SALEM HORROR FEST: Prague Nights (1969)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This movie was watched as part of Salem Horror Fest.

Deaf Crocodile Films, in association with distribution partner Comeback Company, has restored this little seen in the U.S. late 1960s Czech occult/horror anthology. Prazske Noci (Prague Nights) is inspired by Black Sabbath and features episodes directed by Milos Makovec, Jiri Brdecka and Evald Schorm.

I love how they referred to this movie: “a gorgeous and supernatural vision of ancient and modern Prague: caught between Mod Sixties fashions and nightmarish Medieval catacombs, and filled with Qabbalistic magic, occult rituals, clockwork automatons and giant golems.”

I mean, I’m already in love.

Filmed during the 1968 Soviet invasion of Prague, Prague Nights begins with a businessman named Willy Fabricius (Milos Kopecky), lonely and lost in a foreign city, but looking for not love but some form of lust. And then he encounters the much younger, more gorgeous and way more mysterious Zuzana (Milena Dvorská), they travel through the sleeping city in her vintage limousine. As her driver Vaclav (Jiríi Hrzan) pulls into a cemetery, she begins to tell him the three stories that make up this movie:

In Brdecka’s chapter “The Last Golem,” Rabbi Jehudi Löw (Josef Blaha) has already created and used a golem, a gigantic silent homunculus from living clay. Emperor Rudolf II (Martin Ruzek) hears of this and wants to use the supernatural being for his own aims and even when told it can’t be revived, a less moral young rabbi named Neftali Ben Chaim (Jan Klusak) claims he can make it happen. But will his lust for the mute servant (Lucie Novotná) and need to inspire her be his undoing?

“Bread Slippers” — directed by Schorm — introduces us to a countess (Teresa Tuszyńska) who indulges all of her passions, whether for kisses from the maids, the sweetest of cakes or affairs that would scandalize her town. She’s pushed twin brothers into a duel for her heart that killed them both and now she’s led Saint de Clair (Josef Abrham) into death at his own hand. And all because he couldn’t get her the shoes she asked for, shoes made of — you read the title — bread. While the peasants go hungry, the countess literally steps upon what they yearn to eat.

Yet a strange shoemaker (Josef Somr) can and once he delivers them, he steals her away to an abandoned mansion, a place filled with mechanical servants, dust and cobwebs. A place where she will dance forever with her many victims.

Makovec’s “Poisoned Poisoner” shares the adventures of a murderess in the Middle Ages who kills off sex-crazed merchants set to the music of  60s Czech pop star Zdeněk Liška. Yet what happens when a woman who kills men and takes not only their money and jewelry but their hearts falls for one of her victims?

Prague Nights ends with the truth of Zuzana and why she needed the businessman so badly on this — and only this — night. What we have experienced is pure gorgeous cinema, a world that is so unlike so much of what we’ve seen that it very nearly feels animated. Colors change from black and white to monochromatic to more colors than we can nearly stand; cars drive into graves; lovers can be trapped in Hell forever. Yet it all makes your heart and mind and eyes sing. This film is pure magic and yet another film that Deaf Crocodile has put in front of me and won over every fiber of my being with.

There’s also another Czech anthology, Pearls of the Night, that I now need to track down!

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