’s 2013 appearance at the American Cinematheque that follows up the introduction. It is extremely thoughtful and might give detractors a better appreciation of what Buttgereit was doing. You’ve also got to respect a guy that turns obnoxious audience questions into a smart discussion about censorship in Germany and real-life necrophilia.
  • The Making of Nekromantik (12:20, SD) – Another carry-over from the Barrel release (and the German 20th Anniversary release), this English-language featurette includes cast & crew interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage/photographs.
  • Nekromantik featurette (9:20, HD) – Yet another extra that appeared on Barrel’s DVD (and the German DVD), this slightly more recent look at the making-of the film features Buttgereit sitting at an editing hub, discussing the film.
  • Hot Love (29:00, HD) – This never-before-released short film from 1985 is sort of a predecessor of Nekromantik and has been lovingly restored from the 8mm source (it might actually be in better shape than Nekromantik). The film stars many of the same actors and concerns a (more typical) love triangle that ends in suicide, a really raunchy failed abortion sequence, and a, um, baby that turns into a mutant man. It includes optional commentary from Buttgereit.
  • Hot Love featurette (3:30, HD)
  • Still Photo Gallery
  • Jörg Buttgereit Trailers ( Nekromantik, Nekromantik 2, Der Todesking, Schramm, and Hot Love)
  • Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (on a 1:14:00 play-through, with no track-skipping options)


 Nekromantik 8mm Original
 Nekromantik 35mm Blow-up

Feature


Obviously, Nekromantik isn’t a movie for everyone. It’s actually not a movie for most people. But it is among the most interesting and comparatively thoughtful movies of its kind and worth exploring for the most adventurous viewers – the jaded ones that have already ‘seen it all.’ Cult Epics has done their best with some very rough material, including both a remastered Super 8 version and a super-gritty 35mm blow-up. The 5.1 remix is kind of a wash, but the included stereo mix is quite natural. The extras are a very inclusive mix of new additions (including a never-before-released short film) and previously available supplements (including a commentary and vintage featurettes).

 Nekromantik 8mm Original
 Nekromantik 35mm Blow-up

 Nekromantik 8mm Original
 Nekromantik 35mm Blow-up

 Nekromantik 8mm Original
 Nekromantik 35mm Blow-up

 Nekromantik 8mm Original
 Nekromantik 35mm Blow-up

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray (both the 8mm original and 35mm blow-up) and have been resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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