Directed by Jörg Buttgereit
German with English subtitles
Germany, 1989; 1992

A Boy, A Girl, A Rotting Corpse:

Jörg Buttgereit's Nekromanticism is Horror's New Aesthetic

"Only the perverse fantasy can still save us."

-- Goethe

In an interview with Buttgereit, the Illinois-based horror magazine Draculina told the filmmaker, astutely, that "death appears to preoccupy you in your films." Buttgereit responded, "I am afraid of death. I am trying to understand death through my films." Amazingly, the interviewer never followed up on this disarming comment. But it points directly at the personal nature of Buttgereit’s filmmaking, the honest need that he is trying to meet by foisting these spectacles off on the unsuspecting world.

Nekromantik is a parable of dysfunctionality that works on two levels -- it’s about the impotent sexual relationship of the lovers on screen and it’s about the (sexual?) relationship between horror film audiences -- and, perhaps, horror film directors -- and death. In a scene that emphasizes the discourse of a TV psychologist who rattles on about coming to terms with a fear of corpses, Buttgereit’s nec-romanticism is postulated as the psychological process that helps us come to grips with necrophobia -- the fear of dead bodies, or of death itself.

If the driving element of this film was something less horrific than necrophilia, it might gain some mainstream acceptance as the study of an outcast from society, who remains unfulfilled because her craving for fulfillment can’t be satisfied in an acceptable fashion. But the stigma of horror transforms horror films’ place in the world in a way no other genre must endure. Making a movie about corpse-fucking is considered to be a similarly degenerate act in itself. It’s an extreme, but filmmakers in other genres often go to extremes to reach the point of catharsis they’re striving for.

Horror films don’t pretend that violence is in the service of justice and righteousness, but they do reassure us that someone else out there is having nightmares we can relate to. All horror films seem to aspire to the same effect on an intellectual level: by interpreting our darkest dreams as sound and shadow they put them on a level where we confront them on personal terms -- alone in the dark and terrified. Buttgereit, who works completely outside any consideration of mainstream distribution or acceptance, throws a new kind of horror at us, evoking an even deeper-seated feeling of dread. He stages all this corpse loving as a capitalization on our corpse loathing -- to catalyze a wave of laughter and nausea that will bring us to terms with this grotesquerie. While a first viewing of Nekromantik has boundless capacity to shock and sicken, a repeated viewing -- and the assurance that the corpses are really props, the carnage really a special effect -- exposes Buttgereit’s intentions. He wants to go where no horror film has gone before, and it’s an aesthetic he believes in.

Whether his exercise is a success depends largely on the proclivities of the viewer. Audiences eager for over-the-top horror or very dark humor may find a lot of sustenance in these tapes. Followers of video "oddities" will not be disappointed. Viewers hoping to find real poetry within these experimental images may be frustrated -- they’re rough, uncompromising, incomplete and irreparably low-budget. Still, Buttgereit commands respect for the honesty of his spectacle. His films are exploitation flicks, but it’s a sign of the times that they are deeply felt depictions of a tortured inner space. They’re also harbingers of a new horrible aesthetic; a vision of the worst this world has to offer; a disturbance that has invaded the dreams of a generation.

DEEP FOCUS (formerly The Flicker Archive)
Reviews by Bryant Frazer