NEKRomantik (Jörg Buttgereit, 1987)

Arrow Videos never shy away from putting out a controversial release, and the history of a banned film has never been as gloriously controversial as NEKRomantik.

Released in 1987, Jörg Buttgereit’s German-language horror is one that is designed to test the viewer in the same way that The Human Centipede has for modern audiences. In fact, The Human Centipede falls short of this one ever so slightly in the “Making Me Feel Physically Sick” competition, though it is probably slightly behind Saló. I don’t think any of them would be an easy explain to someone walking in at the wrong time though.

The film basically charts a short period of the life of a man who is heavily into necrophilia, with both him and his girlfriend harbouring corpses for their own personal endeavours. Fortunately he’s landed himself a job at Joe’s Streetcleaning Agency (JSA), who are responsible for cleaning up fatal car accidents and such like, so he has ready access to his next unsuspecting victims. However, when he gets sacked for lack of hygiene he quickly realises that he has no easy access to further bodies and to make matters worse his girlfriend quickly loses interest in him, a double blow that leads him down a path to depression and drug abuse.

I’ve probably explained away pretty much the whole film there, not that it really matters. If you’re thinking about buying this Arrow release – the first time it has been available on home video for years – it’s probably worth noting that it really isn’t a very good film. There’s a lot of scenes where we’re shown sex scenes involving corpses; they aren’t too hard to look at as they don’t really look too much like dead people. There’s a disproportionate amount of shots of men urinating, which I never really figured out. I think it’s just in keeping with the theme of transgressive imagery. The locations tend to look like Buttgereit has pulled in favours from friends, and don’t look like they’ve been prepped too much. The camera quality is similar to that of most home video recording equipment of the time. The acting isn’t very good. The most upsetting scene is the one where a rabbit is killed and skinned, though this looks like the director just asked a butcher if he could film him doing his job.

It’s a sub-par film that didn’t really emote any kind of response from me except for a bit of discomfort in the rabbit scene and the first sex scene. What I find most interesting is the continued fame of the film, which is solely down to the fact it was banned and remained so hard to get hold of for years and years. My hunch is it wouldn’t have remained so popular amongst cinephiles but for the fact it was banned for so long.

This is a similar situation to Seth Rogen and James Franco’s The Interview, whose release is still shrouded in controversy. Two months ago few people knew about it, and those that did weren’t overly bothered about its release. But once it was banned and involved in an international political scandal that almost triggered the start of a USA-North Korean War, people started to wonder what it was all about, making it a highly anticipated film. Funny, really.

As always, Arrow has pulled out all the stops with the package. We’ve got a Blu-Ray, DVD and soundtrack CD, a certificate with an individual number on it, five postcards of stills from the film, a 100-page booklet, a new introduction, extensive interviews, a Q&A from Glasgow’s Centre For Contemporary Arts, two Buttgereit-directed music videos, several commentary tracks, two short films (Hot Love and Horror Heaven) and a lovely package to house it in. To be honest, it’s frustrating that a film like this gets this kind of treatment when some films I’ve bought recently are really just a bare-bones release (The Killing Fields 30th Anniversary Edition and Attenborough’s Brighton Rock both fall into this category). If only the people at Arrow had the time and the rights to do more releases like this, the world would be a much happier place.

Nekromantik is out now on Arrow Video Collector’s Blu-Ray. Be quick as it is limited to 3000 copies and no further prints are planned as of writing.

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