The Mad Scientist at Deaf Crocodile are at it again. This time they bring to us a 1960s Horror Anthology from the Czech Republic, Prague Nights, to Blu-Ray in a beautiful edition.
A new release from Deaf Crocodile is always a reason for celebration. The fact that this has become a consistent occurrence makes it all the more special. The curation and level of quality across the board from film, picture, sound, and special features are amazing. This is mentioned because Prague Nights and its accompanying Blu-ray are the featured essence of what makes DC so good at the work they produce.
The film is both a singular narrative set in the present (of the time, in the late 1960s) but an anthology film that dips into the Czech Republic’s past with horror-twinged tales of depravity, lust, a bit of S&M, and a good dollop of musical flights of fancy. In the present a Man (Milos Kopecký) and a Woman (Milena Dvorská) are in an ever-shifting power dynamic, the man wants to sleep with the mysterious woman, and the woman wanting… something more than money or love. Something more … ethereal, less quantifiable.
The Woman tells the Man three tales all connected by a single house the infamous House of Prague where untold treasures are held in its labyrinthine walls. The first tells of a Rabbi tasked to make a Gollum and the mysterious woman he encounters making it. The second tells the Femme Fatale in the 18th Century and how her treacherous ways come back to haunt her. And the final tale of another Femme Fatale who poisons Rich Men.
The film directed by a trio Jirí Brdecka, Milos Makovec, and Evald Schorm feels more like a film about the sexual power dynamics of men and women than it does horror. The horror almost seems secondary to these tales of what men want and what women are unwilling to concede. The writing from Vratislav Blazek, Frantisek Uldrich, Brdecka, Makovec, and Schorm is layered, complex, and beautiful in a way that most horror films let alone horror anthologies are. The power of Prague Nights is the unity of the stories in the way they remain connected by their themes.
Prague Nights is both horror and not horror with a heavy helping of sensuality that makes for a heady brew of adroit artistry. One may be as warmed by the naughtiness at play as they are chilled by the dread that punctuates all of the stories including the bookends. Rest assured Prague Nights will delight fans of both horror and European Cinema alike.
Prague Nights has been restored for its first-ever U.S. release by the Národní filmový archive, Deaf Crocodile Films, and Comeback Company with Blu-ray authoring by David Mackenzie of Fidelity In Motion.
The wonders never cease at Deaf Crocodile. It may seem like a bit of repetition at this point but it remains LOUD and CLEAR that DC and the transfers they managed to either procure or restore themselves are a thing of cinematic magic. That is to say that their films always appear to be more like 35mm Prints captured by some sort of sorcery onto a Blu-ray rather than just a simple Blu-ray version of the title. The work here feels beautifully gothic with both the color photography and the black and white tinted photography seeming like a unifying wondrous whole. The film looks like it was printed on black velvet with its luscious contrast levels heading into the deepest of blacks. There is nary a scratch or blemish through the entire runtime. DC continues its amazing run but Prague Nights is even a high water mark for them with considerations to just how unique the film looks.
They include the following;
- New audio commentary by Tereza Brdečka and Czech film expert Irena Kovarova of Comeback Company.
- Interview Tereza Brdečka
- Two Jiří Brdečka animated short films:
- Pomsta (Revenge)
- Jsouc na řece mlynář jeden (There Was a Miller On a River)
The all-new audio commentary by Tereza Brdečka and Czech film expert Irena Kovarova of Comeback Company begins with the bona fides including that Tereza is Jiří Brdečka’s daughter. Some of the details include how the film was developed in the wake of the Czech New Wave – and where the co-production evolved from; how Brdečka was the driving force in creation as he was an expert in these type of Prague legends and folk tales – collection these tales well before the film; how they chose the various collaborations that made up of the different writers and directors that ended up on the project – why Brdečka did not direct all of the segments himself; the fragmented nature of the film and how it was critiqued upon released – how these anthology films were newer at the time; where Czech was politically, artistically in 1968; the system that was in place at the time to produce films and how that effected the type of cinema that was produced in Czech at the time; a breakdown of each of the stories (both the original legend/tale it was based, the adaptation, and themes of the story), how they relate to Czech culture, the production itself, and other pieces that like casting, direction, visuals, et.al.; and much more. Brdečka and Kovarova’s track is a wonderfully informative track that goes beyond the film and Czech cinema to the country and its culture and history as it relates to the folk tales that the film is adapting.
Interview Tereza Brdečka (47:39) – in this all-new video interview with Czech film critic and screenwriter Tereza Brdečka on her father, Jiří Brdečka, covers his famed career as a filmmaker, animator & screenwriter. The Zoom Chat begins with a discussion of Jiří Brdečka career and the various media that he worked in during his life. Some of the other details include a personal history of her father and the family, times, and the community he was born and raised in; how Brdečka learned to draw and was introduced to American Culture and Czech Legends; his love of the American Westerns – specifically the Epics, and how he learned story structure from those films; the Nazi-occupation of Czech – how it effected Brdečka’s work, secret screenings of Western films; a detailed account of the genesis of Prague Nights; where all of the legends and folk tales came from and a history of immigration into Cezch; her as a child reading the script from Prague Nights; and much more. Bartok and Brdečka give us a dive into the life of a master filmmaker that some, if not most Westerners, will not be familiar with. Brdečka’s interview rarely overlaps the commentary track and oftentimes when there is overlap, there is so much elaboration on the topic it’s well worth the mention. Note: one cannot forget to mention that the Zoom Call quality is ACES – which image quality on Zoom is always a worry.
Two Jiří Brdečka animated short films:
- Pomsta (Revenge) (14:04) – the animated short from 1968 deals with some of the similar themes of Prague Nights that tells the story of a magician conjuring an evil spirit for a young lover after a failed duel to dire consequences to all. The animation is striking and unique, with (mostly) black and white sketch work giving the film a sort of urgency that you don’t normally see in “polished” animated features. Though do not misconstrue the notion and this is haphazardly put together, quite the contrary. The work feels like the type of work that could have inspired or been inspired by Terry Gilliam and Ralph Steadman (both animators at the time). No dialog but there are English Subtitles for the credits.
- Jsouc na řece mlynář jeden (There Was a Miller On a River) (1058) – this short from 1971 is very different from Pomsta but deals in similar themes and the folk tales of Czech, this being a folk song that is being adapted about the return of a soldier and the surprising welcoming he receives from his mother and father after a 20-year absence. The film is told in a series of slightly animated beautiful paintings accompanied by a live-action component. The result is something uniquely Artistic with a capital A, and something if told solely in live-action would be harrowing, to say the least. Even in its artistic form is tragic nature of the story is horrifyingly electric.
The Final Thought
Prague Nights continues Deaf Crocodiles’ run of exemplary curation of their Blu-Ray collection. Highest Possible Recommendations.