DVD Review: The Cremator
The Cremator (1969)
Studio: Dark Sky Films
DVD Release Date: March 31, 2009
Directed By: Juraj Herz
Cast: Rudolf Hrusínský, Vlasta Chramostová, Jana Stehnová, Milos Vognic & Zora Bozinová
Brutal As Hell Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars
Review By: Annie Riordan
It takes approximately 90 minutes to reduce a human body to a pile of ash, a fact that portly crematorium operator Kopfrkingl enjoys sharing, along with his belief that cremation relieves earthly suffering and sends the soul to Heaven much faster than a standard burial. Kopfrkingl has the perfect life: a job he loves, a beautiful and faithful wife and two lovely, intelligent children. His income allows him to surround his family with art and beauty and their lives flow along with the graceful fluidity of a perfect dream. There’s nothing more Kopfrkingl could want from life…or is there?
When an old WWI buddy named Reineke comes back into Kopfrkingl’s life, we see the first cracks in the veneer. Kopfrkingl – a regular at a local brothel – is not the pristine soul he claims to be, and Reineke’s insistence that his war buddy’s pure Czech blood surely contains a drop of German only widens the hairline fractures in Kopfrkingl’s sanity. As the shadow of the rising Nazi Party falls over Europe, Kopfrkingl is slowly consumed by the darkness. And when Reinkeke suggests that Kopfrkingl’s wife is surely half Jewish, his son irreversibly effeminate and his poor, beautiful daughter tainted by her mother’s blood, Kopfrkingl’s obsession with purification spirals out of control.
Resonant of such films as Repulsion, Vampyr and Carnival Of Souls, The Cremator remains unlike any movie you’ve ever seen before. The film literally flows, rarely jarred by a jumpcut and seeming very dreamlike as a result. And, like a dream, it grows slowly and steadily darker as it drifts along until the horror is up to your neck and sucking you in like quicksand. It’s slow, deliberate and genuinely horrifying and, though you can see it coming, it’s still a deeply disturbing fork-in-your-psyche when it arrives. As our moonfaced narrator, Rudolf Hrusínský is the epitome of average, resembling an M-era Peter Lorre and seeming about as threatening as the Pillsbury Dough Boy. But beneath that pasty, doughy exterior is a supremely icky creepiness which slowly blossoms into charnel madness. It’s an incredible performance, so disarming and so ultimately terrifying.
With barely a Nazi in sight, The Cremator brilliantly captures the insidiousness of the Holocaust as it takes over from within and makes monsters of the most boringly normal of men. And with barely a drop of blood to be found, The Cremator still manages to be brutally, awfully real. This is pure horror, creeping up on you slowly and then bashing you over the head with its hideous beauty. Human failure has seldom seemed uglier. Make sure you have access to a hot shower and some uppers once the end credits roll.