Love Like Blood: Jorg Buttgereit's Nekromantik 2
Every genre of film has its presets of expectations. If it's a Western film, you expect dusty landscapes and dirty cowboys. If it's a Horror film, you expect some amount of screaming, blood and at least one false scare. If it's a love story, then you expect romantic pathos and a boy and a girl to meet and fall in forever, soulmate-esque love in spite of a few dramatic interruptions. Etc etc. All of this is why I love it when a filmmaker can take these little category boxes of film, wield a boxcutter to a bunch of them and then with some duct tape, construct something actually quite fresh and different. With this build up, you may not expect that the film I am segueing to is Jorg Buttgereit's sequel to his underground dark comedy/horror film, Nekromantik, but segueing I am! (Of course if you actually read the title to this article, then you already knew where I was going with all of this. In that case, never mind.)
Sequels are generally a bit of a creative gamble. Is it a crude way to lure in the rubes? Sure, if the minds behind it are bankrupt. A truly good and worthy sequel is one that can use all of the right elements from the first film and utilize that as a template to build a better garden. With a brilliant and fun director like Buttgereit at the helm once again, Nekromantik 2 is a fascinating film intertwined with one of the strangest love stories ever told.
The quote of “I just want to master life & death, ” courtesy of Theodore R. Bundy, better known as Ted Bundy, one of the most infamous serial killers from the past forty years, begins the first frame, right before a flashback to Rob's (Daktari Lorenz) climactic (literally and metaphorically) hari kiri scene from the first film. Nekromantik 2 truly begins with a stylishly dressed and slightly nervous looking young woman walking around a cemetery near a bombed out looking building. The deeper she goes, the more lush the vegetation grows, until she ends up in a more secluded section where Rob is buried. In some perfect cosmic kismet, the first film's death-obsessed protagonist ends up being dug up by a lovely lady with similar post-living obsessions!
Digging him up, she's able to move his corpse into her extremely colorful and tidy apartment. The grotto-grunge of Rob's apartment from the first film is replaced by clean, sunny walls and modern, neat-looking furniture. Jars of assorted body parts/mementos from Rob's dayjob are now an assortment of skull centric paintings and medical x-rays used as art as décor. The red haired woman, Monika (Monika M.), lays his body out and kisses him wetly with some tentativeness and a lot of barely held back erotic charge, before she begins to undress him. Meanwhile, we also meet Mark (Mark Reeder), a lanky looking young man on his way to his dayjob of dubbing over rangy-looking porn.
The dreamy edging into psychedelic camerawork that marked all of the love scenes from the first Nekromantik starts to return as Monika attempts to make love to Rob's blackened-by-rot form, but coitus interruptus arises as she physically gets ill and cannot resume the lovemaking. In short, Monika has the heart and drive for sexually loving the dead, but not quite the stomach. There's something about Rob, though, that makes her clean up his body, with her red lacquered nails tenderly touching the imprint of his fatal gut wound and dress him in fresh clothes. As Mark tries to plan a film date with an eternally tardy friend of his, Monika poses with Rob for her Polaroid with a self-timer, grinning like a new girl smitten with amour.
But life's strange glory comes into play yet again, when Monika happens to walk by the Sputnik Theater where Mark is waiting for his date. Impatient, he chats her up and offers Monika the spare ticket. Going to watch some bizarro world version of “My Dinner with Andre,” entitled “Mon Dejeuner avec Vera” (aka “My Lunch with Vera”), that consists of a highly chatty man and a less chatty woman, completely naked and eating eggs, Monika and Mark quickly hit it off. Soon, Monika will face the weirdest case of being “torn between two lovers” ever, only to be outdone by one hilarious and volatile resolution.
Nekromantik 2 is a an intriguing and worthy sequel to its infamous and well made progenitor. The fact that Buttgereit switched the focus from a heart-sick and head-sick young man in the form of Rob, to the love-sick and balanced-in-her-own-strange-way, Monika, is unexpected and really smart. The eroto-death factor is still there, but with Monika, her own flesh won't allow her to do what her heart wants to. Even more intriguing is when she tries to dispose of Rob as she and Mark start to get more serious, Monika grows emotional and keeps Rob's head and genitals. (The latter comes into play with some great twisted humor, as she puts it on a plate, wraps it in plastic and places the severed member in her fridge like well-loved leftovers. Which is pretty fitting, now that I think of it!)
Monika is an unusually complex character, especially for being a woman. In the cinematic landscape, whether we're talking mainstream pap or underground DIY, women are more of than not, relegated to ether bitch, sex/brain starved nymphet-nympho, frumpy friend or Holly Sunshine: Pretty Girl Worthy of Love. So to see a female lead chase her heart and desires that play far outside the boundaries of what is “normal” (or legal for that matter), is pretty great. Especially as her relationship with Mark starts to show more cracks, with him unable to give her any sort of climax, Monika is forced to feed her need. Granted, I'm not saying “Ladies, start digging up your soulmate!” or anything, but there is an undercurrent of affection and respect for this character that is refreshing. Monika M. is likable as the lovely and chic girl with the strangest desires of profound morbidity. There is an understatedness to her performance that works quite well and helps keep the film anchored in an even keel.
The filmmaking quotient is even better here, with Nekromantik 2 featuring more of budget with the former's 8mm format being replaced with a more glossy looking 16mm print. That may sound like a sell-out to a less-slackful underground film fan, but given that the plot is more of a love story, a fact even mentioned by Buttgereit himself in the intro to the lovely Cult Epics blu-ray release, it makes more sense for it visually to look bright and crisp. The first film was more of a tonally extreme film, so the 8mm format was perfect for it. The camerawork and editing are even tighter, with some especially great use of movement in the “hunt for Rob” cemetery sequence near the beginning. One big link between the two films is the amazing soundtrack, featuring more stellar work courtesy of Herman Kopp and “John Boy Walton,” both returning from the first film. The fact that such beautifully composed music is intertwined with a film about necrophilia is all sorts of subversive sweetness.
Speaking of great music, one of my personal favorite scenes is the musical number that seemingly pops out of nowhere with Monika singing “Squelette Délicieux” like a post-modern Zarah Leander. The fact that the title loosely translates to, “Delicious Skeleton,” makes me love this scene all the more. Beatrice M.'s cameo (Betty from the original Nekromantik) is also a hoot.
It's that combination of humor, heart and a willingness to explore transgressive imagery and taboo topics that sear Nekromantik 2 into the minds of any viewer worth his or her salt. There's still a bit of the requisite gore and animal death, though neither are quite as heightened as they were in the first. (A warning to the squeamish, the animal footage involves Monika and her lady-gang of death-loving friends watching footage of a dead seal getting dissected. It's really gross but given that the animal was already dead and the video in question looks clinical in nature, it is still a far cry from the cruelty-tango of the Italian cannibal films of the 70's.)
It is inconceivable to think that out of the two Nekromantik films, this was the one that was quickly seized by German authorities, just a mere 12 days after its initial release. To the extent that they even attempted, and mercifully failed, to find and destroy that actual negative. The reasoning? It allegedly “glorified violence.” Never mind that the first one had more violence or even worse, the numerous Hollywood action films that were more inherently immoral in their revery of death and maiming. Especially coming off the heels of the 80's, where people were consistently being used as pure blow-up fodder for the beefy, gun wielding hero du jour. Case in point: Which film has a higher body count? Nekromantik 2 or any of the Rambo films? Exactly.
Luckily for us, Nekromantik 2 is still here and is out via another gorgeous blu ray release from Cult Epics. If there's a supplement you would want, this film has it, from director commentary to a behind-the-scenes-featurette to trailers and even a moment of silence via a home video peek into Jorg and friends' road trip to Ed Gein's gravesite. This whole release is a fitting tribute to a great film and director.
Nekromantik 2 is further proof that out of the unholy hordes of indie filmmakers that emerged out of the 1980's, few are true auteurs like Buttgereit. There was and is no director out in the cinematic landscape quite like him. Even if 8,000 foolhards tried to imitate him, they would fail because a real artist has their own unique fingerprint and that is Jorg Buttgereit all the way.