NEKROMANTIK (1987) Blu-ray
Director: Jorg Buttgereit
Cult Epics

Jorg Buttgereit's shocking eighties underground "corpse fucking" film NEKROMANTIK gets the Blu-ray special edition treatment courtesy of Cult Epics.

Failed medical student Rob Schmadtke's (Bernd Daktari Lorenz) attempt to desensitize himself to death with a job at Joe's Street Cleaning Agency – scrubbing the roadsides of accident victims – turns into necrophilia when he starts bringing home souvenirs from work for the sexual enjoyment of himself and his girlfriend Betty (Beatrice Manowski, WINGS OF DESIRE). One day, Rob turns their relationship into a ménage-a-trois when he brings home the rotting corpse of a murder victim dumped in the swamp. Rob has always been a bit of wet blanket, but their new friend fills a hole in their relationship by providing stimulating company for Betty during Paul's days out. Their relationship changes, however, when Rob's supervisor Bruno (Harald Lundt, Buttgereit's DER TODESKING) fires him and Betty becomes concerned about how they're going to replace their decomposing friend. One day, Betty packs her things – and their friend – and walks out on Rob. In her absence, he attempts to charge his libido through more conventional means – going to the theater to see a porno horror film and picking up a hooker for a cemetery assignation – but his desires cycle back towards the morbid and the murderous.

A film that most of us stateside first became familiar with as a VHS release advertised in the back pages of Psychotronic Magazine, an article in one of the early issues of European Trash Cinema's late and lamented print magazine (or word of mouth in high school), and coverage in the Film Threat Video Guide (and their subsequent VHS), Jorg Buttgereit's feature debut NEKROMANTIK was probably the first international exposure for the German low budget splatter genre of the eighties which also included the works of Olaf Ittenbach (THE BURNING MOON), Andreas Schnaas (VIOLENT SHIT) and the slightly later porn/horror works of Andreas Bethmann (ROSSA VENEZIA). While some may have found it absolutely shocking and transgressive, the film is more successful at engendering a lingering queasiness with its homemade gore, sub-Robert Burns TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE décor in Rob's apartment, and the main corpse which seems more of a fine art sculpture than a movie prop (especially when crucified on the apartment wall, leaving behind a shadow-like stain on the wall in its subsequent absence). For some, NEKROMANTIK is an art film while for others it's a one and done viewing "experience". Although limited to ten thousand copies, Cult Epics' Blu-ray makes it accessible to both types of viewers what with the long out-of-print Barrel Entertainment disc fetching high prices used (although those prices are sure to come down with Cult Epic's Blu-ray edition and new two-disc DVD editions now available).

Cult Epics' Blu-ray actually features two transfers of the film. The main presentation is a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillar-boxed transfer from the original 8mm materials. At times, it looks like an uncorrected raw scan with grayish blacks, but adjusting the TV to get true blacks gives you pretty much the picture you get with the film's second transfer in the extras: a "Grindhouse" version transferred from an original 35mm blow-up of a 16mm internegative blow-up of the 8mm elements – also 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio – with burnt-in optical English subtitles. The 8mm-sourced transfer has more visible detail, but the grindhouse version might end up being the preferable viewing option as it in some ways restores the film's bootleggy mystique. Audio options include the original German stereo track in Dolby Digital 2.0 as well as a 5.1 upmix on the 8mm-transferred feature presentation version and the 2.0 track on the grindhouse version.

The feature presentation version can also be audited with an audio commentary by Jorg Buttgereit and writer Franz Rodenkirchen (who also plays the killer in the film-within-a-film "Vera"). The commentary was recorded for the DVD version, but some of their comments about what cannot be seen due to the resolution of the film format apply (only one shot was in 16mm and it looks no better than the rest). Buttgereit discusses how the film is in part a reaction to the way death is portrayed in other horror movies and their decision to avoid any Goth references or aesthetics. They talk about the construction of the corpse prop, the effect of the high level of lighting needed for the Super 8 format on the pig guts (the cinematographer's apartment was used in the film), and the chemistry between the two leads who hated each other (one day they nearly came to blows so the filmmakers decided to switch from the scheduled scene to the script's fight scene to retain the energy). The skeleton for the corpse was purchased from a medical student and its skin made out of a woman's tights and liquid latex. The eyes and entrails were from butchered pigs that Buttgereit secured by posing as a medical student. The grindhouse version includes an introduction by director Jorg Buttgereit (1:17) in which he explains that the 35mm transfer is his preferred viewing option.

The disc also offers two making-of segments in "The Making of NEKROMANTIK" (12:24) and what is simply titled "NEKROMANTIK Featurette" (9:23). The former combines audio from an older Q&A with Buttgereit and Rodenkirchin over a montage of behind the scenes stills and Super 8 footage of the shoot while the latter is a more recent video interview (with clips and stills appearing mainly in a picture-in-picture window. They both cover the making of the corpse prop (the dead cat was also a prop with scrambled egg innards), as well as Lorenz's flagging enthusiasm for the project and auditioning Manowski with the corpse. The Q&A with Jorg Buttgereit (39:56) is from the recent Beyond Fest screening in which he explains that the project was partially born out of his frustration with not being able to watch uncut horror films in Germany at the time due to censorship (which is still an issue), his interest in true crime, and a book he had read on Ed Gein. Some of the same ground is covered here as in the commentary and featurettes, but some of the questions are interesting as well as his responses on the differences between American and German censorship (he discovered that his own country is famous for "shit porn" from an episode of SOUTH PARK) with the latter harder on the glorification of violence than extreme sexuality. He also discusses the legal battles over NEKROMANTIK II and a scholarly essay that interpreted the films in the context of West Berlin before the wall came down and the decaying East Berlin in the aftermath. A still photo gallery is also included.

The other major extra is a new HD transfer of Buttgereit's 1985 short film "Hot Love" (29:05), the poster of which appears on the theater wall next to "Vera" in the main feature. It's a definite dry run for NEKROMANTIK in its boy (Lorenz again) meets girl (Marion Koob-Liebing), loses her to another man (Buttgereit), gets depressed and kills a helpless animal, and gets revenge on the couple in both "natural" and supernatural means. HOT LOVE will probably seem comparatively lesser in its ability to shock or repel, but it's an interesting look at the filmmaker's beginnings. The film's soundtrack German Dolby Digital 2.0 and the English subtitles are burnt-in but newly created. The film is also accompanied by an audio commentary by director Jorg Buttgereit of more recent vintage in which he remarks that the HD transfer comes from the original Super 8 elements rather than 16mm blow-up used to screen the film (and it looks better than the main feature). He comments that while using Super 8 now is an artistic choice, it was used back then because it was cheaper than 16mm but looked better than consumer video of the period. He also points out the film's punk influence as well as the German punk figures among the extras. Buttgereit also appears onscreen in a featurette on the short film (3:27) in the form of 8mm B&W footage from the film's original premiere capturing audience reactions before and after. The audio is out of sync and there are no subtitles, but some of the comments are in English.

Besides trailers for NEKROMANTIK (2:01) and HOT LOVE (1:10), the disc also includes trailers for DER TODESKING, NEKROMANTIK II, and SCHRAMM (the latter two having been previously released on DVD here in the states but long out of print). The 555 copy German limited DVD edition – which had English, French, Italian, and Spanish subtitles – featured a soundtrack CD and first pressings of Barrel's American DVD pressing of NEKROMANTIK II also came with a soundtrack CD featuring both scores while Cult Epic's Blu-ray features the soundtrack as an extra on the disc as one track (74:04) in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Whether one sees NEKROMANTIK as a cheap shocker or an underground art film, Cult Epics' Blu-ray treatment should satisfy as the fans and the curious. (Eric Cotenas)