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Month of Horror 2015: World Edition – Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia: The Cremator (Spalovač mrtvol)

Editor’s Note: These posts originally appeared starting here on the AV Club *stares off wistfully*. They are being reposted for completionist sake as this annual series continued onto the AVCAD and now here. Also, forgive the writing for I was younger and dumber and these were written to appear in comments so don’t include pictures and are far shorter and less thorough than the series is now. They have been preserved as they were.

Month of Horror: World Edition
10/01/2015 – Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia: The Cremator (Spalovač mrtvol) (1969)
Directed by Juraj Herz

As promised (or threatened), Day 1 of my yearly tradition of watching a new horror film each day for the month of October this time with each one representing a different country. My knowledge of Czech film in general going into The Cremator basically consisted of a few fellow Czech New Wave films I had seen namely Closely Watched Trains, The Shop on Main Street (which is admittedly Slovak) and Loves Of Blonde.

The Cremator was Czechoslovakia’s submission to the 42nd Academy Awards but banned for 20 years after it premiere a product of increased censorship. Despite viewing the film as a Youtube video (and hardly an HD one), it looks fantastic with the black and white cinematography fitting the mood perfectly. Rudolf Hrušínský plays the lead with a terrific quiet menace managing to convey so many different moods without much change at all in his voice. The move where he briefly combs someone else’s hair (either living or dead) and then his own is such a simple gesture but so effectively creepy and really establishes him as off well before the movie starts going down that path.

The horror for the most part is of the human element, with the pre-WWII setting and obvious images that the idea of Germans and crematoriums brings, creates a haunting sense of dread and anticipation just out of historical knowledge. The lead’s slow conversion to the Nazis and transformation is so subtle and natural (even the progression of time is subtle) that it never feels jarring and is just that much more painful to watch. Even as the film heads into some more traditional horror territory later on, it never betrays the slow pace (and I mean that as a compliment) that has been established prior to that and feels like a natural extension of the plot. This is the kind of horror that sticks with you and it’s a wonderful way to start the month (as opposed to last year’s lead off film Jaws 3).

Up Next: The late Wes Craven’s original version of The Hills Have Eyes representing the United States.

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