The Cremator (1969)

I have an account at ICheckMovies, for the one or two people who are likely to find it of interest, although I only mention it now because that’s the site where I first heard of this film. Looking at the comings and goings of the various IMDB genre lists, I was intrigued to see something from 1969 called Spalovac mrtvol appearing in the horror chart (where it currently sits at 28). Looked it up on IMDB, found it was this, went out and bought it at the first opportunity, finally got around to it tonight. Its status as “horror” might be questionable (there’s an oldish but interesting interview with director Juraj Herz here in which he addresses the genre question), and someone on the film’s IMDB page is whining in the message board section about it not being comedy either, but there’s still a bit of both at work in this film. It’s set around the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia at the end of the 1930s, where our “hero”, Karl Kopfrkingl (no, the “r” isn’t misplaced like it seems to be) works at a crematorium. He’s an odd little man, fond of a book about Tibet and Buddhism, feeling that his work helps liberate the soul from its earthly bonds to move on to wherever it goes next; from early one we may suspect there’s something not entirely right with him, and when he starts proving amenable to the requirements of his new German overseers we realise that “not entirely right” barely begins to describe him. I’ve said before that some films rely upon the strength of a single lead performance to work; this one goes a bit further by relying on the appearance of that lead actor. Somehow I think Karl could only be embodied by someone who could actually look like Rudolf Hrusinsky does here, that sort of mild, almost bland, vaguely aspirational middle class thing. It’s a terrific piece of casting, supported by Herz’s own black comic tendencies, and he’s the real horror of a reasonably normal person turning reasonably abnormal under the influence of an extreme idea, and the horror of what real people will do to each other under certain conditions makes this a lot more disturbing in the end than your conventional monster movie. And the fact that it is quite funny only makes it even more so.

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