CZECHOSLOVAKIAN HORROR [1950-1990]
What is now Czech Republic and Slovakia was previously Czechoslovakia and it's had a number of changes in both government and land size over the years. One thing that remained fairly consistent is its strong film industry. Though Czechoslovakia didn't gain sovereignty from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire until 1918, film activity was present in the area going as far back as 1898 and the shorts of Jan Kříženecký. There were even a few genre films produced way back then, including Jan Arnold Palous' macabre black comedy short Nocní des / "Night Terror" or "The Nightmare" (1914), which involved the disposal of a corpse. Other genre films popping up in the silent era after Czechoslovakia was established include Jan S. Kolár's Príchozí z temnot / "Arrival from the Darkness" (1921), involving alchemy and a man being brought back to life, Theodor Pistek's Svatební kosile (1925), which involved a boyfriend back from the dead and Kolár's Mrtví zijí ▼(1922; aka The Dead Are Living or The Mysterious Doctor of Prague) and Alfons Bohumil Stastný and Drahos Zelenský's Sílený lékar (1920), both of which involve the exploits of mad doctors. For most of these titles, all that still exist are stills and / or film fragments.
Barrandov Studios, the countries largest film studio and also one of the largest in Europe, was formed in 1933 (and still exists to this day). However, there would only be the occasional genre film in the 30s (like the 1936 French / Czech co-production Le golem directed by the French Julien Duvivier) and 40s (Jiri Slavicek's Podobizna / "The Portrait" , involving a cursed painting), and none that I'm aware of from the 50s. A lot of that had to do with World War II and the aftermath. Many of the top artists fled during that time while some others were killed by Nazis. Following a communist coup in the late 40s, the Czech film industry became nationalized, which also had a detrimental effect when it came to pure artistic freedom. After a period of Czech New Wave in the 1960s, the country then faced the Warsaw Pact and Soviet control and even more censorship, which prompted other top directors to leave. One of those was Milos Forman, who ended up in the U.S. and found great success with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), which won him a Best Director Oscar, and subsequent films.
With all that said, it's rather surprising then that there's a decent amount of Czech horror over the course of the next few decades. Even when live action horror was frowned upon, horror remained well represented through the dark, adult-themed stop motion animation of artists like Jirí Trnka (below, left) and Jan Svankmajer (below, center). Animation also served as an ideal platform to hide various politcal and social messages that likely wouldn't have otherwise passed censors at the time. The much better-known Svankmajer, who tackled everything from Lewis Carroll to Edgar Allan Poe along with his original stuff, even cultivated a strong global fan following for his work.
Another director that certainly needs singled out is Juraj Herz (above, right), who gained international recognition with his extremely bleak and creepy The Cremator (1969), which centered around a deranged mortician and his highly-disturbing thoughts. According to the director, his next genre offering Morgiana (1972) was deemed so eerie that he was "forbidden" from making any other films for the next two years as punishment from the government. Nevertheless, he continued on with the Gothic horror spin on Beauty and the Beast (1978's The Virgin and Monster), which features a unique bird-like "beast," Ferat Vampire (1982), which involved a race car that runs on human blood, and other genre films.
A number of other Czech horror films from this time have went on to a large following, most especially Jaromil Jires' surreal coming-of-age fable Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), which started gaining traction with mid-2000s DVD releases in the U.S. and UK before becoming even more famous after Criterion Collection took it under its wing. It is now easily one of the most popular and most viewed of all of the films listed below, only really rivaled by two stop motion films: Jirí Barta's The Pied Piper (1986) and Svankmajer's Alice (1988) ▼. However, there are a number of seldom-viewed gems that deserve to be better known than what they are, including notable New Wave director Vera Chytilová's unique Wolf's Hole (1987) and Jirí Svoboda's visually stunning Uncle Cyril (1989). I'm hoping to discover more of these.
It wasn't until I started making this list that I realized that I've either liked or loved every single Czech genre film I've seen from this time period. Note: I've seen a lot more than what I currently have reviews up for but that'll be changing here soon.
- Vodnik (1955; Václav Sklenár) [short] [puppets]
- Of Things Supernatural (O věcech nadpřirozených) (1959; Jirí Krejcík, Jaroslav Mach, Milos Makovec) [anthology]
- Cybernetic Grandma, The (Kybernetická babicka) (1962; Jirí Trnka) [animated short]
- Mysterious Mr. Hyde, The (Záhadný pan Hyde) (1964; George Skalenakis) [TV]
- Hand, The (Ruka) (1965; Jirí Trnka) [animated short]
- Invisible, The (Neviditelný) (1965; Jirí Belka) [TV]
- Punch and Judy (Rakvickarna) (1966; Jav Svankmajer) [animated short]
- Sir Arne's Treasure (Poklad pana Arna) (1967; Václav Bedrich) [animated short]
- Byt (1968; Jan Svankmajer) [short]
- Confectioner (Cukrář) (1968; Ivan Lev) [short]
- Revenge (Pomsta) (1968; Jirí Brdecka) [animated short]
- Cremator, The (Spalovac mrtvol) (1969; Juraj Herz) ▲
- Meze Waltera Hortona (1969; Jirina Pokorná-Makoszová) [TV short]
- Prague Nights (Prazske noci) (1969; Jirí Brdecka, Milos Makovec, Evald Schorm)
- Feminine Carnivores (Die Weibchen) (1970; Zbynek Brynych) [co-France, Italy, WG]
- Great Unknown, The (Velká neznámá) (1970; Pavel Hobl)
- Ossuary, The (Kostnice) (1970; Jan Svankmajer) [short]
- Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divu) (1970; Jaromil Jires) ▼
- Witchhammer (Kladivo na carodejnice) (1970; Otakar Vávra)
- Count Dracula (Hrabe Drakula) (1971; Anna Procházková) [TV]
- Short Night of the Glass Dolls (La corta notte delle bambole di vetro) (1971; Aldo Lado) [co-Italy, West Germany, Yugoslavia]
- Morgiana (1972; Juraj Herz)
- Crabs, The (Krabi) (1976; Václav Mergl) [animated short]
- Castle of Otranto (Otrantský zámek) (1977; Jan Svankmajer) [animated short]
- Sorcerer's Apprentice, The (Carodejuv ucen) (1978; Karel Zeman) [animation] [co-WG]
- Spectre's Bride, The (Svatební kosile) (1978; Josef Kábrt) [animated short]
- Virgin and the Monster, The (Panna a netvor) (1978; Juraj Herz) ▼
- Ninth Heart, The (Deváté srdce) (1979; Juraj Herz)
- Bloody Lady, The (Krvavá pani) (1980; Viktor Kubal)
- Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians (Tajemství hradu v Karpatech) (1981; Oldrich Lipský)
- Visitors from the Galaxy (Gosti iz galaksije) (1981; Dusan Vukotic) [co-Yugoslavia]
- Fall of the House of Usher (Zánik domu Usherú) (1982; Jan Svankmajer) [animated short]
- Ferat Vampire (Upír z Feratu) (1982; Juraj Herz)
- Turn of the Screw, The (1982; Petr Weigl) [TV] [co-West Germany]
- Down to the Cellar (Do pivnice) (1983; Jan Svankmajer) [animated short]
- Grandmothers Recharge Well! ('Babicky dobíjejte presne!') (1984; Ladislav Rychman)
- Pit, the Pendulum and Hope, The (Kyvadlo, jáma a nadeje) (1984; Jan Svankmajer) [short]
- Pied Piper, The (Krysar) (1986; Jirí Barta) [animation] [co-West Germany]
- Freckled Max and the Spooks (Pehavý Max a strasidlá) (1987; Juraj Jakubisko) [co-Austria, France, Italy, Spain, West Germany]
- Last Theft, The (Poslední lup) (1987; Jirí Barta) [short]
- Lokis (1987; Anna Procházková) [TV]
- Wolf's Hole (Vlci bouda) (1987; Vera Chytilová) ▼
- Alice (Neco z Alenky) (1988; Jan Svankmajer) [animation] [co-Switzerland, UK, WG]
- Virile Games (Manly Games; Muzné hry) (1988; Jan Svankmajer) [animated short]
- Canterville Ghost, The (Strasidlo cantervillské) (1989; Vít Olmer) [TV] ▼
- Ghoulash (Guláš) (1989; Aleš V. Horal) [short]
- Uncle Cyril (Prokletí domu Hajnù) (1989; Jirí Svoboda)
- Vampýr (1989; Jaroslav Hanus) [TV short]
- About a Hungry Babe (O babe hladové) (1990; Jitka Nemcová) [TV]
- Witches Cave, The (Podzemelye vedm) (1990; Yuriy Moroz) [co-Soviet Union]
- Petr Schulhoff's Po stopách krve / "On the Trail of Blood" (1970) involves a serial killer of children and may qualify.
- The short Fantom opery (1987) sounds like a version of Phantom of the Opera but the credits claim it's based on Arthur Conan Doyle. I'm actually not quite sure what this is. Throwing it on here so I can keep tabs on it.
- Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985) was mostly filmed in Prague but I could not find Czech producers or a Czech production company attached. However, many of the crew people and some of the supporting actors were locals. Not entirely sure if this belongs on the list or not.
Anything to add? Drop me a note down below.