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.