If you were active in the hor­ror fan scene of the late ‘80s, you prob­a­bly delved into the tape-trad­ing scene that defined non-main­stream hor­ror dur­ing that era. Traders passed every­thing from dubs of Japanese Lucio Fulci film laserdiscs to rare John Woo films back and forth — and the hardi­est of the bunch trad­ed obscure micro-bud­get gore fare from des­ti­na­tions like Japan and Germany.

The most con­tro­ver­sial German film to emerge from that tape-trad­ing scene was Nekromantik, which actu­al­ly crossed over to legit home video dis­tri­b­u­tion in the U.S. via Film Threat. Still noto­ri­ous with fans, it stands out from the pack by mix­ing a cer­tain avant-garde sen­si­bil­i­ty in with the expect­ed grossout mate­ri­al.

Nekro-bluNektromantik is more of a bizarre mood piece than an out-and-out gore flick: the plot revolves around the tra­vails of Robert (Daktari Lorenz), a new mem­ber of a death scene clean-up crew who secret­ly shares an inter­est in necrophil­ia with his girl­friend Betty (Beatrice M.). He sneaks home bits of corpses from acci­dent sites and final­ly man­ages to get his hands on a full corpse, which leads to an unfor­get­tably grim ménage a trois. However, he soon los­es his job and the home­front trou­bles that fol­low lead Robert to take some dras­tic mea­sures to fur­ther his inter­est in for­bid­den love.

The result­ing film nev­er shies away from the gross: the acci­dent site sce­nes are suit­ably gross and the film’s finale man­ages to take gore into pseudo-porno­graph­ic realms. To up the ick fac­tor, there’s also footage of a rab­bit being killed and skinned that is as cringe-induc­ing as any of the ani­mal cru­el­ty from an Italian can­ni­bal movie. It was shot on super-8 film and blown up so there’s an inher­ent, low-bud­get grit­ti­ness that gives the grue an appro­pri­ate­ly nasty atmos­phere, even when the effects fall short. There’s also a vari­able qual­i­ty to the per­for­mances, though Lorenz and Beatrice M. are note­wor­thy for their com­mit­ment to Buttgereit’s agen­da.

That said, gore­hounds will be shocked out by how spar­ing­ly the shocks are doled out. Director/co-writer Jorg Buttgereit seems more inter­est­ed in tak­ing a spar­tan, art­house approach to his trans­gres­sive mate­ri­al, albeit a film school kind of artsi­ness. He can’t resist play­ing the enfant ter­ri­ble when the gross stuff pops up — his fever­ish styl­iza­tion of the living/dead/living ménage a trois is impres­sive in a per­verse way — but he also finds room for humor, some of it self-satir­i­cal. The best exam­ple of the lat­ter qual­i­ty is a sequence in a hor­ror movie the­ater that pokes fun at both hor­ror films and their audi­ences.

All in all, Nekromantik is def­i­nite­ly a “spe­cial­ized audi­ence” item — and even they might find eas­ier to respect than to like. That said, it has carved out a spot in cin­e­mat­ic infamy that makes it worth see­ing for cinephiles who appre­ci­ate the trans­gres­sive. Just don’t expect a gore-a-thon. Buttgereit and com­pa­ny have deliv­ered the cin­e­mat­ic equiv­a­lent of per­for­mance art, some­thing designed to test your aes­thet­ic lim­its as much as your gag reflex.

Blu-Ray Notes: Nekromantik recent­ly made its blu-ray debut in the U.S. via a blu-ray/DVD com­bo set from Cult Epics. The results are very impres­sive stuff. It offers two trans­fers of the main attrac­tion: one tak­en from the orig­i­nal Super-8 neg­a­tive and the oth­er tak­en from the only 35mm print left. The for­mer is the best look­ing of the two but both look shock­ing­ly good for a such a shoe­string, lo-fi pro­duc­tion (FYI, Buttgereit’s pref­er­ence is the 35mm ver­sion, believe it or not). There is also a deluxe pack­age of extras includ­ing a 40 min­ute Q&A with the direc­tor from 2013, a vin­tage mak­ing-of piece and the director’s infa­mous short film Hot Love. In short, an excel­lent pack­age for fans of trans­gres­sive cult mate­ri­al.