Fresh release for “chilling” classic The Cremator

Photo: Second Run DVD

Juraj Herz’s The Cremator, originally released in 1969, is often regarded as one of the greatest films ever made in Czechoslovakia. Now the dark and disturbing movie set in the late 1930s has just come out in a new Blu-ray edition on the Second Run DVD imprint.

Photo: Second Run DVD
Based on a novel by Ladislav Fuks and with a screenplay by Fuks and director Juraj Herz, The Cremator was first released in 1969.

Over the decades the macabre and genre-defying film, which was banned by the Communist authorities, has come to be regarded as one of the best Czechoslovak movies ever and enjoys international cult status.

Now it has just been released on Blu-ray with improved English subtitles and several other features by Second Run DVD, the UK’s leading distributors of classic Czechoslovak films.

The company’s founder Mehelli Modi first saw The Cremator in the early 1970s.

“Literally from the opening sequence – you might remember, it’s in the zoo – it was like, What is this film? And by the end I knew that this was a film I’d always return to.

“It’s been described as a surrealist-inspired horror, as an expressionist fantasy, as a black comedy, as a dark and disturbing tale of terror. All those are correct for me.

“But it’s also a brilliantly conceived character study. And a really chilling film which doesn’t give up its secrets until it goes well into its proceedings.”

The film is set in the period when the golden age of the First Republic gave way to the terrors of the Nazi occupation.

Modi says that director Juraj Herz, who was Jewish, essentially created a “black comedy about genocide”.

'The Cremator',  photo: archive of Second Run DVD
Apart from Herz’s masterful direction, Modi highlights several other components that give The Cremator its awesome power.

“First of all, there’s the wonderful cinematography from Stanislav Milota.

“Then there’s the completely glorious soundtrack by our love Zdeněk Liška, whose amazing scores, as you know, have graced so many of the films we’ve released.

“Then there was Jaromír Janeček, who did the editing. That’s completely brilliant because it’s all so disorienting.

“For example, what will happen is you will have a wide shot of a scene. Then you’ll have a close-up of someone picking up a coffee cup. And then the next shot is of the same coffee cup, but in a different location.

“So the whole film works as a piece.”

The Cremator stars the acting greats Rudolf Hrušínský and Vlasta Chramostová, with the former in particular putting in an unforgettable performance as the lead character.

“He gathers together the whole kind of hypocrisy of his character, including his puritanical attitude to sex, even though he still goes to a brothel.

'The Cremator',  photo: archive of Second Run DVD
“And his little mannerisms. He doesn’t do much, but his little comb, his hair… and his gradual descent into a kind of madness and then widely regarded murder is extraordinary.

“This kind of film is just unlikely to be ever made again.”

Second Run DVD initially brought out The Cremator as one of their first batch of DVD releases over a decade ago.

The response to the new Blu-ray edition has been so positive that the company now plans to also bring out superior versions of other Czechoslovak classics in their catalogue.