My final viewing on Halloween that was a first time viewing (I did revisit two Brian De Palma films, one which I need to review for this blog, the other which I reviewed years back) was Juraj Herz’s disturbing dramatic horror movie The Cremator. Is this a horror movie or is it a drama? I feel that both apply here, in that Herz covers the so called “Banality of evil” that comes to mind when describing any such horrors that occur in life committed by people who appear to be normal. In this case it applies to the Holocaust, which is the event that inspired such a quote.
What we realize is that people we deem monsters are in fact rather human beings, and this movie is an excellent and chilling display of how someone goes from being a loving father, husband and pillar of the community to an absolute monster capable of murder and much, much worse. I wonder how much this inspired such later films as American Psycho, where the main character manages to captivate our interest while he commits such awful crimes, and fittingly both that movie and The Cremator are bleak comedies. I did find myself chuckling at some parts that were truly beyond the pale, and Karel Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrušínský) is the main character of this movie, combining Tibetan philosophy with Nazism in what is a marvelous and skin crawling performance. Without him this movie wouldn’t even work, and I’m reminded of how easy it is for people to be swayed by others who offer a credence that preaches you being better than others.
In fact, the Nazi party scenes offer a window into a society that practices benign acceptance of a horrific policy, and embraces a destiny that appeals greatly to Karel. He believes that he is freeing souls through murder and death, and there are several parts that show his madness on full display. The final shot is very effective, as he never waivers from his beliefs and they and him become one, driven on by others. He is given the authority to put his desires and plans into motion, and I’m sure others today would eagerly grasp onto such power if given the chance. The Cremator is one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen, and it’s going to haunt me for a while. With the rise of fascism again in the world and people cheering for alt right candidates, I feel that Herz’s classic is all the more relevant in today’s age. I wish it wasn’t so, people seem to have short memories and always need reminders. Cinema is good at delivering those.
Leave a Reply