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Nekromantik (1987)



I've heard it stated from film students that a director will set the message for a film within the opening scene. In Nekromantik, the first shot is a close-up of a woman pulling down her underwear, squatting in a field, and urinating. I feel that this shot holds more significance than the following one, which graphically depicts her body having been ripped in half during a car crash.

When reviewing a movie, I try to keep my knowledge of its contents and production background to a bare minimum prior to seeing it. When I later learned that director Jörg Buttgereit made the film following a rejection to film school, I felt that I had a better understanding of his intentions. He had received excrement in return for his efforts, and this film would be his instrument for flinging it straight back into the faces of those who had brushed aside his artistic ambitions. So, from a critical analysis, the matter is simple. This film was specifically designed to offend. How well does it do the job?

That's a tough question to answer, since offensiveness is highly subjective. A moviegoer can possibly endure gallons of blood, but he just may faint if a pimple gets popped. However, Buttgereit proceeds under a sound assumption that the majority of viewers will find necrophilia offensive. People seem to have become more open-minded these days when it comes to sexual fetishes. However, it's going to be awhile before getting turned on by corpses becomes a standard pick-up line. And in this film, he's exploring a specific subtype. We aren't talking about fresh specimens here.

The plot is a simple one. Spoilers ahead if you care, so skip this paragraph. The central character, Rob, works for an agency that specializes in cleaning up the sites of homicides, suicides, and fatal accidents. Since both he and his live-in girlfriend are necrophiles, this is an ideal job. Their apartment is full of "souvenirs" preserved in jars of formaldehyde. He eventually brings home an entire decomposed body, which leads to a very peculiar ménage a trois. Unfortunately, Rob is an inept employee, and when he is fired his girl takes off with the corpse. After all, life is too short to waste on a man who can't bring home the bacon. This triggers a complete mental breakdown for him, leading to animal mutilation, murder, rape (in that order, by the way) and ultimately a sickeningly original method of suicide. This I will not spoil. It's just one of those things that you have to see for yourself.

My problem with Nekromantik is that it bored me. And that's a pretty significant problem, considering the subject matter. Poor taste, vile, nauseating… but boring? How in the world could this material bore someone? At first I suspected that I had expected too much from this movie. But after viewing the film a second time, I realized that I had been expecting a different type of movie. In dealing with the subject matter, Buttgereit ends up pulling his punches. Rather than meeting this topic head-on, along with all of its disturbing psychological implications, he chooses instead to turn it into a macabre joke. Take the infamous threesome scene. Since the rotting corpse is a male, this would present obvious problems beyond the scope of Viagra, but an inserted iron pipe solves the situation nicely. Plus a condom is applied to the pipe. After all, who knows what germs could be picked up. Add soft focus, with a romantic piano score playing in the background, and the whole thing ends up coming across as ludicrous.

Overall, the movie just didn't work for me. To give Buttgereit credit, he has since directed films that show considerable improvement of his skills in depicting the darker side of human nature. But this outing is unevenly paced, some parts are painfully amateurish, and it mostly fails to hit the critical notes that could have resulted in something genuinely unnerving. This isn't a film that demands repeated viewings, or for many even one viewing. It is offensive, though. I'll give it that much.