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Sinister, Singular, and Subversive: The Cinema of Juraj Herz

January 4 - 30

"A one-man wave of Czechoslovak horror...his films always guarantee something artful, bold and unlike anything else from their time and place."—Kat Ellinger, Sight & Sound

From January 4 to 30, the Gene Siskel Film Center, in collaboration with Comeback Company, presents Sinister, Singular, and Subversive: The Cinema of Juraj Herz, an eight-film series devoted to the Slovakian-born director who specialized in the offbeat and the macabre.

The singular career of the prolific film director and occasional actor Juraj Herz is without parallel in the context of the cinema emerging from Czechoslovakia starting in the mid-1960s. He was a breed apart and decidedly a filmmaker of excess—in his visual style and art direction, as well as in the abundance of horror and eroticism in his genre-bending dark comedies, fairy tales, and dramas. Under the surface of genre, he smuggled in clear-eyed and engaged social and political commentary, while attaining the heights in his mastery of the formal language of cinema.

His penchant for the macabre, his gothic style, and his examination of the underbelly of the human psyche made Herz a darling of the fantasy and horror film scene, and in the past couple of decades his films have achieved cult status among genre film geeks in Europe and the U.S. alike.

Herz was born in 1934 into a Slovak-Hungarian-German-Jewish family in Kežmarok (now Slovakia). The horror of the Holocaust—which he experienced as a child, at first living in hiding before being transported with his family to the concentration camps—seeped through into his films, which set him apart from his filmmaking peers. Yet the experience didn’t rob him of his joie de vivre, possibly thanks to the fact that everyone in his immediate family was lucky enough to survive.

His first film-directing opportunity came through Jaromil Jireš, who invited him to take part in PEARLS OF THE DEEP, the omnibus project based on Bohumil Hrabal’s book. The resulting short, THE JUNK SHOP, didn’t make it into the final film, but it opened the door for him to direct his first feature film, the whodunit murder mystery SIGN OF CANCER.

In quick succession, he created several of his finest works: the unnerving THE CREMATOR, the fin-de-siècle decadence-themed OIL LAMPS, and the gothic tale MORGIANA—rich and dark costume dramas that completed Herz’s expressionistic period. After having several of his own projects rejected, he directed a series of comedies and criminal stories that were successful at the box office. That in turn made it possible for him to come back to his own topics in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and THE NINTH HEART, subversively applying horror principles to the more officially palatable genre of the fairy tale.

Herz’s next project, FERAT VAMPIRE, gravely suffered at the hands of censors, who deemed its open sexuality and freely flowing blood inadmissible. He did manage to direct a film into which he channeled his experience from the concentration camps—CAUGHT BY NIGHT, about the Communist journalist Jožka Jabůrková—after which he emigrated to Munich, in West Germany. After his return to Prague, he made a number of horror films, as well as comedies and dramas setting the record straight on historical injustice. He passed away in April 2018, at the age of 83, while this touring retrospective was already in production.

—Irena Kovarova

The touring retrospective is produced by Comeback Company. Curated by Irena Kovarova. Originated at the Metrograph, New York. Films provided by the Czech National Film Archive and První veřejnoprávní. Photos courtesy of Czech National Archive.

JURAJ HERZ DOUBLE-BILL DISCOUNT!
Buy a ticket at our regular prices for the first Herz film on any Saturday in January, and get a ticket for the second Herz film that day at the discounted rate with proof of your original purchase: General Admission $7; Students $5; Members $4. (This discount rate applies to the second film only. Discount available in person at the box office only.)

Ferat Vampire

Upír z Feratu

1981, Juraj Herz, Czechoslovakia, 93 min.
With Jiří Menzel, Dagmar Veškrnová

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Showtimes:

  • Sat, Jan 18th 3:00pm
  • Tue, Jan 21st 8:30pm

Sign of Cancer

Znamení raka

1966, Juraj Herz, Czechoslovakia, 87 min.
With Zora Božinová, Ilja Prachař

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Showtimes:

  • Sat, Jan 18th 5:00pm
  • Mon, Jan 20th 6:00pm

Beauty and the Beast

Panna a netvor

1978, Juraj Herz, Czechoslovakia, 84 min.
With Zdenka Studenková, Vlastimil Harapes

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Showtimes:

  • Sat, Jan 25th 3:00pm
  • Mon, Jan 27th 8:15pm

Caught by Night

aka The Night Overtake Me / Zastihla mě noc

1985, Juraj Herz, Czechoslovakia, 130 min.
With Jana Riháková, Jana Brejchová

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Showtimes:

  • Sat, Jan 25th 4:45pm
  • Thu, Jan 30th 6:00pm

PREVIOUSLY

The Cremator

Spalovač mrtvol

1969, Juraj Herz, Czechoslovakia, 95 min.
With Rudolf Hrušínský, Vlasta Chramostová

Showtimes:

  • Sat, Jan 4th 3:00pm
  • Wed, Jan 8th 6:00pm

Golden Sixties: Juraj Herz

Zlatá šedesátá: Juraj Herz

2009, Martin Šulík, Czech Republic/Slovakia, 57 min.

Showtimes:

  • Sat, Jan 4th 5:00pm
  • Tue, Jan 7th 6:00pm

Oil Lamps

Petrolejové lampy

1971, Juraj Herz, Czechoslovakia, 101 min.
With Iva Janžurová, Petr Čepek

Showtimes:

  • Sat, Jan 11th 3:00pm
  • Mon, Jan 13th 7:45pm

Morgiana

1972, Juraj Herz, Czechoslovakia, 99 min.
With Iva Janžurová, Josef Abrhám

Showtimes:

  • Sat, Jan 11th 5:00pm
  • Thu, Jan 16th 6:00pm