Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

The State vs. Buttgereit and Ittenbach: Censorship and Subversion in German No-Budget Horror Film

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

The State vs. Buttgereit and Ittenbach: Censorship and Subversion in German No-Budget Horror Film

Article excerpt

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, West German indie directors released a comparatively high number of hyper-violent horror films, domestic no-budget productions often shot with camcorders. Screened at genre festivals and disseminated as grainy VHS or Betamax bootlegs, these films constitute anomalies in the history of German postwar cinema where horror films in general and splatter movies in particular have been rare, at least up until the 2000s. (1) This article focuses on two of the most prominent exponents of these cheap German genre flicks: Jorg Buttgereit's controversial and highly self- reflexive NekRomantik 2 (1991) and Olaf Ittenbach's infamous gore-fest The Burning Moon (1992), both part of a huge but largely obscure underground culture of homebrew horror. I argue that both NekRomantik 2 and The Burning Moon--amateurish and raw as they may appear--successfully reflect the state of non-normative filmmaking in a country where, according to Germany's Basic Law, "There shall be no censorship." (2) Yet, the nation's strict media laws--tied, in particular, to the Jugendschutz (protection of minors)--have clearly limited the horror genre in terms of production, distribution, and reception. In this light, NekRomantik 2 and The Burning Moon become noteworthy case-studies that in various ways query Germany's complex relation to the practice of media control after 1945. Not only do both films have an interesting history with regard to the idiosyncratic form of censorship practiced in postwar (West) Germany, they also openly engage with the topic by reacting to the challenges of transgressive art in an adverse cultural climate.

A direct response to the West German government's cracking down on graphic horror films in the wake of the so-called British "video nasties panic" during the early eighties, NekRomantik 2--much like its 1987 predecessor NekRomantik--probes the limits of artistic expression through a no-holds-barred engagement with the extreme taboo of necrophilia. At the same time, however, the sequel plays with the expectations of the ever-watchful German authorities, anticipating the cuts that would presumably be imposed by the regulatory bodies in order to allow for an official release. In NekRomantik 2 the fault lines--so to speak--are located between long stretches of art-house ennui as eruptions of strong violence and deviant sexuality, creating a formal frame that separates the graphic moments from the rather mundane rest and crafting a highly symmetrical text. The result is a fierce attack on the stigmatization of violent art that results from a blanket condemnation of the horror genre as an inferior and emotionally scarring form of debased entertainment. In The Burning Moon Ittenbach more openly attacks Germany's double standards as he slashes into the facade of Bavaria's conservative suburbia, arguing in his wild splatter anthology that under the surface of the nation's middleclass culture a repressed lust for blood and guts still lingers. The outrageous The Burning Moon--which is still banned to this day in Germany--suggests that an oppressive media landscape which provides no artistic safety valve leads to the inability to address underlying tensions, a problematic development that the director visualizes in the steadily escalating narrative arc of his film's segments. It culminates in a horrific vision of hell in which narrative has no place. In order to discuss the two titles from the shared angle of subversion and anti-censorship rhetoric, it is first necessary to outline the cultural climate of (West) Germany in the 1980s, including the ways in which the state has regulated horror films after the Second World War.

Horror Cinema, the BPjM, and the Video Nasty Panic of the 1980s

When we discuss West German no-budget horror, we need to talk briefly about the situation of horror cinema in postwar Germany in general and changes in the culture-political landscape of the 1980s in particular. …

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