Cremator (1969) – Crazy Cremating Czechoslovakian Cinema!

Cremator (1969) Rudolf Hrusínský Juraj Herz Czechoslovakia movie poster burning

There’s no way I can talk about the film Cremator without spoilers, so please make haste if you don’t wish to know. This is more of a, what the fuck was that all about post! First up, how this gets labeled as a comedy, along with crime and drama, I have no idea. There are definitely extreme dark comedy moments but the by and large of it is utmost bleak and depressing.

Cremator (1969) Rudolf Hrusínský Juraj Herz Czechoslovakia crematorium horror film close up

Set in Czechoslovakia sometime around 1939/40 during the Second World War when Nazi Germany have invaded the country and are setting up a protectorate. The deranged Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrusínský), a strange rotund smiling man, who on first impressions has an almost innocent look to him. Coming off like a loyal family man, he is the father to a son and daughter, with a dutiful wife. It doesn’t take long before you realise there’s something oddball and peculiar about this man.

Cremator (1969) Rudolf Hrusínský Juraj Herz Czechoslovakia crematorium wifeCremator (1969) Rudolf Hrusínský Juraj Herz Czechoslovakia family

He’s extremely proud of his job as head of the city crematorium. Happy to tell anyone wishing to know, the process he uses to dispose of the bodies in his care.  Whenever he opens up a casket to reveal a body, out comes his trusty comb to give them a quick tidy up. Giving the dearly departed’s hair a loving swipe to the side before he then, with a freakish creepy routine, tidies up his own hair with the comb.

Cremator (1969) Rudolf Hrusínský Juraj Herz Czechoslovakia crematorium horror film loves his job

For Kopfrkingl, he sees his job as a blessing, to free the souls on their next journey path, to cleanse them by releasing their smoke into the ether. Maybe you might think he is doing his job well, a way to cope with the arduous task in hand? But no our Kopfrkingl is quite demented and unbalanced as he battles religious symbols, the influence of Nazi propaganda, the pull of prostitution and most bonkers, seeing himself as the reincarnation of the recently departed, 13th Dalai Lama.

As the Nazi influence and propaganda thoughts go through his head he starts to dismiss his own and his family’s, identity. Seeing himself as more German, even though he only has a “drop” of German blood flowing through his veins.

Cremator (1969) Rudolf Hrusínský Juraj Herz Czechoslovakia coffin body

This is truly a dark psychological horror story with a horrendous anti-semitic core throughout the whole film but the smiling freaky man in his twisted mind things and believes with his cremating, relieves all earthly suffering and he is divine in his ways.

He is watched by a dark haired woman throughout the film at different times, she looks so heartbreaking sombre, I wondered if she was a ghost, a spirit of some kind, maybe even the angel of death?

Cremator (1969) Rudolf Hrusínský Juraj Herz Czechoslovakia ghost girl

Did I read into it right? That his actions of wanting a bigger more productive crematorium whilst working for the Nazi’s imply that he was the catalyst for the monstrous atrocities that were to come at the hands of the Germans in World War Two? I certainly got that impression and it’s plagued my mind, so extremely disturbing.

A few things I learnt.

  • I’ve read it was not widely seen until the collapse of the communist system in Czechoslovakia in 1989, it had been banned shortly after it’s 1969 first showings. Not sure how true that is as writer, director Juraj Herz says in a personal quote…

“I went to various projections of the film in many different countries, from the Netherlands to Naples, and I was keen to see how the reactions of the audience were completely different in every country. In Prague, people were depressed; in Slovakia, they laughed; in the Netherlands, it was a comedy from the beginning to the end; in Italy, the spectators went from the cinema right to the bar because cremation is just impossible, awful and unacceptable in their country.”

  • It’s original title is “Spalovac mrtvol” which on Google translate comes out as “Corpse burner” or “Corpse Incinerator” and is based on a novel of that name by Ladislav Fuks.
  • Rudolf Hrusínský plays the part of the truly unhinged and psychotic lunatic extremely well, bringing a unique sinisterism to him.
  • The camerawork and editing is incredible, as scenes are merged into one another in magical surreal brilliance. Add to the close up, fisheye style lens shots of Rudolf along with the Czech language, makes everything come together to bring a magnificent surreal feel to it.

Cremator (1969) Rudolf Hrusínský Juraj Herz Czechoslovakia crematorium horror film

Yes of course it is such a deeply disturbing film but it is also so beautifully filmed, so intriguing and artful. The camera shots and black and white print are gorgeous. It’s nature through it’s avant garde style is so utterly surreal, with that sinister undercurrent running effectively rife from beginning to end, just gives the film a crazy perplexing macabre fascination. It will certainly not be for everyone but if you like art house cinema it’s very much worth searching out. Maybe you will get a very different feel and explanation to the story. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts if you so wish.

Something more lighthearted will be coming for the next post I hope, thanks for popping on by the wolf lair. All the best… Mikey Wolfman

Cremator (1969) Rudolf Hrusínský Juraj Herz Czechoslovakia movie poster

10 thoughts on “Cremator (1969) – Crazy Cremating Czechoslovakian Cinema!

    • Yes always a safe bet when wishing to view something you haven’t seen before. I do it a lot as I tread the film ways. TBH I left out tons of stuff but it’s one of those films you can’t talk about about without saying the main general premise. I think I’m normally quite good at keeping as much as possible spoiler free but this one had to have the big warning right from the get go. Dude it’s a dark one but very good. It’s all avant garde and art house with a whole host of creepy too. If you do ever see it, try and pop back and let me know what you thought 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Hi Mikey. As I haven’t seen this movie, I best made haste towards the pictures and onto a reply to say it sounds highly intrguing and one I will be adding to my watchlist. On first view and from the snippet I read, It gives off a peculiar vibr from a movie I had once watched called M (1931).I suppose it has alot to do with the guy staring so ‘innocently’ at moi, like Hans Beckert ( Peter Lorre) did, behind his killer instincts. Thank you for writing and giving me an insight into this movie.

    Sincerely Sonea

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t yet seen Fritz Lang’s “M” yet but I really need too. Just the poster alone is intriguing enough. I must pull my finger out and get on it soon. Cremator isn’t for all tastes I must stress, as it pretty darn dark but the camera style, editing, surrealness and bonkers lead make it disturbingly good cinema. Thanks for the little push on M, I need to push that up my “to watch” pile and thanks for the comments 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good write-up. The Cremator is definitely an underseen horror gem. I agree about the sinister undercurrent. The eerie soundtrack made me immediately feel uneasy. Superb performance by Rudolf Hrusinsky, as the cremator, his voice is remarkably chilling. Even his wife is scared of him! So I kind of felt sorry for the poor guy, because it seems he was creepy all the time! A character I was compelled to watch but would never want to meet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Chris. You got it all spot on, yes his voice gives such unease and his overall look with the smile and round face, gives you the creeps just thinking back to him! I have to say I was fascinated by it but oh my it gets under your skin and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Yep a superb performance indeed. Thanks for the follow and the comments… All the best .. Mike

      Liked by 1 person

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