This brilliantly chilling film is set in Prague during the Nazi occupation. It tells the story of Karl Kopfrkingl, a professional cremator, for whom the political climate allows free rein to his increasingly deranged impulses for the ‘salvation of the world’.
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A detailed psychoanalysis of the potential for evil that resides in us all. Every scene adds to the likening of its character's mere bourgeoisie conformity simultaneously harboring a hateful political extremist, making The Cremator's analysis of Nazism's rise as a collective belief pure Freudian. The clinical examination may bleed out its movieness, but this isn't so much a film, but a deeper understanding of life.
Is it a coincidence that possibly the greatest horror film ever made is also one of the most empathetic to its monster? Or one that exposes how easily even the most gentle person is capable of becoming one? Yeah, this film never fails to scare the shit out of me.
Though I think Juraj Herz's The Cremator is an ingenious film in its narrative and technical accomplishments, I feel that the wacky Kopfrkingl (and by reference, Hitler) was encoded as a delusional, mentally-ill obsessive of death and the after-life. A clownish mensch combing the hair of bloodless charges while ruminating over phantasms
In a micro sense perhaps dark comedies were meant to make the spectators and directors felt morally superior. Then Herz made superiority-ception to debate that it is the lowest state of all dark comedies experience.
Gloriously grotesque and sublimely beautiful. A strange tale of a cremator who sees himself as a cross between the supreme Aryan and the Dalai Lama. This is horror at its purest; the horror of how one can so easily fall prey to fascism, and how ideas can be warped and twisted and turn men into killers. Chilling in a way few other movies are.
Good manners, tidiness, or healthy abstinence are perfect, at first, to conceal a growing psychopathy. From Kafka's land comes this atmospheric and engaging study of a funeral director obsessed with the tibetan book of the dead. With all that strange things rambling in his mind, the rise of nazism presents itself as the perfect oportunity for him to unleash his fantasies. Quite unsettling.
A wonderfully macabre cabinet of horrors, with a playfully cruel surface revealing a steelier, if rather obvious, politico-commentary underneath. A film that unusually bristles with surface materials for me: crematorium marble, wax and steel – almost tactile in its lugubrious, downward swirls and spirals.
Why the other Czech New Wave directors would dismiss Juraj Herz after an absolute masterpiece like this is beyond me. Karl Kopfrkingl deserves to be known as one of the most memorable 'villains' in movie history.