Karel Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrusinsky) lives in Prague and works in a crematorium. He lovingly refers to it as his Temple of Death. Karel is married to Lakme (Vlasta Chramostova) and has two teenage children, a boy, Mili (Milos Vognic), and a girl, Zina (Jana Stehnova). Karel takes pride in his job and believes he is helping people by ending their suffering and freeing their soul. He hires Mr. Strauss (Jiri Lir) to help drum up business. Karel also has a new assistant, Mr. Dvorak (Jiri Menzel), helping him at the crematorium.
Karel has a private party to advertise the crematorium’s services. At the event he meets an old acquaintance from World War I, Walter Reinke (Ilja Prachar). They both fought for the Austria-Hungarian Army. Reinke is a follower of Hitler. Reinke begins indoctrinating Karel into the Nazi party.
As Karel becomes influenced by the Nazi propaganda, he begins turning in his coworkers either as Jews or being influenced by them. With most of them now taken away, Karel becomes the director of the crematorium. Purporting to be a moral man Karel claims that he is faithful to his wife and doesn’t drink. In reality he visits a prostitute named Dagmar (Vlasts Chramostova), drinks with his Nazi friends and lusts after the cleaning woman, Miss Liskova (Carmen Mayerova), at the crematorium.
Reinke tells Karel that because his wife is part Jewish it will hamper his advancement in the party. This also means that his kids are part Jewish and will not be accepted into German schools or the Hitler Youth. In addition, Karel is concerned that his son, Mili, is far too effeminate. This he also blames on his wife’s Jewish blood. Karel begins a decent into insanity and begins to believe that he needs to free them from their suffering.
With his twenty years of working at a crematorium, the Nazi party begins to look at Karel as someone with the proper skills needed to take on a big job. A job with enough equipment to free the souls of as many people as possible. To free them from the shackles of this world. He sees it as a tremendous opportunity.
“The Cremator” AKA “Spalovac mrtvol” or “The Incinerator of Corpses” was released in 1969 and was directed by Juraj Herz. Based in the thirties, it is a Czechoslovakian black comedy horror drama and a psychological expose. It was based on Ladislav Fuks 1967 novel “Spalovac mrtvol”. At one point the film was taken out of circulation. It wasn’t seen again until after the collapse of Communism in Czechoslovakia.
It is supposed to be a black comedy. Perhaps that got lost in translation. The fact that it is in Czech and subtitled in English gives the movie more of an abstract effect. The film, done in black and white, is German Expressionism with horror aspects. It’s dark imagery and dystopian setting is nowhere near funny. In fact, it is quite gruesome in a symbolic way. The story is mostly told by Karel in both soliloquies and dialogue. He delivers his lines in a matter-of-fact way. The other actors, other than Reinke, mostly talk only in response to something Karel said. The film is Karel’s view of the world and of how he justifies everything he does. Vlasta Chramostova plays both Karel’s wife and the prostitute, Dagmar. Supposedly, some parts of the movie were filmed in an actual crematorium with real deceased people.
In 1938 Hitler was given the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia in what is known as the Munich Agreement. Not long after that Hitler invaded and annexed the remaining area of the country. Germany occupied Czechoslovakia until 1945. On May 5th, 1945, the Czech resistance launched an assault against the Nazis called the Prague Uprising. The uprising started five days after Hitler committed suicide and lasted for five days. During that time, on May 7th, 1945, Germany surrendered. World War II officially ended September 2, 1945.