Raygunesque #10: Nekromantik

Art & Culture

A rotting corpse lies on a bed In a grimy flat. A woman lasciviously licks, kisses and caresses the body which is well past its sell-by date before attaching a broom handle as a phallic extension to the cadaver, lowering herself onto it and having her wicked way with it.

And that's not even the most shocking part of a film that, some 30 years after it was shot in Germany by a student filmmaker and assorted pals, is still is as nasty as they come.

Welcome to the world of Nekromantik.

The film holds a special place in the heart of horror aficionados in the UK, arguably more so than many other territories outside of its native Germany, thanks to early support in this country not long after the film was completed in 1984. Shot on Super 8, it’s a bona fide underground horror film.

Its notoriety has grown immeasurably over the past 30 years, thanks to its shocking content which confronts necrophilia head on.

What's as shocking as its content is the fact that in the fourth decade since it screened at UK film festivals and was secretly sent to the UK by director Jorg Buttgereit and pals, and passed along through second, third and fourth generation snide copies, the film has finally been granted an 18 certificate and official UK release – it came out on the mighty fine Arrow Video imprint just before Christmas.

“It’s definitely not lost its ability to shock,” says Arrow Video’s Ewan Cant, who shepherded the project through from its initial submission to its subsequent release in an all-singing, all-dancing, still very dead three-disc version, “although I’m quite numb to all that. Coming into it cold, as the average punter, it’s going to be hugely unpalatable.”

That’s not putting too fine a point on it. The final, climactic scene is as outre as it gets, as our “hero” lies on a bed in his hovel of a flat and, well, look, it feels scuzzy even going into too much detail about the blood and spunk that makes up the final moments. It’s the logical conclusion to the tale of the man who works for a company cleaning up after fatal traffic accidents. What begins as a hobby for him and his girlfriend descends into all kinds of acts that start off with the necro prefix.

Arguably the finest, if not the only, “mainstream” necrophiliac horror from the modern, post-VHS era, Nekromantik arrived on these shores – albeit heavily disguised and under an assumed identity – just as the video nasties furore was dying down and the subsequent Video Recordings Act was beginning to bite. It was a bleak time for UK horror fans, buffeted by the forces of censorship and control, they retreated into darkened fleapit cinemas such as London’s Scala for events like Shock Around The Clock, where Nekromantik made its bow. It was embraced by UK genre fans, who may have felt that, seeing as they were so vilified, they might as well go the whole hog.

The story of its UK success is told at length in the ambitious set of extras put together by Cant and his colleagues that accompany the film.

Cant was already a fan of the film when he started working at specialist genre label Arrow in 2013. He’d bought a copy from eBay for $100, roughly the going rate before Arrow’s version, and notes: “It was a real thrill, watching it recaptured the days of the video nasties and it was the next step after the video nasties.

“Pretty much as soon as I started at Arrow, the conversations about Nekromantik started,” he recalls. “I was a big fan and as soon as I heard it mentioned, I was pushing to release it. We got confirmation earlier in 2014 and it’s been at the forefront of my mind since then, putting the definitive release together.”

Arrow submitted the title to the BBFC as it would any other, with Cant and co feverishly checking the classification organisation’s extranet site regularly. “It took a bit longer than most other titles,” he notes wryly. “It does require a lot of thought from the BBFC. They needed to put it before a senior examiner. Everyone was having a look at it, but I was confident it would get through, although there were times I thought I was being a bit optimistic. We announced it [had got an 18 certificate, it’s first ever] almost off the cuff, we were expecting it to be quite a big deal, but the feedback has surpassed all expectations.”

A final 18 certificate in hand, Arrow set about pulling together extras and other elements, not least commissioning new artwork for the sleeve. “We didn’t just want someone to it as a job, we wanted someone who appreciated it on the same levels we do.”

It was the same for the extras, Cant continues: “We wanted to look at its legacy, it’s a big part of its reputation, things like the screenings and Shock Around The Clock at the Scala. It’s important to talk about how it became a cult phenomenon.”

Arrow had, as part of its deal, picked up the rights to the soundtrack for UK release, a CD is included in the first run of its release. As Cant explains: “It makes sense to include the soundtrack, it’s one of the most effective and haunting horror scores in general and it’s so central to the film’s character.

“There’s so little dialogue in the film, the music is the dialogue. It guides you through this landscape of despair, it’s almost like this narrator in a way. It won’t be available with other versions of the release.”

Vinyl fans need not fear, for a deluxe version is on the way courtesy of the estimable One Way Static label. This too will have all the accompanying bells and whistles you’d expect from a release from the boutique label – sumptuous packaging, including one variant on sperm and blood coloured vinyl, a seven inch single and postcard flexidisc also included.

For the label’s Sebastiaan Putseys, releasing the film’s soundtrack on vinyl (and even a cassette one) is, like that enjoyed by Arrow Video, the end of a long journey.

“My first viewing of Nekromantik was in the mid nineties on a VHS tape a friend of mine procured,” he says. “We watched the tape over and over again, inviting other people to share the experience.

“It almost became a kind of ritual, exposing others to the film. This was before DVDs, streaming and the internet. It was all word of mouth and if you did not stumble on a bought VHS tape (there was no way you’d find these in rental form) you were out of luck.

“I was just hypnotised by the brutality and art value of the film. It was a big deal from my point of view. This was something else… hard to categorise. It almost felt like it was something ‘illegal’ , something you were not supposed to see except if you were part of the inner circle, the cult.”

He concurs with Cant on the soundtrack. “Part of what made the movie extra special was it’s soundtrack, those beautiful piano riddles are in stark contrast with the scenes you watch on the screen. I used to rewind to where the songs were playing over and over again…wearing out my friend’s tape.

“Now 20 years later I’m releasing the soundtrack on my label One Way Static Records. It feels right… like coming full circle. I’m so happy to contribute to the cult of Nekromantik through this release, a cult I’m glad to be a part of.”

We’ll leave the last word to Arrow Video’s Ewan Cant, who concludes: “It’s still an immensely powerful shocking quite disgusting film, it also has a lot of soul. It’s an exploitation film crossed with an art house film. It’s inevitable through the subject matter though, that it’s immediately going to close itself off from quite a large section of the audience.”

You can order the limited Blu-ray here and the special vinyl edition of Nekromantik here