A short excerpt from the Booklet essay by Dr Ian Conrich.
If there is a Czech cinema of the Gothic, then the work of Juraj Herz should be considered as a distinctive and central example. What has been written on Czech cinema has tended to stress its surreal nature and has attempted to label certain films as horror. The dark fairytales of Jan Švankmajer have received much critical attention and been widely celebrated. As a 2001 programme of films organised by the London Czech Centre, entitled 'Down to the Cellar', demonstrated, however, Švankmajer is but one of a group of Czech filmmakers and animators - including Jiří Svoboda, Karel Zeman and F A Brabec - who have similar interests. The season, held at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, was partly subtitled 'Horror and Fantasy', and in the accompanying documentation other terms were introduced such as 'expressionist', 'tale of terror', 'Surrealist-inspired', 'dark and horrific', 'black medieval' and 'fairytale'. Only once - in the summary for Herz's 1972 film Morgiana - is the word 'Gothic' employed.
These examples of Czech cinema are, I would argue, much better defined as Gothic than as horror or fantasy. Of course, there are points where the terms are inseparable, but the Gothic itself suggests so much more. In an interview with Kinoeye, Herz states that "the typical horror fi lm is a chainsaw massacre." Moving beyond the simple idea of horror to a consideration of the Gothic introduces issues of psychosis and irrationality, seduction, excess, hallucination and the unconscious or subconscious mind. Such themes are present in a number of Herz's films - Oil Lamps (Petrolejové lampy,1970), The Vampire of Ferat (Upír z Feratu, 1981) and Passage (Pasáž, 1997). They are also developed in The Cremator (Spalovač mrtvol, 1968) and Morgiana.
In both The Cremator and Morgiana, the extreme physical violence traditionally associated with cinematic horror (so often resulting in repulsive images of open wounds, spilt blood and broken bones), especially as generically coded in the West, is minimized. Instead, Herz concentrates his directorial energies on elaborating the psychological disturbance of his malevolent protagonists, one sign of which is their irrational (even pathological) desire for control over their environment and the dead or soon-to-be-dead bodies within it. Attention to such features of his work allows for a distinction to be drawn between Herz's pure Gothic sensibility and that of horror-proper, and helps to explain why Herz - often thought of as a Czech 'horror' filmmaker - would eschew such a label, even when it is meant as a compliment.
Dr Ian Conrich’s complete Essay, from which this short excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet of the DVD release.
Length / Morgiana: 97 minutes
Length / Special feature: 15 minutes
Sound: Original mono (restored)
Original aspect ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Subtitles: English On/Off
Release Date: 11th Oct 2010
Second Run DVD 050