Nat Brehmer/ HorrorBid: How did you come up with the general concept and ideas for Nekromantik?
Jörg Buttgereit: It’s always a combination of different things if you are just starting to work on something. During the 80’s in Germany there was a big censorship problem, or a movement, you might call it, so in Germany every horror movie was censored and also a lot of movies were actually banned. So Nekromantik was my way of doing a protest against that movement over here. And we also wanted to state or make a point that you could do a movie without asking the authorities. In Germany we have a complicated censorship system, which is of course not called a censorship system, but it’s… but normally when you want to make a movie you have to apply to a certain censorship board and they will give you a certification. And we never did such things because we were afraid of being censored. So this was kind of a political background for Nekromantik. But also on the other side I was influenced a lot by serial killer biographies I had read. Mainly American ones like Edward Gein and Ted Bundy. I thought something more real-life would be scarier than the normal walking dead, vampire, ghost, etc.
HB: At the time, Nekromantik pushed the boundaries of what could be shown on the screen. I know a lot of people who can barely sit through it even today. Have you always been interested in going to extremes and making the audience uncomfortable?
JB: I mean, I… I think when you are younger it’s kind of a natural thing to try and test out the limits of what you can digest, particularly in horror films. So it was the same with me when I was young, and if you look at the poster of Nekromantik you have the image of a very gruesome movie, but I don’t think of Nekromantik as a very gross-out movie. I think what is shocking to people is that the theme of necrophilia is not presented in a very exploitative or shocking way. The movie pretends to be depicting something very normal and there are no authorites, no good guys or bad guys, and I think that is what troubles people. And if they go to bed with a dead body you have beautiful piano music as though it is the most normal thing in the world. I think that’s the trick.
HB: That actually leads into my next question. I think many people would agree that the music is one of the strongest elements of the film. How did you and the composer decide how the film would sound?
JB: In the first place I was very aware of the fact that I had to work with non-actors. With friends of mine who couldn’t really deliver any dialogue so I was counting on my friends who could write music for me. So I decided on what kind of music I would like to have and I played examples for them. And they were trying to do their best. And this is all on no budget, so a friend of mine... who did music, so he had a piano at his house and we just went there and recorded it. So it was very simple.
HB:Despite all the horror and the violence, there is an element of black humor in Nekromantik. What made you decide to take the story in that direction?
JB: I think you must always… if you take something seriously when you shoot something like this, of course doing special effects, doing scenes like this can be very entertaining when you do it, despite the fact later on, on the screen it can be gruesome. But the process of doing it is totally different from what you see on screen later on. And I think to me some comedy aspects are very… they just came natural. I never thought about it. So, you just told me that Nekromantik is one of the hardest movies to sit through and now you’re asking me about the comedy aspect. You can see that it’s very difficult and in a way, it’s also, yeah, it just comes naturally. Even if I’m the one who wrote and produced and directed the movie, sometimes I don’t even feel responsible for it because what people think about the movie and what you read about the film is sometimes totally different from what I had in mind.
HB: The ending of the film seems to perfectly set up the next story. Did you have any idea while working on the first film that there would even be a sequel?
JB: No, of course not because when we shot the movie we could have never imagined how big this little weekend super-8 movie would be later on. But the ending that was open for a possible sequel was more like a joke to me. Pretending that this film could even have a sequel was so funny to me that I thought let’s do it, because it was just a joke.
HB: Has there ever been talk of a third film or, as is most common these days, a remake?
JB: Of course a lot of people are asking me about a third movie. But Nekromantik is 25 years old by now, so I think if we do something with it by now it should be a remake or something like that because it has been such a long time. But still, over here in Germany I think it’s very unlikely that someone would give me money for a film like this. Back in the old days when I was younger, my friends were younger, we just made these films without earning any money with it. So there was no commercial aspect. And after a while if you do this, I did this for four movies, all four feature films with no money… after a while your friends are running away. They can’t really work for free anymore. So when my movies were banned in Germany it was also more complicated to do this kind of film. So to be honest, it was the moment when I stopped doing these movies… it was on one hand a decision that, for me, it was kind of a closed thing because one I made after... was not banned and was nominated for prizes in Germany. I said “Ok, now I got the reputation I wanted.” And I proved you could do movies in Germany without being cut and stuff, so the mission was over for me. And I don't think it would still be possible to do a film like this even today in Germany. And I’m still waiting for the phone call from Michael Bay to do a remake. But I would consider it if I would have creative control over it. Which is complicated if you do it in a professional way, because then you have to earn money, you have lots of pressure.
And I, you know, I do stage plays now. I write a lot for magazines, I do radio dramas, all kinds of stuff. There’s so much more money involved in these kinds of projects I do because it’s supposed to be an artistic field I work in and if you do horror movies, if you can call my films horror movies, then in Germany it’s a field where they don’t like it over here. If you do a horror movie over here you have to have a very good reason. Or you have to have an excuse, a good excuse to do it. We don’t have a horror tradition like you might have in the US.
HB: Looking back on Nekromantik after twenty-five years, what elements of the film are you most proud of?
JB: I’m proud of the fact that I still need to talk about the film twenty-five years after I made it. But if you are involved like I am in this movie, for me it is amazing that someone took the film seriously at all. Because it’s just a bunch of friends of mine, we did it on Super-8, and it’s… I mean, how low can you go? So it’s a surprise to me that it’s still there, and it survived all the technical revolution. Our first way to get our money back from the film was when the video tapes came out so we could release a video tape, later on it came out on DVD, and now people are asking for Blu-Ray. And this is insane, to put a Super-8 film on Blu-Ray. How would it look?
HB: What is your opinion on today’s horror cinema? Do you believe that we’ve reached the limits, or are there always new places to go?
JB: I was very surprised at the horror movies that came from the French filmmakers during the last days. Martyrs, Inside, and the feeling that they want to do something more than entertaining or shocking. But I work as a film critic over here in Germany and so my profession is also to watch horror movies and get paid for it. So sometimes I watch these films, I really get bored, and I find myself in the position as a horror film director that I have to do bad reviews about other people’s movies, which I don’t like. So very often I just refuse to do reviews. Because, yeah, it’s a pain.
HB: What is your personal favorite horror film?
JB: Well, that’s a very difficult question as you know, because it changes. But normally I think when you are really young and you watch films like this you get really impressed by these films. So one of the first films that impressed me very much was The Bride of Frankenstein from James Whale from 1935, I think. That is still one of my favorites. Because if you look at it, it’s like Nekromantik, in that it’s about the love of two dead people. And it has kind of little religious scenes down in the crypt, and stuff like that, so it might be the ground piece for the films I did in the 80’s.
HB: What projects do you have going on at the moment?
JB: Well, at the moment, I just did a stage play called Green Frankenstein and Sex Monster. There should be a trailer on YouTube. You can have a look at it, or you can even link it to the webpage if you like. But it’s in German, of course. So this is a project I just did and I’m going to do a new stage play I just wrote, the premier will be next October and it’s about Ed Gein. So, going back to the basics, but I do it on an established stage. And these things, sometimes they are based on the radio plays I did. And if you look at the trailer for Green Frankenstein and Sex Monster, what you see on stage is actually a cinema audience. So you see people pretending to see a film and they react to a film you don’t see. Does this make sense?
HB: Yes, I love that style of theatre.
JB: And they start to do, like, the soundtrack of the film that you don’t see. They do this live onstage, with all the noises, so you have… like a penis transplant, stuff like this all on stage. It’s very funny, but it’s also for a German, serious theatre crowd. Educational, in terms of what was going on in the Grindhouses of the ‘70’s. Or the monster movies from the 60’s that I love, these Japanese monster movies. So you can have a look at the trailer. Have you seen Captain Berlin vs. Hitler?
HB: Oh yes.
JB: You see that’s a stage play I did. So this is the stuff I do. But I take these themes very seriously, but they turn out of course very funny on stage. So this time I’m working on an Ed Gein stage play now. Premiere is the 21st of October. In Dogwood, a town in Germany. Where do you live?
(sort of segued here into a discussion about the northern US and living close to Canada)
JB: I used to do a TV series called Lexx: The Dark Zone in Halifax. A sci-fi series around 1995. I did some special effects work. And I directed one episode of Lexx the Dark Zone, a very strange sci-fi series.
HB: Right, yeah. I remember the series.
JB: Yeah. A lot of digital special effects before digital special effects really worked. It was much too early, I think. Okay.
HB: Well, those are all my questions. Thank you so much.
JB: Yeah... all right. Thank you.
Link to the trailer for 'Green Frankenstein and Sex Monster': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKlcdoOMh5Y