Nekromantik and its sequel have both had Blu-ray releases in the past year. While I did not rush out to buy these new releases, this does not mean that I wouldn’t recommend them to certain viewers. I have recently re-watched both films, in anticipation for the Blu-ray release of Der Todesking. What follows is the first part of a two-part review that covers one of the most controversial film duologies in history.
Jorg Buttgereit is the highly controversial German director of both Nekromantik films, Der Todesking, and Schramm: Into the Mind of a Serial Killer. Most of his films credits were shorts from 1980-1986. As a director of feature films, he did practically all of his most well-known work from 1987-1993. He then did nothing until directing a TV show in 1999, and then took a ten-year break before resurfacing in 2009. He is currently working on putting a short film anthology together, called German Angst. During his sporadic breaks from directing, he has also worked in production, special effects, and documentary filmmaking. You can read more about his career on his website. His interest in different areas of filmmaking show in his early films. All of his films have crazy special effects and darkly surreal, almost artistic, sequences that could translate to documentary filmmaking. It is of no surprise to me, that after making Nekromantik, he found his way into different areas of film in his later career.
This film can be described as horror, splatter, exploitation, extreme cinema, even pornography. It fits into many categories, yet it is difficult to categorize. It is a film that you can’t unsee, but it also isn’t that great. There is an artistic sense to certain sequences in the film. There are magical dark scenes that have something to say about man’s respect for life and death. There are metaphors that make you question your entire point of view about violence towards animals and your fellow-man. It finally asks some pretty graphic questions about the darker side of certain peoples’ psychic nature. While all of this is going on, there is gratuitous violence, sex, and even comedic gore that almost cannot be taken seriously by the viewer. Part two of this review covers the second film and my thoughts on the director’s motives. It is there where I will also explain more about my preferences and why I don’t think either film has much rewatchability value in my eyes.
Since this is part one, however, I need to rate this film. I think the gore effects are really good. The main character is in the business of cleaning up the street after car accidents. He also tends to bring home some pretty realistic looking souvenirs from his day job. It is this obsession with death that leads him to bringing a complete corpse into the bedroom, to spice up his relationship with his girl. The corpse is pretty gross, but only because they have sex with it. If it was just sitting in a chair, you would think of it as laughable as the remains of Norman’s mother in Psycho.
The picture above is an example of some of the makeup effects. They aren’t bad for the time period or for the budget under which the filmmakers were working. The picture is also from my favorite sequence in the film. It is a dark and grainy metaphoric representation of the main character’s life. It is a dream-like scene of which I believe David Lynch would be proud. This scene and the one with the butchered rabbit, are the two scenes in the movie that are trying to make a statement about the humanistic obsession with death. They are dark metaphors with light piano music in the background, providing a haunting juxtaposition.
The problem with this film, and it’s an even bigger problem in the sequel, is the fact that the shock value outweighs the artistic expression. I understand that there was an attempt at art during certain times in the film. I need to say this over and over again, because there will be people out there that just say I don’t like the film because I don’t get it. Well I do get it, I’m just not a fan of mixing the sexual imagery with the gory imagery. The gross out aspect of the film really grosses me out. I also feel like this whole film is really just a build up for an extremely offensive final five minutes. In fact, my mixed feelings about the entire film can be completely summed up by my feelings about the final five minutes. The death in this final scene is important. It is well-directed and the true pain really comes through as you watch. It is also spliced together with the rabbit being butchered in reverse. You have a human life disintegrating, while an animal is coming back to life. The art is in this scene. Just like the comedic shovel decapitation, however, there is also an over-the-top scene of gory sexuality while this art is taking place. It is truly one of the most disturbing scenes you will ever see. I was grossed out and truly disturbed; but, I couldn’t look away either.
In concluding part one of this double film review, I have to give the first film a 7/10. It tries to be an art film about death, mixed with some comedic early Peter Jackson-ish gore. While this film was better than the sequel, I still have trouble liking it enough to purchase it on Blu-ray. I do, however, feel that it has a certain amount of importance in horror film history. Der Todesking, however, is his true art film about death, and probably the Buttgereit film I would save for my 8/10.
Buy it if you dare: