A series of Czech horror and fantasy films begins playing in New York this month with a preview screening of “Who Killed Jessie?” at New York University’s Cantor Film Center on May 11th. The series will then proceed, May 17-25, at the American Museum of the Moving Image.
The following films are feratured in the series:
“The Ear” ^ Dir. by Karel Kachyňa, 1970 ^ Finding their house bugged and their power and phone lines down, a couple worries about the Communist authorities in this chilling cross between 1984 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The film was banned for nearly two decades.
“The Pit, The Pendulum, and Hope” ^ Dir. by Jan Švankmajer, 1983 ^ This homage to Poe is seen entirely through the eyes of an Inquisition prisoner who awakens to find himself strapped to a table beneath a sweeping pendulum.
“The Pied Piper” ^ Dir. by Jiří Barta, 1986 ^ One of the most ambitious projects in Czech animation history. Barta was inspired by a German legend to create this expressionistic visual metaphor for the fall of a materialistic society. The medieval drama unfolds through an assortment of techniques, including wooden puppets, oil paintings, and footage of live rats.
“Valerie and Her Week of Wonders” ^ Dir. by Jaromil Jireš, 1970 ^ Rarely seen cult film of Czech repertory cinemas is presented in from a newly subtitled print! When a 13-year-old girl crosses the threshold into womanhood, her life unfolds as a baroque, gothic saga of vampires, witchcraft, and mysticism. Rich in imagination, color, and sensual textures, this remarkable celluloid poem has been described as “a Jodorowsky/Bergman co-production of a Grimm’s fairytale.”
“Little Otik” ^ Dir. by Jan Švankmajer, 2000 ^ In this darkly satirical tale, based on an old Czech fable, a childless couple dig up a tree stump, treat it as their baby, and, by the force of their love, bring it to life…at which point it starts devouring everything around it. Švankmajer’s surrealist vision also bristles with a barbed political and psychological intelligence.
“The Fifth Horseman is Fear” ^ Directed by Zbyněk Brynych, 1964 ^ After removing a bullet from a Resistance fighter, a Jewish physician begins a nightmarish search for morphine through the Prague streets. This intense and expressionistic Orwellian fable was first conceived as a depiction of Jewish life under Nazi rule.
“The Cremator” ^ Dir. by Juraj Herz, 1968 ^ In Herz’s blackly comic and brilliantly gothic horror tale set during the early stages of the planned Nazi occupation, the operator of a crematorium-cum-horror chamber becomes increasingly delusional and murderous.
“Morgiana” ^ Dir. by Juraj Herz, 1971 ^ The wicked Viktoria dispenses a slow-acting poison to her better-liked sister, Klára, sending her into an uncanny, hallucinatory existence. Based on a story by Aleksandr Grin, “Russia’s Edgar Allen Poe.”
“Invisible/The Damned House of Hajn” ^ Dir. by Jiří Svoboda, 1988 ^ In his fanciful reinvention of the “lunatic-in-the-attic” tale tradition that dates back to The Cat and the Canary, Svoboda blends narrative and stylistic elements that invoke Roman Polanski, Billy Wilder, Maya Deren, and Dario Argento.
For the full schedule, check out the Czech Center New York website.

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