Jörg Buttgereit. He needs no introduction. His admittedly limited run as a genre director may be small but the impact of these films is immeasurable. His vision, his style, the controversial subject matter; all of these things have been admired and imitated by countless filmmakers with mixed results. It is therefore my honor and privilege to attempt to put into words the brilliance contained in these four controversial works of art.
Nekromantik (1987) – The one that started it all – a moving tale about a necrophiliac whose job cleaning up accidents from the roadways affords him access to all manner of grisly sexual playthings. When he brings home a whole male cadaver for him and his equally deviant girlfriend to enjoy together, he experiences the pain of abandonment as she prefers the corpse to him. The film is fairly graphic (in fact it still remains banned in several countries) based on its magnificent depictions of hot necrosex and other lurid subject matter, and that coupled with its brilliant haunting score and reasonable obscurity at the time (back before the prevalence of the internet films like this were only spoke of in hushed whispers and grainy 10th generation bootlegs were fervently traded among collectors) have secured its legendary status among fans of horror and subversive cinema alike. Even today limited DVD releases do occasionally pop up and are subsequently snatched up by collectors as soon as they appear. Often the long out-of-print Barrel releases of Nekromantik and Nekromantik 2 fetch into the hundreds of dollars on eBay. Buttgereit’s vision here is an artful approach to the topic that doesn’t shy away from the more distasteful aspects and in fact manages to highlight the beauty contained therein, not to mention it has one of the greatest endings ever lensed, period.
Der Todesking (1989) – Buttgereit’s sophomore feature is an ode to suicide and violent death; presented in a series of seven segments, one for each day of the week. Spliced throughout the feature is a time lapse of a human male decomposing coupled with yet another absolutely beautiful score that permeates the film, tying it all together into a sort of melancholy vision of exquisite suffering. As usual, the effects are expertly done (the decomposing body is really something that needs to be witnessed – I can’t possibly do it justice with mere words) and the performances are all exceptional. It’s certainly unlike any film you will ever experience, and it’s not about the violence and gore (although there is certainly that aspect to it) – it’s the way the film is presented; Buttgereit undoubtedly demonstrates here that less can be more. The Thursday vignette is particularly moving as it depicts a bridge in Germany over a busy motorway with just sound of the howling wind for comfort as the names, ages and occupations of the people who have jumped to their deaths are methodically superimposed over it. Simply breathtaking.
As of this writing there still hasn’t been a legitimate North American DVD release, but the German one is definitely worth seeking out. This is absolutely essential viewing.
Nekromantik 2 (1991) – The follow-up to the original starts off with a bang, opening with the very end sequence that helped make the first film a cult classic. This time the story revolves around a female nurse trying to suffer her way through a “normal” relationship with a man while trying to hide her lust for banging dead people. Taking its cue from the first film, Nekromantik 2 is just as lurid, graphic and brilliant, albeit a bit more self-indulgent (look no further than the strange montage with our female protagonist singing an ode while accompanied by a piano while a rotting severed head spins strangely in the corner of the screen). In essence this is a completely unrelated film save for the opening sequence and the fact that the nurse has managed to procure bits and pieces from our hero in Nekromantik to sate her filthy libido, Nekromantik 2 stands well on its own and is just as relevant and important as its predecessor. As unlikely as it would seem, Buttgereit has managed to include yet again one of the greatest endings ever filmed to close off the series. No self-respecting horror fan or fan of film in general should go without seeing this at least once.
Schramm (1994) – Loosely based on the criminology profiles of a number of serial killers (most notably Carl Panzram), Schramm attempts to explain the mind of Lothar Schramm – the “lipstick killer” – as he goes about his daily activities including murder, self-mutilation and masturbation. The story unfolds as a series of disjointed flashbacks as Schramm lays dying on the floor, having fallen victim to a household accident. In my opinion, Schramm is Buttgereit’s least moving work but remains still nothing short of a superb cinematic achievement. Buttgereit uses a lot more of an artful approach than ever before here and paints a compelling and poignant picture of a sad, forgotten existence as it slowly empties itself on the dirty floor of a German apartment. Schramm is a meandering fever-dream of a film that will certainly satisfy gore/sleaze fans alike, and is a compelling peek inside a broken mind.
All gushing aside, these four films have had and will likely continue to have an enormous influence on the genre and filmmaking in general and it’s very hard to convey their ingenuity in a handful of paragraphs. Even if one is destined to hate them, they deserve a look based upon notoriety alone.
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Duane co-founded The Church of Splatter-Day Saints in 2005. When not immersed in film he's enjoying good whiskey, smoking meat in the backyard or thinking about sluts. He makes a damn fine habanero fire sauce.