Spalovac mrtvol (The Cremator) (1969)
Director: Juraj Herz.
Starring: Rudolf Hrusínský (Kopfrkingl), Vlasta Chramostová (Lakmé / Dagmar), Jana Stehnová (Zina), Milos Vognic (Mili), Zora Bozinová (Reinkeová), Ilja Prachar (Walter Reinke), Eduard Kohout (Bettleheim), Jirí Menzel (Dvorák), Míla Myslíková (Hloupá zena), Vladimír Mensík (Manzel hloupé zeny), Jirí Lír (Strauss), Václav Stekl (Hudebník / rozhodcí boxu / majitel panoptika), Helena Anýzová (Bledá dívka), Jindrich Narenta (Nacista ve smokingu), Marie Rosulková (Zena dozadující se rakvicky).
in Czechoslovakia a friend of a cremator convinces Kopfrkingl to emphasize his supposedly German heritage, to send his son to German school & to distance himself from his half-Jewish wife
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
The cremator Kopfrkingl met his wife Lakmé at the leopard cages at a zoo. They now have a girl Zina, who is 16 years old, and a boy Mili, who is 14. The one thing he feels bad about is that he has not done enough to care for his wife befitting her many contributions to the familly. But recently he has found a way to increase his income. He is going to hire the good and decent man Strauss as an agent on commission.
He throws a little party at a restaurant. Kopfrkingl has a real eye for the ladies. And there is one young brunette in particular that he is always seeing. She has long straight brown hair. He talks with Strauss about getting him more customers for his crematorium. He has to excuse himself because a Mr. Reinke, a friend from the war, has arrived. Reinke is an old army buddy when they fought for Austria in WWI.
After greeting Reinke, Kopfrkingl goes back to talking to Strauss. He shows the man a book on Tibet that he has. He shows him a picture of Potala, the Dalai Lama's palace. Kopfrkingl says one can read the book as one would read the Bible.
Kopfrkingl speaks to his guests on the benefits of cremation. God is pleased because cremation helps Him transform man back into dust. After the speech, the music starts up and the dancing begins. Kopfrkingl goes and sits down with his wife at a table. He seems to know everything about everybody's state of health. His wife thinks he knows too much about the subject, because his talk can throw off her desire to eat at times.
About Strauss, Lakme says that the Jewish make good businessmen. Her husband says that Strauss is not a Jewish name. His half-Jewish wife tells him you can't always judge just by a name.
In an art shop, Kopfrkingl looks over the framed photos of naked women in various poses. He picks out two regular paintings to put up in his house. One of them is a portrait of Emiliano Chamorro, president of Nicaragua. In the shop Kopfrkingl sees the young woman with the long, brown hair again. He also asks the proprietor, Mr. Holy, to frame his copy of the cremation law.
Kopfrkingl goes home and tells his wife that with the extra income coming in from Strauss he has purchased some pretty pictures for her. Lakme starts to unwrap the paintings. Their daughter is playing the piano, while their son is out with Jan, Dr. Bettelheim's widow. Dad says that Jan is a good boy.
One of the pictures is going to be hung in the bathroom. Dad says to his wife and daughter that the bathroom "is the nicest room we have". While he talks, he has flashbacks to the pictures of naked women in the art shop. He leans down to pet his beloved cat Enchantress.
Reinke and his wife have dinner over at the Kopfrkingl's home. Reinke is a big admirer of Hitler. He says that Austria's joining the German Reich is only the first step for the country. Hitler is a genius who has rid Germany of poverty and unemployment. He also mentions that the Germans and Austrians were wronged by the terms of the Versailles treaty ending World War I. And those with German blood in their veins must put the wrong right." In fact, Reinke wants Kopfrkingl to join the Nazi party. Kopfrkingl doesn't say anything to this.
Mom and dad say they are Czechs through and through. Reinke tells him: "Investigate and you'll find at least one drop of German blood." Reinke says he has to leave because he has an appointment with Goermann in Berlin. He leaves saying: "This republic is an obstacle to our deliverance." The family walk their guest out. There they run into Jan and Mili. Dad tells his son that he must start learning the German language.
Kopfrkingl goes to work at the crematorium. He meets up with Mr. Dvorak, a new employee. Kopfrkingl says he will introduce the staff to Dvorak. He first meets Mr. Vrana, the porter. Kopfrkingl likes to call the place where he works the Temple of Death. Once again, Kopfrkingl sees the young, brown-haired woman. The next fellow Dvorak meets is Mr. Fenek, a morphine addict.
Kopfrkingl really likes the cleaning woman, the lovely blonde Mrs. Liskova. He invites her to come along with him and Mr. Dvorak on a tour of the crematorium. She turns him down.
With great pride Kopfrkingl shows the various rooms of the crematorium to Dvorak. He is proud of his two gas ovens that can turn a body into dust in an hour and fifteen minutes. Dvorak also gets a tour of the casket room, with some of the caskets containing bodies that are ready to be cremated. They take off one of the lids so they can see the dead young woman in the casket. Many canisters filled with dust are kept in the ash canisters' room.
Kopfrkingl takes his family to the fair. He watches the kids ride on the merry-go-round, that is, until they all turn into very attractive blonde women. He then takes the family to the House of Murders, or something similar. Many of the visitors become scared because the murder victims appear to be so life-like. A woman says that one of the victims looks like the milk woman. This woman get so frightened that she leaves the show. The brunette with the long straight hair is in the exhibition.
The barker says he will takes those with strong stomachs into a special room. Of course, Kopfrkingl goes. There are mutant babies and Siamese twins in jars and displays of people who died from diseases like small pox and syphilis.
Dr. Bettleheim gives an injection to Kopfrkingl. He keeps telling the cremator that these weekly injections are not really needed, but he will keep giving them to Kopfrkingl as long as he thinks they are necessary.
Mr. Fenek gives his collection of dead insects to Kopfrkingl in return for the promise of a little morphine.
Kopfrkingl goes up behind the pretty cleaning woman, Mrs. Liskova. He gives her such a fright that she screams loudly. An older female worker tells Mr. Kopfrkingl that "a crematorium is no place for jokes."
Kopfrkingl pays a visit to a bordello. He has flowers and a gift in a bag to give to the woman he usually has sex with, Zina Dagmar. He has to wait for a short while because Zina is currently with a customer. He goes upstairs to have sex with Zina. (brief nudity) He talks about his new employee Dvorak and other things dealing with the crematorium.
At home Kopfrkingl hangs the dead insect box on one of the apartment walls.
Kopfrkingl goes to work and is told that Mrs. Liskov has quit her job here. The morphine addict asks Kopfrkingl if he has the morphine? Kopfrkingl tells him to be patient. Miss Carska's coffin is pushed into the fiery oven. Dvorak tells Kopfrkingl that he too is leaving. He can't get used to the crematorium and its duties.
Kopfrkingl and his wife are having a dinner with their children and some other kids. He tells the children that the border regions of Czechoslovakia have now been occupied. He asks his daughter's boyfriend Kaja to take a picture of the group. Later Kaja asks if anyone in the crematorium has awakened in the casket. Kopfrkingl tells him it hasn't happened yet. He goes on to say: "My dear children. . . Do not fear cremation."
Kopfrkingl takes his son Mili to a boxing match. The woman who was so frightened that she ran out of the House of Murders now comes with her husband to a boxing match. Also at the match is the pale-skinned, straight-haired brunette. The frightened wife soon gets sick of watching the bloody matches and she leaves the boxing arena.
Reinke comes over at Christmas time and brags" "We will implement a higher moral code, a new world order." He tells Kopfrkingl that on March 6 there will be a celebration at the Jewish Town Hall here in Prague. Reinke asks Kopfrkingl to get Dr. Bettelheim to invite him to the celebration and find out everything he can about Jewish talk, opinions, etc. He says the Jews are a lost nation incapable of understanding anything. Reinke also brought Kopfrkingl an application to join the Fascist party.
Reinke says he is going with his wife to the Casino, a place where only party members are allowed in. And they don't usually bring women to the Casino, because there they have their own girls. He shows Kopfrkingl a bunch of nude photos of the blonde women who service the male party members.
At Christmas Eve dinner Kopfrkingl starts praising the German nation. Lakme gets upset by this and sits down during the toast. Kopfrkingl goes on saying: "I hope we, too, belong to this chosen people who will implement a higher moral code."
Kopfrkingl asks the Jewish doctor what kind of blood he has? For instance, does he have Czech blood or German blood? (Before the appearance of DNA tests), Dr. Bettelheim says: "It's impossible to tell." Kopfrkingl switches the topic to the Jewish celebration coming up. The doctor says it's a Chevra Suda dinner at the Funeral Brotherhood Hall. Bettelheim now asks Kopfrkingl if he wants to go?
Kopfrkingl accompanies Bettelheim to the Chevra Suda dinner. He loves listening to the Jewish singers. Later Kopfrkingl reports what he heard to the Nazis and, of course, it is not very flattering of the fascists.
Reinke and Kopfrkingl are at the Casino where there are lots of blondes. Reinke says that Hitler is building a paradise. The champagne flows like a river. Kopfrkingl finally drinks some alcohol. He tells Reinke that the people who work at the crematorium are enemies of the Third Reich. Basically, Kopfrkingl is giving Reinke a list of enemies of the Germans who work at the crematorium, so these people may be harmed later. In this list he includes Bettelheim and his nephew Jan and even the housekeeper Ana. The party starts getting a bit rowdy. (Very brief nudity)
Then Reinke mentions that Kopfrkingl's wife's mother was Jewish. That catches Kopfrkingl's attention. He suggests that Lakme is messing things up for Kopfrkingl. She is opposed to German ways of doing and thinking. And she's the one who made their son Mili soft and effeminate. A Nazi party member tells Kopfrkingl that he may not get any higher promotions because he doesn't appreciate that purity of blood is essential. "Under the new order inferior blood must go." They say that Lakme isn't worthy of her husband, an honest and healthy man. In fact, Lakme is going to face hard times ahead.
A group of Gestapo men come into the crematorium, probably to round up the enemies of the Nazis. They give the Nazi salute as they pass by Kopfrkingl. At the end he returns the salute. With the five Gestapo agents, is the young, straight-haired brunette looking right at Kopfrkingl.
Lakme is becoming more and more alienated by her husband as he gets deeper and deeper into fascist rhetoric and propaganda. For instance, he tells his boy that he has his German blood in him and that he will be going to a German school now. And now Kopfrkingl shoves the cat away from him with his foot.
Kopfrkingl asks Lakme to dress up in her nice black party dress and they will have a special dinner. He tells Lakme that he is being promoted to the position of director.
They have their special dinner. Lakme doesn't eat much and her husband asks didn't she enjoy her meal? No comment.
Kopfrkingl tells his wife that the bathroom fan is broken. He has attached a rope to the fan so Lakme can open it by standing on a chair. He takes her to the bathroom and closes the door. He runs a bath for her. He then slides a stool under a dangling rope, helps his wife onto the top of the stool, puts the rope around her throat and pulls the stool away. His wife just hangs there in the bathroom.
Kopfrkingl says the Dahli Lama has died and the throne in Lhasa "awaits for Rimpoche". They will go to the Himalayas.
At the funeral for his wife, Kopfrkingl as the director officiates at the funeral and burial ceremony for his wife. He soon slips into praise of Hitler's new Europe. Some people walk out of the ceremony. Other stands up, give the Nazi salute and yell: "Heil!" The young brunette is there at the service.
Kopfrkingl is at the Casino again. (brief nudity.) He says he is worried about his son who is too effeminate. He also says he thinks his son likes boys.
Kopfrkingl takes his son on a tour of the Temple of Death. He takes Mili into the casket room. Hanging in another room is Mr. Dvorak. Dad opens one of the caskets with a corpse inside. He grabs a long metal bar and clobbers his son with it. He then hoses down the room with a water hose to get rid of the blood and places his son's corpses on top of the corpse already in the now opened casket. He closes the casket and nails it shut.
And now he is going to go after his daughter.
Kopfrkingl is told that he is being put in charge of a gas furnace of the future. And all this is top secret. Kopfrkingl says: "What a tremendous opportunity." He starts describing a set-up for the mass cremation of thousands of people. Cremation will set free the souls of the Jews and other unfortunates.
And now its time to take Zina on a tour of the Temple of Death. And with them is the straight-haired brunette. Zina starts feeling a little sick in the casket room. Dad opens a casket with a corpse already in it. It's a male. Kopfrkingl says that wouldn't be appropriate for his daughter, so he opens a casket holding the corpse of a female piano teacher. He will stuff his daughter in the casket with the teacher.
Kopfrkingl picks up the metal bar. He starts to come after his daughter, but Zina starts running. She runs around the caskets always staying away from the reach of the metal bar. Now Kopfrkingl imagines he is talking to his Tibetan half, who tells him that they must go now. Zina sneaks around her father and runs of out of the Temple of Death.
They go outside the Temple of Death and he is grabbed by a Gestapo man. He tells Kopfrkingl not to worry about his daughter not being saved yet. The Gestapo will take care of her. He goes on to tell Kopfrkingl: "You've work to do, Mr. Kopfrkingl. Lots of work. For the nation. For mankind."
Kopfrkingl gets in the Gestapo car and thinks: "No one will suffer. I'll save them all." The car starts heading away from the Temple. The straight-haired brunette runs after the car. Kopfrkingl repeats: "I'll save them all. The whole world."
This film has a grisly basis. It's partly a black comedy, if not a horror film. A cremator in Czechoslovakia really enjoys his job. In fact, the fellow is a bit strange in the head. He even has a whole philosophy of why he is helping people by cremating them and releasing their souls to be reincarnated. He has a book on Tibet that stresses reincarnation that the cremator uses like the Bible.
Entering the story are the devils of the Nazis and German fascism. His former army buddy, who is a fascist, comes to him speaking so glowingly about what the Germans are doing for the betterment of the whole of Europe and of the world. He puts a lot of ideas in the cremator's head and the cremator starts gradually adopting the Nazi ideals and ideas. And the cremator suddenly goes from being "strange" to becoming a Nazi "monster".
The cremator becomes dangerous to others, including his own family, through his own actions and through his reports to the Gestapo.
The film has a rather cynical ending that is a bit surprising, but should have been anticipated.
Rudolf Hrusínský (as Kopfrkingl) was very good as the Nazi monster. The rest of the cast were more of an ensemble.
I enjoyed the film and it was probably correctly grisly enough in proportion to the evils of fascism.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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