A few years back, I watched Nekromantik II as a part of a German Horror film class. I had heard about Nekromantik I and II for years. It’s one of those horror film boogeymen that is so far out of left field that it creates a cultish following around the movie. After seeing the trailer, I thought I was prepared for what we were about to watch. And I was very wrong. Nekromantik was a film that pushed my boundaries as a film viewer. It is equally disgusting and beautiful at the same time. Dissecting it thematically was one of the hardest, and most rewarding things I got to do that year, as it made me see the depth that some films go to in relaying a message. It is a film that has stuck with me since then, one that needs to be experienced, even if only once, for horror fans.
Buttgereit’s Nekromantik II is a tense, slow burn in the first act. We all know what is coming as viewers, but the film strings us along, creating an impending dread that hangs over you. Shots of newspaper clippings give us a fragmented backstory. We know this man is dead. We surmise that it was suicide and that Monika has followed the story. The shots of her in the graveyard, framing her nails, her shoes, her outfit, all of it so out of the norm for what we think of as a grave robber. She takes Rob back to her house, wrapped in sheets. She carefully removes the burial wrappings, the practical effects of slime and decomposing flesh creating a grisly sight, but set to the score and Monika’s carefulness tells us it is romantic.
She tries to have sex with his corpse, but fails to achieve orgasm and runs to the bathroom, disgusted with herself. Meanwhile, we meet Mark, who is a voiceover actor for pornographic films. He seems generally unhappy, and we are introduced to his current girlfriend, who Mark is unhappy with. Monika cleans Rob’s corpse, dressing him and taking pictures with him, as if he is alive. In a twist of fate, Mark is left at the theater with an extra ticket and happens to meet Monika who is walking by. They go to a movie and hit it off through a few dates. Monika then decides to “break up” with Rob, tearfully dismembering his corpse, saving only the head and his genitals, which is kept in her fridge. Monika and Mark’s relationship is plagued by her perverse natures, photographing him in positions that make him seem dead, asking him to be motionless during sex, and Mark even discovering the dismembered penis in the fridge. This all comes to a head when Mark enters in on Monika’s girls night, where her collective of necrophiliac friends are watching a video of a seal being dismembered, primarily for no reason. Mark leaves upset. Monika is distraught, not sure of what to do next. They plan to meet up the next night to talk it out. In a bout of make up sex, Monika saws off Mark’s head and replaces it with Rob’s corpse head, continuing to have sex. She finally achieves orgasm, which she sees as a sign that she has chosen the correct partner. The film ends with a doctor telling Monika that she is pregnant.
Linnie Blake’s article on “The Horror of the Nazi past in the reunification present: Jorg Buttgereit’s Nekromantiks” deals with the overall theme of a “past that has not been adequately dealt with” (27). Buttgereit’s cinematic catalog in his early years shows his willingness to deal with “Romantic irrationalism”(28). Blake argues that German culture has long held this irrationalism in their critical works, naming examples of Goethe, Hoffman, and Weimer cinema. The Nazi regime repurposed the Romantic, leaving the German people dealing with repression of their historic past, both good and bad. The conservatism of West Germany at the time saw many horror films being outright banned, because they were seen as immoral, sexist or pornographic.
Blake cites the banning on Nekromantik II from mail order sales, being owned, or watched in Germany, which was a move that had not been seen since the days of Nazi Germany. She shows the symbology that permeates both films, with Monika possessing a miniature model of the Glass Man, one of Hitler’s favorite pieces. Blake notes that “Buttgereit again imitates through his mis en scene, such discourses were not the invention of the Nazi’s who simply appropriated them.”(33) Blake sees the dream sequences, specifically Monika’s piano scene, as “a historicized model of German subjectivity that is itself predicated on historical trauma and which accordingly reveals itself in classic post traumatic mode in the form of ‘repeated, intrusive hallucinations, thoughts and behaviours’ and a simultaneous ‘arousal to (and avoidance of) stimuli recalling the event.’(33)
What we see in this film is the same thing we have witnessed in much of German horror as well. There are general undertones that point to the idea of the uncanny. The Antisemitism that worms its way into Nosferatu, the fear of losing control in Caligari, and the idea of creating a perfect specimen in Nekromantik all play into the larger cultural fear Germany’s past, and the subsequent repression of those fears. We can see film as a way to confront those notions, and not in an outright way, but in a slow dialogue that allows you to sit with the uncanny and perverse and formulate your own thoughts on the matter.
Film: – Nekromantik II (Jörg Buttgereit, 1991)
Texts: “The Horror of the Nazi past in the reunification present: Jorg Buttgereit’s Nekromantiks”