Back in the 80s you had to be the greasy-faced loser in the video store or lucky beyond your years in order to score an illegal copy of Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik. Owing to this, and the fact that he makes great films, Jörg has since become renowned as a talisman of German Gore. His sick masterpieces have faced so much censorship that today, it’s still neigh on impossible to lay your hands on hard copies—Nekromantik II: The Return of the Loving Dead, for example, was nationally confiscated and the legal case dragged on for two years before the movie finally went on limited release.
Most recently Jörg has channeled his extensive horror expertise into the documentary genre and filmed pieces for the pseudo-intellectual French TV station, Arte. That is, assuming that he’s not in the middle of telling us about all the lunatics, feminists, and ridiculous convention freaks, who each in their own way belong to the German Gore scene. Just like sex with dead people.
Vice: Now then, most of us had a more or less involuntary horror movie phase at some point during puberty, but how does one get started on actually filming gore movies?
Jörg Buttgereit: I’ve always been a massive fan of monster and horror movies and never stopped watching them. In the 80s censorship became really big in Germany and not one of the movies made it into the video stores or theatres uncensored any more. Going over the top like that with Nekromantik was our way to protest, which resulted in indexing and a nationwide confiscation of the films. So apparently the German “voluntary self-censorship” wasn’t that voluntary after all.
One of my colleagues just got all excited and told me how he spent his last pocket money on a totally mangled illegal copy of Nekromantik at school. Doesn’t stuff like that make you feel even a little bit proud?
A short while ago at a retrospective of my stuff in South Korea, the festival pamphlet was sized like a proper phonebook and said that my films are only available as bootlegs in Korea. That’s flattering of course, but also annoying because you know you’ll never profit from any of this.
But do you get something out of your films in Germany at least?
Yeah, we managed to legalize all of the films here by labeling them as art. In Japan, for example, they’re released but slightly censored. Funny thing is, they didn’t mind the violence but the sexual stuff is pixelated like in porn.
Seems like people have issues with mixing horror and sex everywhere. Why do you think that is?
Well, these are the basic elements of life. We just took the connection of both very seriously and showed it like that.
Why was that so important to you?
I used to get annoyed a lot when I saw that most movies work with a paranormal phenomenon such as ghosts when it comes to this. There’s a lot of much sicker stuff happening in real life, you know?
That’s true. Was there anything in particular that inspired you?
The serial killer biographies that were popular in the US in the 80s. I read a lot of these books. Especially Edward Gein, the guy who inspired Psycho and Silence of the Lambs.
People refer to you as the Father of German Gore. Who else is important to the scene other than you?
There’s not a lot, to be honest, but with the video revolution and everyone being able to afford video cameras we had a whole bunch of new people exploding onto the scene. They were mostly idiots though. But it’s interesting to see that gore people are finally making it into the film schools today.
So what exactly is the difference between the dilettante crap and the good stuff?
I used to work with Super 8 and 16mm, I think that’s the main reason why my stuff is still coming across more professional after all these years. Everything just looks better on film. People like Andreas Schnaas, Ittenbach, or Timo Rose all work digital or use video--though Ittenbach has done both in the past. There are a lot of people who film stuff, but very few who actually stand out.
Has anyone impressed you then?
Wenzel Storch, even if I wouldn’t necessarily refer to him as a horror director. He’s more of a lunatic. Look it up on the internet, his movie is called Journey into Bliss and it’s really obscure. He’s such a crazy genius; he doesn’t care about commercial aspects or the audience at all.
You cherish the artsy approach when it comes to filming. Do you feel honored because some of your movies have been labeled as "art"?
I certainly don’t consider my movies dull slaughter fests, so I like the art thing. That label also opened a lot of doors for me, but then again it’s kind of sad to see that you have to be an artist to get away with certain stuff.
This is making me sad, let's talk about the fans. Is there such a thing as a typical Gore fan?
Nowadays they have all these ridiculous, incredibly over-structured conventions where they flock together like sheep. It used to be much wilder. Now they have these proper communities and platforms, where they sell all the stuff that you don’t find in normal stores.
Is that legal?
It’s not a black market. For example you can get the stuff that’s indexed and not suitable for minors.
So what does indexing actually mean for a film?
Basically that means you’re not allowed to promote it. Things only get bad when they start confiscating stuff on a nationwide level, like they did with most of my movies. That happens when the movie is considered a criminal offense and then you’re not allowed to make it accessible to anyone any more.
Did they justify its status as a criminal offense by highlighting a specific scene?
They always try to do that. They claimed Nekromantik II was “glorifying violence,” which is a paragraph in German law that was originally made up for Nazi propaganda.
What happened in that scene?
A woman has sex with a man while killing him.
So they had issues with her enjoying sex while killing her partner? How did you manage to change the court’s opinion?
They watched it over and over and finally thought that it’s all nasty and not glorifying anything. I have no idea how often they watched it, but after the two years the copy was extremely mangled so they must have really watched a lot of times.
Do you personally find Nekromantik II harsher than Nekromantik I, too?
Not at all. The first one is much wilder; it’s from 1987 and filmed with Super 8. The sequel has more of a feminist touch to it.
Did you just say “feminist”?
Yeah. Shortly after being released it was screened at this feminist movie festival that even I wasn’t allowed to visit. In my movie woman acts as the aggressor and that turned the whole constellation of the female victim upside down. In the end of the 80s and beginning 90s that was pretty unusual--and still is, in fact.
Do you think it’s funny when people interpret your films in such a political context?
Sure, but then again, in this case that wasn’t far-fetched at all. That was something I was always annoyed by too: that most horror movies are so blunt and mainly made for an audience of 16-year-old Americans covered in acne. The first responses I got to Nekromantik II were everything else but positive. It took a while before the movie became a cult thing when the art house audience discovered it.
So what did the average horror movie fans say about it?
They were insanely bored with it because there wasn’t anybody to identify with.
So you’re saying most horror movie fans are male and like to identify with the bad guy in the movie?
There’s some pretty tough girls out there who enjoy the movies and are capable of abstracting all of this, but in the end it’s mostly guys.
So that brings me back to the cliché connection of sex and horror movies that every adolescent boy's life seems to revolve around at some point, even if only due to peer pressure…
It’s a very odd German thing that horror movies are seen as movies for adults over here. In the US they pretty much came up with the genre for the drive-in cinemas where guys could take their dates and act as protectors. Like in Friday the 13th… The whole movie is about a guy with a machete watching teenagers during their first sexual experiences and then punishing them for it. Or Leatherface and his chainsaw that reminds of a violent phallus. Horror is a prequel to porn. It’s sex without actually showing sex, but it’s loaded with sexual symbols.
Another scandal surrounding your work are the scenes that depict actual animal slaughter. Are you a heartless monster?
Said rabbit slaughter was filmed on a farm, where the guy is killing rabbits every day. We just filmed him doing it, so no rabbit was killed for our movie. There's the difference.
Did you get in trouble with PETA people about the whole thing?
No, but there used to be a slaughterer who came up to me and said it was perverted to show something like this. He worked in a slaughterhouse himself, so that was pretty remarkable.
Are you a big tough guy because of all the gore that’s passed through your hands over the years? Or is there still something that even you can’t bear to watch?
Decapitation during sex or castration, where a guy is nailing his foreskin to a table. That’s stuff is not pretty and I don’t watch it anymore. Nevertheless, back then I thought it was necessary. I used to make my own special effects and therefore I can usually tell pretty well how they did something I see. Of course that makes it less gross and you see things more from the artist’s angle, an abstract angle that is.
Portrait by Christoph Voy
(Stills courtesy of Jörg Buttgereit)