The now-ancient Czech New Wave was a limited, but highly influential cinema movement that took place from 1963 to 1968. In 1968, during the Prague Spring, the movement came to a disastrous end after the country’s new hardened government came into play and destroyed the liberation that it was so famous for, and caused the most celebrated directors, such as Milos Forman and Jan Nemec, to flee while others who remained saw their films censored and banned.
Despite this rather unfortunate event, the movement unleashed incredible works of art that contained dark humor, sheer absurdity, and even elements of surrealism, especially to depict the liberal’s struggle against Communism and the towering powers that be. These groundbreaking films included Loves on a Blonde, The Shop on Main Street, Closely Watched Trains, and my personal favorite, Vera Chytilova’s wild 1966 classic, Daisies. However, the darkest and most disturbing of them all, in my opinion, is Juraj Herz’s 1969 stunner, The Cremator, which came after the end of movement and missed the mark, but has since been resurrected as a masterpiece and rightly so.
The chilling film stars Rudolf Hrušínský (in an all-time creepy performance) as Karel Kopfrkingl, a warped cremator in Prague who enjoys his work a little too much. He reads Tibetian studies, and believes that the only salvation from human suffering is death. After World War II rears its ugly head, he is recruited by the Nazis. His turgid worldview really bumps up a notch when he finds out that his wife and children are half-Jewish, which causes him to deliver a final, horrifying act.
Perhaps the film was too heavy handed in its politics, or actually way ahead of its time, it’s not entirely difficult to see why it was banned. However you view it, it is a nightmarish masterwork that just may be eerily relevant to today’s modern horror times. And the good folks at Criterion definitely understood its sheer importance, with a new pristine release that includes some terrific supplements, including Herz’s 1965 short film, The Junk Shop; new interview with film programmer Irena Kovarova about the film’s style; a 2017 documentary about the film’s composer Zdenek Liska; 1993 interview with Hrušínský, and a trailer. Obviously, this is a total recommendation, and depending on your mood, a highly worthwhile addition to any film’s lover collection.
Other notable releases:
Fatal Attraction (Paramount Limited Edition): The 1987 blockbuster starring Michael Douglas as a happily married New York lawyer who has a fateful affair with an attractive, but extremely unstable woman (iconicly played by Glenn Close).
To Catch a Thief (Paramount Limited Edition): Cinema legends Gary Grant and Grace Kelly star in Hitchcock’s 1954 Technicolor caper about a retired cat burglar (Grant), who falls in love with the woman who owns the most expensive jewels in the country (Kelly). When they’re stolen, she suspects him, which threatens their romance.
The Curse of the Werewolf (Scream Factory): The late, great Oliver Reed plays a young man who becomes a werewolf and causes havoc in the town he lives in. His curse also threatens the romance between himself and the daughter of the owner of the wine shop he works at.
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman: Ava Gardner stars as Pandora, a nightclub singer in Spain, with whom all the men fall madly in love. Indifferent to the attentions of all of them, and the true love she has never known, she encounters a handsome Dutchman (James Mason) which obviously changes her true.
30 Rock (The Complete Series): The hilarious Emmy-winning series by the great Tina Fey, where she plays Liz Lemon, the head writer of a sketch comedy show, who must deal with her overbearing new boss, and insane new star, while trying to keep the show on track and not lose her marbles.