The Cremator

09/07/2022 11:22

Film: The Cremator (Spalovac mrtvol)

Year: 1969

Director: Juraj Herz

Writers: Ladislav Fuks and Juraj Herz

Starring: Rudolf Hrusínský, Vlasta Chramostová and Jana Stehnová



This is a movie that I watched due to Exploding Heads Horror Movie Podcast. They didn’t review this, but I was compiling my list of top 100 movies in genre. This one appeared on Letterboxd as the highest rated that I hadn’t seen. I ended up buying the Criterion Collection Blu-ray since this wasn’t streaming anywhere. Other than that, I came into this one blind.

Synopsis: set in Central Europe during World War II, a demented cremator believes cremation relieves earthly suffering and sets out to save the world.

As the synopsis states, we are following Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrusínský). He is the cremator from the title. He takes his family to the zoo where we see a montage of different animals. It seems like they focus on big cats, which I’m guessing is an allegory for predator. Kopfrkingl is married to Lakmé (Vlasta Chramostová). She also goes by Dagmar and I believe part of this is to hide that she is Jewish. They also have two kids, Zina (Jana Stehnová) and Mili (Milos Vognic). The latter likes to wander according to his father.

It should be pointed out here that Kopfrkingl believes in the Buddhist idea of reincarnation. He also believes that cremation is the best way to cleanse the body after death. We see him pushing his business at a party where he is being cheap. Kopfrkingl also points out that he doesn’t drink or smoke. He also claims to not cheat on his wife, but we see that might not be the case. Kopfrkingl does seem to be influenced by his friend, Walter Reinke (Ilja Prachar). This friend seems to be a Nazi sympathizer. Kopfrkingl looks to lean that way with war looming.

There isn’t a lot that happens in here aside from being a character study. It is interesting that Kopfrkingl seems to not have independent thought. I noticed that he relays most of the information that he takes in. This could be news from the radio or newspaper. He is reading a book about Tibet. I’m taking this as this character is a sociopath and we’re watching as he navigates the world around him. It feels like an early blueprint of like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. He does and says things to fit in. He also seems to enjoy sadistic pleasures when he takes his family to a wax museum in town. This is just the beginning of this character’s descent into madness.

That’s where I’m going to leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I should start delving into would be our lead of Hrusínský since this movie is carried by him. Its not that the performances around him are bad. They just aren’t given anything to work with. We are seeing things from this guy’s delusional mind which makes for some interesting things to be honest. Before moving on, I just wanted to establish that. Hrusínský is great here in such an odd way.

Since I came into this not knowing what I was going to get, Kopfrkingl is a monster. I’ve already said that I don’t think he has many independent thoughts. It feels like he takes everything from what he hears or reads. He is a monster though. I don’t disagree with his thoughts that he has about fire being a way to cleanse. I don’t believe that it should be used to kill people though. Let me get that out of the way. Seeing that Kopfrkingl is a Nazi sympathizer, that alone makes him a monster. The last sequence of the movie though truly puts him farther there with what he wants to and what he’s offering to do. We knew ahead of this that he was insane. This just adds icing to that cake.

I’ll be honest here, there was a good stretch of this that I wasn’t sure if this was a horror movie or not. I knew someone had already watched this and enjoyed it quite a bit. I was curious though since this just seemed like an arthouse movie for a good portion. I’ll shift back to this idea, but in the back half of this, he does some horrific things. What I will say is that his wife is Jewish and that makes his children carrying this blood as well. Something else to include here is that he has daydreams of grandeur. He believes that he is an enlightened and holy as the Dalai Lama. He thinks that what he is planning to do is for the betterment of humanity. I can see why he’d side with someone like Hitler. I know I keep saying this but it is horrific and pushes this into the genre for me.

Then the last things I’ll go into would be with the filmmaking. The cinematography here is beautiful. There are so many shots that made me say ‘wow’. It was to the point where I could print them off as artwork. Keep in mind this is in black and white. If that is an issue then I’d avoid this one. Going along with how great this is shot are the transitions. That was something else that blew me away. If there is one thing that I can give credit to, this is a masterfully made film for sure. The only other thing would be the soundtrack and design. I’d say that it was solid without fully standing out to me.

Now I know this is a bit shorter of a review, but I don’t want you to think of that as a slight against this. This is more of a movie you need to experience. The performance from Hrusínský is great. His portrayal as Kopfrkingl is terrifying. The things he’s willing to do and what he’s dreaming of doing is horrific. There are some interesting ideas that are explored as we delve into the mind of this monster. The rest of the cast around him is fine. This a masterfully made and that is best part to be honest. I can’t recommend this to everyone. If you are into arthouse movies, then definitely give this a watch. Be warned, this is Czechoslovakia and I watched it with subtitles on.


My Rating: 8.5 out of 10