This article contains graphic images and discussion of gross things.
There is a relatively rare genre of film called "transgressive cinema," it usually stays underground and far from your local multiplex and movie streaming services. These movies are made with the express purpose of violating and perverting common moral attitudes. They deliberately cross the line and depict taboos that we are never supposed to ever talk about.
One of the most infamous of these movies is Jörg Buttgereit's Nekromantik, about people that love dead people. Many people haven't heard of the film, and even fewer outside of the underground horror scene have watched it. It's one of the most controversial and banned movies ever made.
Let's take a look at what was in Buttgereit's head when he made it, what it's about, and why it's so transgressive.
A Punk Attitude
Nekromantik was the brainchild of 23-year-old Jörg Buttgereit, who lived in West Berlin before the Wall came down. A maker of short films, he wanted to make a full-length movie but was disgusted at Germany's strict censorship practices. He decided to make a movie with a message that was as direct and extreme as possible. Made with no budget by Buttgereit and some friends, it wasn't really meant for the mainstream. It was an underground film that Buttgereit was only going to show to the city's punk-rock scene. But the movie was so peculiar and became so notorious that it found (admittedly small) audiences all over the world.
The actors were Buttgereit's friends; they couldn't act. Buttgereit couldn't write believable dialogue, so there's not a whole lot of talking in the movie. They shot the movie on Super8, and couldn't always shoot with sound, so most of the movie is dubbed. It looks grainy and dirty, even with the recent Blu-Ray release. It has nothing going for it but nerve.
Here's the NSFW trailer. If this is enough for you, you can skip reading the rest of the article.
Nekromantik is part exploitation film and part black comedy. But it's also a serious, illustrated existential crisis that works through ideas of sex, death, and meaninglessness. It does this through a love story about necrophilia.
Let's go through the basic story arc. Note: there are a few spoilers.
Act I: The Romance
Rob is a schmuck that works for a company that removes dead bodies from public areas. He's also obsessed with death and mutilation. He regularly steals body parts from work to bring them home and display them in a collection of jars. Rob lives with his girlfriend Betty, who also loves the body parts. It is a uniquely loving relationship.
One day, Rob has a chance to bring home not just body parts, but a full, rotting corpse. He lugs it into their apartment, rips away the trash bags, and the two get so excited at the presence of a corpse that Rob saws off part of a wooden rod to use as the corpse's penis. Betty puts a condom on it and what results is probably the most remarkably jaw-dropping love scene ever put on film. It's filmed in the style of a real softcore porno, except one of the people is dead and rotting.
Act II: The Breakup
For awhile, all is wonderful. Rob works while Betty reads books to the corpse, and finds her own solo pleasure with it. When they aren't enjoying the rotting flesh, they hang the dead body on the wall, where it continues to rot.
One day, Rob loses his job as the dead body remover. Betty is enraged at Rob's uselessness. He tries to make it up to her by getting a cat. But when he returns home, he finds that Betty has left him and taken the corpse with her. In his rage and love, as well as his inability to make sense of himself, he takes out his feelings on the cat.
Act III: The Crisis
Rob is so deeply depressed that he can find no comfort anywhere, not even at a slasher film (which seems to turn on some members of the audience). Through a series of bizarre dreams and an unfortunate encounter with a prostitute, it becomes clear that Rob may miss the corpse more than he misses Betty.
Rob has mixed sex, love, pain, and death so completely that he finally realizes that there is only one way for himself to be truly free. But to give away the climax of the movie would indeed be spoiling it. Let's just say that if you managed to close your jaw after the love scene, it will drop back open again.
What Makes the Movie So Upsetting?
Forget about the legends that Buttgereit used real corpses in his movie (he didn't), or that the eyeball used in the love scene was a pig's eye (it was). What makes the movie so notorious?
One thing that makes this movie so deeply unsettling is the way Buttgereit portrays the necrophilia. This is not a traditional horror movie, where police chase after a serial killer who gets aroused by his crimes. There is no insane pornographer forcing Rob and Betty to do this. Rob and Betty aren't really criminals. They live in a normal apartment in a city and live normal lives (except for their erotic interests). The movie is so non-judgmental of the couple that part of you kind of understands where they're coming from — and then you're horrified at yourself for understanding that.
Sex = Death
Horror films often contain sex scenes in between the death scenes. Buttgereit dared to put them together at the same time. Sex and death are the same thing in Buttgereit's movie. He takes that idea all the way to it's logical extreme. This has upset people that aren't bothered by the dead body itself.
The Rabbit Scene
There's no explanation necessary about the scene where Rob has a memory of watching a rabbit be killed and skinned. That rabbit is actually killed and skinned on film. And you see just about every step of it. It means one thing when it occurs, but it means the opposite by the end of the movie.
There has never been another movie like this one. It's also interesting to note, that in a time when every horror movie is being remade or rebooted, nobody has ever expressed an interest in doing a new version of this one. It is unique in all the world (well, unless you count Buttgereit's own Nekromantik 2, but that's a different post).
What Do You Think of 'Nekromantik'?