THE CREMATOR (1969) Review

From Dark Sky Films comes THE CREMATOR.

The most interesting villains to me are the ones who think that their acts of villainy are actually the right thing to do. Such is the case with the subject of this film. Karl Kopfrkingl works at the top crematorium in Prague. He is unbelievably proud of what he does and can’t help but pontificate about the importance of cremation, reincarnation, and all things death at family gatherings, church services, Christmas toasts, and wherever he finds a crowd gathering. Actor Rudolf Hrusinsky’s Karl, a morbid, Addams Family-ish chap with a wicked comb-over, does a great job of letting the viewer understand how passionate he is about death and cremation. Hrusinsky develops one of the more believable villains I’ve seen on film in quite some time. The level of dedication to his occupation is admirable, even if it is morbid as hell.

The film is one of those descent into madness stories that I can’t get enough of. Making a believable evolution from somewhat skewed sanity to insanity has always been an interest of mine and it’s done so masterfully in THE CREMATOR. There’s one particular moment while Karl is having an exclusive dinner with leaders of the Nazi party where you see his mindset shift; where madness becomes much too appealing than living the rest of his life as a mere cremator. Being accustomed to the center of attention by his doting family, Karl soaks in the acknowledgement the Nazis give him and he buys into their methodology ever so easily after that, even though his half-Jewish wife objects. The quick spiral into insanity that follows is both logical and mesmerizing.

First released in 1968, THE CREMATOR has never been available in the US until now. Director Juraj Hertz is adapting a story by Ladislav Fuks here. Hertz direction is subtle when it comes to the horror. Those of you who are used to Hollywood’s version of scares may be a bit bored with this one. But Hertz chooses to let us creep through that slimy comb-over and into the head of Karl. It’s not a fun place, but the stylized flashes of disturbing imagery overlaying the beautiful scenery and ornate furnishings of his eloquent home make for a wonderfully disturbing trip. The horror here is more in knowing that nothing good will come from a man this obsessed with death and getting to know this horrible man leaves you with a sense of unease that few movies can accomplish.

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