I’ve always been fascinated with the 80’s. I think it’s because it was the decade of weirdness in cinema; even the films that will be remembered forever as timeless classics have a certain vibe when they’re from the 80’s. It’s a vibe made from strange fashion trends, grainy soundtracks and a bright yet vintage tint on everything – maybe that makes no sense, but you know what I mean, you always know when you’re watching a film from the 80’s.
But going back to that idea of weirdness and fascination, the 80’s was the peak of underground horror cinema. These were films made in the guise of art for people who are either horribly curious about horrible things which nearly always backfires (i.e. me) or, they are deranged. Japan, Italy, Germany, and South America seemed to breed the strangest and sickest films that the world has ever seen, and I don’t say that lightly. Sure, there’s probably some violent horror films you can name, but trust me, these are the films that aren’t just controversial, these are the ones that were historically mistaken as real, and even though they aren’t, they also happen to be films that have inspired real life crime.
One famous example is Flower of Flesh and Blood from Japan, a film made of one long torture scene involving a young woman and the world’s worst Samurai cos-player. He cuts bits off, she screams, and it goes on like that till she dies, riveting. Charlie Sheen saw this film and reported it to the FBI, which led to an international investigation, forcing the film’s director to create a ‘behind the scenes’ feature to show off the effects.
So that’s the kind of film we’re talking about, the kind of film that gives zero fucks about being any kind of normal, even ignoring things like plot and characters, solely focusing on the audience’s stomach lining which is something you can only really find in the 70’s and 80’s – there’s no way any modern film isn’t including a plot.
Unfortunately, not all of these underground horror films are the same, even though a lot of people, especially the sensitive types, do rope them all into one big ‘bleurgh’ pile. Some, even though still quite nasty, are trying to bring some interesting ideas to the table. Case in point, the 1987 German Nekromantik.
Yeah, this film is about corpse fucking, and yeah, some parts are incredibly hard to watch. I’ve seen a lot of horrors on screen, but never has a film ever made me gag, that was until I saw this one. There’s decaying limbs, slimy rotting corpses that drip and stain walls, cat gut baths, a threesome with a pipe penis, penises spewing cum and blood, eyeball sucking – there’s even some bonus footage from some farmer documentary that shows off a real rabbit killing. It’s a nasty piece of work, yet there’s a rhyme and reason that’s beyond shock-value, and that’s what fascinates me even more.
Nekromantik is the tragic story of Rob, a measly little guy who works cleaning up bodies which is great for him because he loves dead things and always manages to sneak a memento from his day’s work. He lives with his girlfriend Betty, who also loves dead things and everything is going great for him. He even finds a mostly intact corpse in a pond to bring home and fuck, which is lovely isn’t it? Then, crisis hits: Rob is fired from his job, Betty leaves him for not being a real man, ironically taking the very fake dead one with her a she goes, and Rob is reduced to nothing. The rest is a kind of downfall of the mind type arc for poor little Rob, and he dies in one last shocking act: stabbing himself in the stomach, ejaculating all the while.
So there’s no denying that this is a weird film, but you have to admire the fact that it’s trying incredibly hard to convey the story of an outcast in the middle of an existential crisis. It takes a subject that’s still pretty unknown today, and attempts to humanize it, because after all, whatever people with an attraction to the dead are, they are still human like you and me, and it’s fascinating to see what their perspective could be.
What’s even more admirable about this film is that it seeks to challenge a lot of the films it’s been grouped with. There’s a strange sequence in which Rob heads to the cinema to see the latest slasher film. We see some parts of it, and while it’s clearly awful, it’s also shocking in its own way. This film within the film ends with the misogynistic torture of it’s lead, yet none of the characters in the audience, Rob included, have any kind of reaction. They look bored, disinterested, or are too busy being horny. And that says a lot, as if the film makers knew that people would see Nekromantik as more disgusting than one that shows an excessive amount of violence. And when you think about it, necrophilia is kind of better than murder, because at least no-one’s getting hurt. Yet still, this film made me gag more than any kind of gore could so I guess I’m part of this problem.
(Isn’t that piano theme something though?)
So yeah, Nekromantik is certainly a weird one, but it has a lot of balls and you can tell that the filmmakers really wanted to try and tell a different kind of story, even if the end product isn’t really that good. The acting’s bad, the editing is all over the place, and you won’t want to eat for a week after seeing it, but hey it’s something different, and it’s always nice to see what another country’s got to offer in terms of 80’s sleaze.