Cremator, The (1969): Herz’s Czechoslovak Sci-Fi Horror Dramedy

Courtesy of TCM, I  finally saw The Cremator, Juraj Herz’s Czechoslovak sci-fi horror dramedy, based on a novel by Ladislav Fuks (“The Corpse Incinerator”), adapted to the screen by Herz and Fuks.

Herz’s second feature film was Czechoslovakia’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 42nd Oscars, but was not nominated.

Shot in black-and-white, heavy in dialogue, and expressionistic in style, the story is set in the early 1930s in Prague, revolving around cremator Karel Kopfrkingl.

Context is crucial: The movie takes place against the backdrop of the political radicalization of Europe during the demise of the golden era of the First Czechoslovak Republic and the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia under Nazi Germany.

Karl Kopfrkingl, who works at a crematorium in Prague, is obsessed with his duties, based on his belief that he is not just cremating the dead, but liberating the souls of the departed.

When Nazi forces invade the Czech border, he descends into a state of mind (madness?) that allows him to express his disturbed beliefs.

The lead is played by Rudolf Hrušínský, who’s known for his comedic role as the soldier Josef Švejk in Dobrý voják Švejk and Poslušně hlásím.

Due to its political overtones, the film was banned after its 1969 premiere and was not shown until the collapse of the communist system in 1989.

Rudolf Hrušínský as Karel Kopfrkingl
Vlasta Chramostová as Lakmé; Dagmar
Jana Stehnová as Zina
Miloš Vognič as Mili
Zora Božinová as Erna Reinkeová
Ilja Prachař as Walter Reinke