(A.k.a. NEKROMANTIK 2: THE RETURN OF THE LOVING DEAD)
Ah, NEKROMANTIK 2. A film that, up until the last year or so, I'd have confidently betted against ever getting an uncut UK release...
A stylish opening sequence reproduces the startling climax (pun intended) from the first NEKROMANTIK - lead character and raging necrophile Rob's (Daktari Lorenz) bloody, spunk-soaked suicide. Shown here in black-and-white, it looks even better than it did first time around. Moments later, we see a glamorous young lady, Monika (Monika M), making her way through a graveyard, shovel in hand. She rests at Rob's grave. Then starts digging. The troubled young lady takes Rob's corpse home and promptly sets about stripping his green torso so the pair of them can get it on …
Meanwhile, we're introduced to Mark (Mark Reeder). He's a mild-mannered young man who works by day as a voice-over for porn films. He's clearly unhappy at his job, and is often criticised for not putting enough effort into his performances.
Mark arranges a date with a young blonde, but she arrives late at the cinema where they've arranged to meet. He - neurotic about punctuality - decides to blow her out rather than miss the beginning of the film. Good man!
Consequently, he offers his absent date's spare ticket to a passing Monika.
After enduring the pitiful picture ("My Dinner With Vera" - an ill-fitting attempt at humour by writer-director Jorg Buttgereit), Mark takes Monika back to his place and learns a little about her background. It transpires that she's a nurse and lives alone in Berlin - though she conveniently leaves out the bit about liking to fuck dead people in her stinky little flat. The next day, we see Mark at his job - positively buzzing from the fumes of his fresh love.
NEKROMANTIK 2 takes a dip at this point while the relationship between Mark and Monika blossoms with some overwrought and unnecessarily drawn-out scenes of boy-girl bonding (sharing ice-creams; riding a rollercoaster together; a trip to the zoo - urgh).
Before long though, Monika's back in her apartment, donning the marigolds and getting fresh with the rapidly decaying Rob. What follows is a wonderful piece of perverse art as Monika takes a handsaw to her mortally challenged lover, indulging in a spot of graphic dismemberment, decapitation, castration and disembowelment.
Presumably, this is all designed to sever ties with Rob and allow Monica to pursue her new relationship with 'living' (though incredibly dull) boyfriend, Mark. But old habits are hard to break, and the conclusion is definitely one worth hanging around for … The most spectacular gore scene Buttgereit has ever filmed.
NEKROMANTIK 2 didn't make much sense to me the first time I saw it on video. As a big fan of the original, I considered this to be overlong, boring and pretentious in comparison. I still think it suffers from the latter - but most European cinema does, often in a complimentary way.
However, it's aged extremely well. It's very considerately shot and stylish in a genuine 'arthouse' manner. This alone prevents the film from ever being boring despite its 103 minute running-time (a full half-hour longer than its predecessor).
Aside from the above, this is arguably a better film than NEKROMANTIK in terms of having a bigger budget, better acting, better lighting, more ambitious camera-work and improved music - although the original's score does feature occasionally. The special effects, from Sammy Balkas and Eva Lorenz, are great too: from the slime-coated cadaver to a chilling decapitation and beyond, NEKROMANTIK 2 certainly delivers in this department.
Indeed, it's only when Buttgereit tries to recall the shock-tactics of the original that the film falters (a seal autopsy sequence serves little purpose other than to repel, really).
And there are inconsistencies here that do tend to annoy. Mark gets up early in Monika's apartment one morning, for example, and finds a severed penis wrapped in cling film in her fridge. He barely reacts...
Also, what was the point in re-introducing Betty (Beatrice M) from the first movie, when she has so little to do (you'll see what I mean)?
Sure, some of the ideas are portentous (the dying flowers at Rob's grave; the impromptu music video with Monika singing). But there are many, many scenes and bold images along the way that more than compensate for these minor follies - Mark hanging naked in Monika's bedroom, the corpse in the bath, the opening grave-digging scene etc.
All told, NEKROMANTIK 2 is one of the most well-rounded, artistic and ambitious examples of "extreme" cinema out there (it was once prosecuted by the German authorities for "glorifying violence", no less). Shot on 16mm, dense with themes covering love, life, death, loss, lust and more, and boasting some superlative cinematography from producer Manfred Jelinski that foreshadows the showmanship which ran amok through Buttgereit's later SCHRAMM: this is perhaps the last truly great example of "extreme" cinema from Germany - all latter-day examples seem to focus purely on the splatter, and forget to provide any substance alongside it.
So, NEKROMANTIK 2 makes its way onto UK home video format courtesy of Arrow Films Video. In HD, no less. Of course, Cult Epics got there first with their Region A encoded US blu-ray disc a short while ago. But, this release positively blows that one out of the water...
A dual-format release, we were sent a screener copy of the blu-ray disc to review. It presents the film in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. And, yes, it's fully uncensored. Which is amazing enough, considering how draconian British censors can be. But what's even better is that this MPEG4-AVC file, proffering the film in a new 1080p HD rendering of the original negative, looks fabulous. Small wonder, since this new transfer was approved by Buttgereit himself.
Rich in colour, fine in detail, this trounces all over previous VHS and DVD releases. Clarity is remarkable throughout - though never to the detriment of the excellent special effects - and everything looks brighter than ever before without robbing the film of its natural 16mm earthiness. Indeed, this still looks like the low-budget effort that it was, but far more cinematic and atmospheric as a result of the new restoration. Minor specks still feature here and there, and some inherent softness can't be denied, but if you want to see NEKROMANTIK 2 looking as true to its original form as possible - then this is where it's at.
German stereo audio is treated to a lossless mix and there are no complaints in this department either. Everything is evenly separated, clear and clean. The Cult Epics release did offer an optional 5.1 mix, but you're not missing much here. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read.
The disc's animated main menu page makes good use of the film's paradoxically beautiful score - don't worry that the menu is 16x9, the film IS correctly framed. From here, we get pop-up menus which include a scene selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.
Extras begin with short, jolly (English language) video introduction to the film from Buttgereit, M, Reeder and Jelinski.
An audio commentary from Buttgereit, co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen, M and Reeder follows. It's in English too: although Buttgereit jokes that we won't understand the German accents, these aren't ever a problem. This is a lively, fun chat track that rarely flags. Filled with mirth, and enhanced by Reeder's cheeky Mancunian accent, this is one of the best commentary tracks I've sat through in a long time. Anecdotes are plentiful - Reeder's ill-advised decision to show the film to a new girlfriend, for example - and the lead actors' shared, giggling embarrassment during the sex scenes is warming.
Next up is "Masters of Life and Death" (a play on the Ted Bundy quote which opens the film), a superb new 38-minute Making Of retrospective in which Buttgereit, Jelinski, Reeder etc look back on the shoot.
The film's original 26-minute "Making Of" documentary, rife with behind-the-scenes footage, also features. This will no doubt be familiar to fans of the film, having previously featured on the excellent Barrel Entertainment DVD release from several years back.
"Nekromantik 2 Live Konzert" is a 12-minute clip showcasing highlights from a live musical performance of the score by Monika M and friends.
The full 47-minute live recording of the soundtrack - including those musical references to the first NEKROMANTIK too - also features, as BD/DV-ROM downloadable content.
Still on the musical front, we have Reeder taking time out to discuss his own contributions to the romantic score, in a newly produced featurette.
"City of the Loving Dead" is another new documentary, this time proffering a then-and-now comparison of locations used in the film. This is complemented by "Necropolis: Jorg Buttgereit's Berlin", in which film scholar Dr Marcus Stiglegger discusses the political and social relevance of the city being used as backdrop to NEKROMANTIK 2's drama. Anyone familiar with Stiglegger's contributions of past will know to expect an erudite, well-thought-out and engaging visual essay.
Two short films from Buttgereit are included here too: the gory, trashy 8-minute romp BLOODY EXCESS IN THE LEADER'S BUNKER and the more sombre, poetically haunting A MOMENT OF SILENCE AT THE GRAVE OF ED GEIN (2 minutes).
Trailers for all of Buttgereit's feature films are also included (NEKROMANTIK, DER TODESKING etc), as is a hefty stills gallery, Buttgereit-directed music videos for Die Kruups and Stereo Total, and even an 11-minute reel of outtakes from the film's shoot.
Also included in this set, but not available to review at the time of writing, are a region 2 DVD containing all of the above in standard definition; a 100-page booklet; a certificate of authenticity (this release is limited to 3,000 copies); five souvenir art cards.
This limited edition set being a 3-disc release, we also get a CD of the complete 24-track score for the film. So, completists should feel extremely satisfied here!
NEKROMANTIK 2, uncut, in HD, delivered to us in deluxe packaging and literally stuffed to the rafters with enticing bonus features. Wow. This is a late contender for BLU-RAY RELEASE OF THE YEAR.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|see main review|