"Necrophile Passion" is currently one of the most awaited fims in the field of extreme art. The stylish, ambitious production revolving around desecration of corpses, mental illness and despair is a complete success and one of the most interesting independent productions of the last years. Director Tom Heidenberg is an enigma: he refuses to publish photos of himself or share any personal information with the public. Despite the mysterious aura that surrounds him, I was able to arrange an interview with him. For five hours, Heidenberg answered my questions and proved to me that he is a multi-layered, ambitious artist, who really has a lot to say.
Read the unabridged interview here:
TM: Hey there, Tom! First of all, thanks a lot for taking the time to answer my questions. I’ll start by asking the usual start-up questions: who are you and what’s there to know about you?
Heidenberg: In fact, there is not a lot to know about me personally.
TM: Your film “Necrophile Passion” is certainly very extreme. When did your interest in extremity and transgression start?
Heidenberg: My interest started to form in very early years, horror films and extreme music fascinated me at a pretty early stage of my life. Naturally, it started off with pretty harmless stuff and eventually developed. I was especially fascinated by the special effects. In the case of “Necrophile Passion”, the theme and the score create most of the extremity. The gore is not too over-the-top and, like you wrote in your review, the way the film deals with this taboo topic is more important than the mere overstepping of boundaries practiced by some filmmakers. With this film, I wanted to create something unique and not only show a devastated character standing in front of an abyss, but also let the viewer experience the abyss first hand. I hope that I have succeeded in doing so.
TM: For most people, extremity solely consists of the regular viewing of mildly violent horror films. To what extent does your personal taste go further than this? What does real extremity mean to you and how big a role does it play in your private life?
Heidenberg: Many extremities define my private life, be it in music, film, art etc., but to me, the real extremity can be found in actual life and humanity itself. Films and music, especially in the field of extreme art, are merely a reflection of what the mainstream media present to us on a daily basis, at least in most cases. Oftentimes, the people from the sensationalist press, who point their cameras at every crash scene, are first to hypocritically criticize some film or album for being too violent.
TM: “Necrophile Passion“ is now fully completed and will be released on DVD soon. Could you summarize the plot and the main themes?
Heidenberg: Although corpse molestation is a very important part of the film, it mainly deals with the mental disorders behind the act and problems found in human relationships. In my opinion, molesting a corpse is one of the most deviant actions conceivable and nobody would just do it solely for pleasure. Surely, there must be deeper reasons behind it and their exploration was my motivation while writing the script. What could make a man commit such a thing?
TM: Very interesting. When did you have the idea to make a film out of such a story? How long have you been carrying it around with you? How many stages of development did the idea go through?
Heidenberg: I saw “Nekromantik“ when I was pretty young. At the time, it disturbed greatly, but it also made me think about the theme in general and I began to ask myself what could make a person do such a thing. The first ideas came much later, but taking into account that the film was completed in 2013, it was still pretty early. It must have been around 2003/2004, I completed the first draft of the script in 2005. Over the years, a lot of work was done. This first draft was partially discarded and heavily modified various times, until I ended up with the final version in 2011. There had been many failed attempts to realize this project before the final shoot (most often the failure was caused by unreliable actors) and this is, of course, one of the reasons why the project underwent so many changes. There were many low points throughout the production and I was sometimes on the verge of throwing it all away. In hindsight, I am glad that everything happened the way it did. If I had finished the film a few years earlier, the film would have had the typical amateur look due to inferior technical devices and the score and the acting would have also been worse. The film would have definitely suffered from it. The desired level of quality could only be achieved through all these complications. In the end, everything worked out great. However, the original version of the film was supposed to be longer, many things had to be left out, because they were not feasible. Senseless dialogues and things that I saw as unfitting were also cut out afterwards.
TM: When you talk about problems with actors and so on, what do you mean exactly? Can you give any concrete examples?
Heidenberg: It was generally hard to find anybody who would be prepared to do the things I had in mind. But finding somebody who was prepared to do it and able to do it well was a catastrophe. Furthermore, I was forced to work with people who didn’t even care to appear at the set, for years. In 2008, the former female lead quit the project after having completed nearly the whole shoot and forbade me to publish any material involving her. Sadly, there was no contract to go back on, since I always thought that the project would stay pretty small. I am very happy about being able to convince Günther Brandl to take part in the project. Without Günther, the project may not have been able to happen or may not have featured such a high level of talented acting. He was also of great help in my search for actors.
TM: How were you able to find people willing to endure the things you asked of them. Was it out of coincidence of the result of thorough searching? Especially young actresses are said to be oftentimes arrogant and uptight…
Heidenberg: I would say, it was a mixture of both and, as I said before, Günther really helped me a lot. The cooperation with all the actors was very pleasant. With Günther, I knew that he had already played various roles which featured sex scenes and full nudity, for instance in the films he directed himself. I can highly recommend the works of his filmcrew “Brandl Pictures” to everyone who is interested in independent productions outside of the splatter genre – these guys are awesome! Working with Katharina, Eldrid and Sandra was also very enjoyable. Eldrid and Katharina had already been able to gather a lot of experience within the field of film, modeling and theatre and this made my work with them a lot easier.
TM: All’s well that ends well. As you mentioned above, the actors had to do a lot more than just drop their clothes. If you had had a team of actors that would have been game for ANYTHING, would the film have ended up to be even more pornographic and vile?
Heidenberg: Many things were left out beforehand, because I figured nobody would be prepared to endure it. But in the end, a good middle course was found. I may have shown a little more, but it wouldn’t have been more pornographic in the sense of hardcore. I would have rather made some scenes more disgusting. In an early draft of the script, the scene in which Eldrid is lying on top of the decaying corpse and speaks her trademark line would have shown a cadaver with guts and live maggots hanging out of it, to name just one. In hindsight, I think it was not a bad choice to leave it out. As they say: sometimes less is more.
TM: Can you give further examples of other scenes which were left out because of supposed impracticability?
Heidenberg: There were also non-gory scenes which meant a lot to me. For example one set in the school playground, in which a bunch of girls point and laugh at a small boy. I wanted to include many childhood memories in the same vein, but try telling a mother that you’re shooting a film about necrophilia, she won’t be too happy about letting her kid participate, even if the scene involving her child doesn’t involve any extreme content. (SPOILER ALERT!) Also, the scene in which the two leading actors have sex and she chokes him originally featured a scene in which she puts a knife to his throat. In retrospect, I found it wiser to merely hint at it than to actually show it. Furthermore, I must admit that the effect didn’t turn out to be as good as I wanted and I am of the opinion that it’s better to leave an effect out than show a badly executed one. Although sometimes you have to, of course, compromise and show a not-so-well-done effect. If your resources are limited, there is sometimes no way around it.
TM: Having talked about extremity earlier on: to what extent do you live out your own desires in NP?
Heidenberg: As a filmmaker, it is only natural to contribute some of your own experiences, fetishes and so on and to live out urges which must be suppressed in real life. A kind of beast, which is waiting to be unleashed, slumbers in each and every one of us. However, I’m not into corpse molestation^^ It’s is rather the contempt for humanity itself that I brought in. I have never been your typical “pro life – pro sunshine” kind of guy, but working for a TV company and having to deal with all kinds of thugs, politicians and other idiots, you start doubting and later-on despising these people, at least if you’re not one of them. Furthermore, I find it highly questionable that public television can get away with so many things that pose a problem in films, i.e. violence, other people’s hardship etc.
TM: You chose a nameless hero. Is there a specific reason for this? Is a main character without a name more quintessential? Does he stand for themes which concern everybody?
Heidenberg: I think, that’s about it. It was my intention to portray the whole spectacle in a way that would give it a certain documentary quality. This also explains the prolonged shots which always follow the hero around and depict scenes from his everyday life, rather than typical “film scenes” edited together in a modern, hasty way. A nameless protagonist who you can emphasize with and relate to is far more authentic, in my eyes.
TM: Does that mean that you always find a more subtle and less gimmicky production more authentic than a modern, more hectic one?
Heidenberg: Exactly! I think, this way it was possible to build up a more intense atmosphere than hectic editing could ever have achieved. Hence, the film doesn’t need an abundance of effects to get to you. Through the use of the static camera in combination with the score, the viewer is under constant stress and becomes a voyeur, anxiously awaiting what happens next. At least I hope so.
TM: As you just said, voyeurism plays an important role in your film. What makes violence so alluring? In general, referring to NP and for you personally? Why does violence interest you and why do you choose to portray it in your art?
Heidenberg: Most often, the portrayal of violence in film and art is a way to express one’s anger and to blow off some steam. It’s better to channel your aggression into art than to let it out in real life. Everyone knows real-life situations in which your blood is boiling and you just want to wreck everything around you. However, this would have pretty negative consequences, which is not the case with art, where you can let it all out without negative consequences. Unless you live in Germany…
TM: Let’s go a bit further: sex and violence. Sexual Violence. Violent sex. This combination of two of the most primal human instincts is also very important in your film, one could even say that it plays the metaphorical main role. Would you say that they become one in your story? Why is the depiction of sexual violence so frowned upon and generally more hated than non-sexualized violence?
Heidenberg: The blending of sex and violence does not only play a role in my film, but also in everyday life. Just take a look at some internet sites and any random sex shop and you’ll find that there is no way to avoid it. I think, many people are ashamed of feeling attracted towards such things and are afraid of talking about it with their partner, as can be seen in “Necrophile Passion”. Oftentimes, it’s merely a communicative problem.
TM: What is your stance towards sexual violence? Do you condemn it? Do you glorify it? Do you even practice it in legal ways?
Heidenberg: Let me put it this way: if one plans to engage in such an act, he should trust the other person greatly, otherwise things can get out of hand very quickly and result in a catastrophe. If, however, a high level of mutual trust exists and both parties are consenting, why shouldn’t one follow ones desires? I can imagine that the whole taboo thing will loosen up, eventually. As I said before, violence and sex have already become normality in everyday life and private bedrooms. Maybe not in the way you mentioned above, but consensual sadomasochism doesn’t seem to still be as off-limits as it once was.
TM: Referring to your opinion on sexual violence: why necrophilia? Is it the metaphorical quality, the fact that it is the ultimate connection between sex and violence, the controversy surrounding the topic or just a morbid fascination with the act itself? Or a bit of everything or none of the aforementioned?
Heidenberg: On the one hand, it is a mixture between all of the things you named, on the other hand it is supposed to express a certain contempt for life and the fact that a dead girl can no longer say no, insult or torture him.
TM: Would you say that these kind of scenes are subliminally (or even openly) misogynistic? Of course, there is also the character of the necrophile woman, but many scenes show the desecration of female bodies performed by a male. Are depictions of this kind automatically sexist?
Heidenberg: I wouldn’t say so. It is my assumption that, if anything at all, mostly males indulge in this kind of atrocious act, since it must be way harder for a woman. As I said before, this is only an assumption, since I don’t know anybody who practises this kind of behaviour :D
TM: One last question regarding necrophilia: earlier on, you described Buttgereit’s notorious classic as being highly influential to you. Is “Nekromantik” the spiritual father of “Necrophile Passion”?
Heidenberg: I’d rather say that his film lead to the idea. I was very revolted at the time and I wasn’t able to get the theme out of my head. One could say that his movie lead to the desired effect, hah.
TM: Many transgressive artists toy around with taboos and controversial topics, but only want to shock and pass it all off as provocation to get away with it and not lose their faces in front of the mainstream press and the general public. Others, however, act out of obsession and really want to convey a message. Where do you see yourself in this debate? Is simple provocation worth something? Does art have to be “true” to a certain extent, in order to be taken seriously?
Heidenberg: Naturally, provocation always plays a role when you’re dealing with themes like this. However, I prefer to see myself as part of the other side that actually wants to convey something. I’m sure that many people won’t understand the film or at least parts of it, though. Here and there, the film also offers a bit of free space for own interpretations. In principle, art is always allowed to be a bit provocative, at least in my opinion. Sometimes, it even has to be, in order to get its points across. But, I would never support films who are shot only to provoke and whose creators publically make excuses for themselves. Either you really want to provoke and stand your ground, or you simply leave it!
TM: NP is independent to the core. Do you think that it were possible for you to create a film for a mainstream audience which would still express your feelings 100%? Maybe even with a big production company to back you up? Or do you despise the mainstream in all its forms?
Heidenberg: On the whole, I do not have too many positive feelings for the mainstream, but I’m not saying that everything is bad. However, I don’t think that my ideas could be realized in a way that they were 100% authentic and still marketable to a mainstream audience. Unlike many independent filmmakers, money does not come first for me. Many of them search for financers and sell their souls to them, others sell censored versions of their films. This type of behavior, especially in the field of indie film, is despicable in my eyes and this goes for the filmmakers as well as the respective label which is responsible for the crappy cut release. One thing was always clear to me: if I ever make a film, I will not let any producer influence me.
TM: A very personal question, which I have been wanting to ask since I saw “Necrophile Passion” for the first time: what’s your personal philosophy? How do you view the world and the people around you? Negativity, misanthropy and anger – are you guided by them? What is the ideological background of the person that brought us such a film?
Heidenberg: The film portrays my worldview in a great, except for the necrophilia. When possible, I avoid public life. Of course, there are quite a few people that I am very fond of, I don’t generally hate everything and everyone, but I feel very uncomfortable in crowds and am not the most tolerant person on earth towards many things. Especially the way people are brainwashed into being dumb in the times of so-called “quality journalism” makes sick. Same goes for the greediness of many people and firms, Political and religious lunatics that desperately need something to support them and so on… I could go on for ages. In my opinion, humanity will take care of itself once and for all, if it goes on the like this. If you ask me, we are our own enemy. There is no reason to see everything positively and I don’t think that this is going to change soon.
TM: I was especially fond of NP’s artistic aspects. How important was NP’s experimental side to you? Do you think it will be noticed just as much as the violence? Do you think vile, gory films can also have their beautiful sides and vice versa?
Heidenberg: The film’s experimental nature was the most important part of the whole project. I hope that it will get the attention it deserves. According to my personal taste, art is allowed to be filthy and cruel. In some cases, for example in mine, it even has to be. Art doesn’t always have to be aesthetically beautiful. Everything goes. It is important to maintain freedom of art!
TM: There were some harsh reactions to your film. Of course, things like this always provoke to a certain extent, but in your case, the reactions seemed particularly extreme. Especially, because they came from horror fans and not from outsiders. Where do you see the reason for this?
Heidenberg: You are absolutely right, some of the reactions were pretty extreme. I think the explanation lies in the fact that the act of desecrating a corpse has never been shown in such detail. At least, I have never seen a film which portrays this in such an explicit way. I think that this was a bit too much for some viewers. However, I can’t deal with such a topic and then only hint at or even belittle it. Either I show things the way they are or may be, or I don’t do it at all. You wouldn’t cut a kissing scene from a love or a hardcore scene from a porn film. It would end up no longer being what it was supposed to be.
TM: What about censorship? Du you think NP is likely to get banned? In your home country (Austria) art is free, but this can’t be said about your neighbour (Germany)…
Heidenberg: Over in Germany, this could indeed be a candidate for a nationwide ban. The way Germany deals with censorship is ridiculous. Film = art and art has to be free. I do see the necessity of age limits, but Germany has become the land of the rising censorship and it’s making a fool of itself. I can’t understand why adults are prohibited from consuming this form of art, while they are constantly being dumbed down and brainwashed. Shooting sprees, violence etc. are caused by other things, somebody who is planning to do something like that would also do it without having seen violent films.
TM: Are there any concrete plans regarding your artistic future?
Heidenberg: I have been working on a film with the working title “Feindbild Mensch”. However, I can’t say too much about it at the moment, since I’m currently in the process of writing, which usually takes a few years and oftentimes results in me throwing all my ideas overboard. I have been working on the script since 2008 and I think I’ll have it finished by next summer. Let me tell you this much: the viewer will be once again lead into the abyss of the human psyche.
TM: I am very excited about t! We have reached the end of our interview. Thanks again for your interesting and extensive answers. Any last words, greetings etc.?
Heidenberg: Thanks for your support and your very interesting questions. Good luck with your webpage. Nice to see that there are still people who offer a platform to all forms of extreme art.
TM: Thanks a lot.