The 15 Best Czech Horror Movies Ever Made
While a great number of Hollywood horror movies are shot in Prague, the city’s rich gothic atmospheric hasn’t exactly led to a wealth of Czech films in the genre.
But the country has produced more than a handful of terrific horror films, many of which remain criminally underseen; a few of the films listed below have not even received an official DVD release.
While not all of the movies below are strictly horror offerings, each has at least one foot in the genre. And while I could fill a list like this with the films of directors Juraj Herz and Jan Švankmajer, I’ve tried to keep things a little interesting.
Special mention: the Slovak found footage horror film Evil (Zlo), which is fairly routine but succeeded where the similar Czech production The Ghoul did not. Director Peter Bejbak went on to make the critically acclaimed features The Cleaner (Čistič) and The Line (Čiara), which is currently playing in Czech cinemas.
15. Frankenstein's Aunt (Teta, 1987)
This six-episode TV miniseries from Slovak filmmaker Juraj Jakubisko, recut and released in cinemas as the feature-length Pehavý Max a strašidlá (Freckled Max and the Spooks), is typically shown around Christmastime on Czech TV along with other beloved fairy tales.
But while this one is generally family-friendly, it involves not only Dr. Frankenstein (Bolek Polivka) and his monster, but also other Universal Horror icons like Count Dracula (Ferdy Mayne), Igor (Jacques Herlin), and The Wolfman (Flavio Bucci).
A thoroughly international co-production, Swedish actress and 1940s Hollywood starlet Viveca Lindfors stars as the titular character. And while aimed at a younger audience, the director doesn’t shy away from the scares.
14. The Noonday Witch (Polednice, 2016)
A richly atmospheric Czech spin on The Babadook, with with one unique twist: instead of drawing horror vibes from the dark of night, the eeriest scenes in the movie take place at high noon in the wheat fields of the rural Czech Republic, where the titular character is rumored to haunt.
While not widely embraced, it’s easily the best Czech horror film from the past decade-plus, with terrific performances from Aňa Geislerová and young Karolína Lipowská.
13. The Portrait (Podobizna, 1948)
The portrait of an evil man said to be the devil himself brings great misfortune to everyone who comes to own it in this early Czech horror film from director Jiří Slavíček, based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol.
Richly evocative black & white cinematography from Jan Roth makes great use of Prague’s moody streets - one of the few films on this list to do so.
12. Faust (Lekce Faust, 1993)
The surrealistic films of master animator Jan Švankmajer are often supremely creepy but hard to peg down as horror movies; this unusual take on the Faust legend probably comes closest, mixing live action (acclaimed actor Petr Čepek, in his final leading role, as the title character) with an animated marionette devil and some other wild horror imagery.
It might also be the director’s most accessible movie, with seven Czech Lion award nominations and three wins (Best Actor, Sound, and Design). Also be sure to check out Švankmajer’s other features, which include Alice (a bizarre take on the Lewis Carroll classic) and Little Otik (based on a Czech fairy tale).
11. Uncle Cyril (Prokletí domu Hajnů, 1988)
A creepy gothic manor with a dark past is the setting for this unsettling horror-tinged thriller from director Jiří Svoboda, based on the novel by Jaroslav Havlicek.
A twisty narrative and stylized camerawork bring to mind the Italian giallo films of horror maestro Dario Argento, but this one develops a rich and unique atmosphere of its own. Petr Čepek has a lot of fun as the title character, out to terrorize the mansion’s newest resident.
10. The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians (Tajemství hradu v Karpatech, 1981)
One of my favorite films on this list, and one of my favorites from the wonderful Czech director Oldřich Lipský, whose effects-heavy work often included horror elements (like the man-eating plant in Adéla ještě nevečeřela) even if he generally kept things lightly comic.
The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians isn’t really a horror movie but it does feature an evocative setting at an isolated castle in the Tatras, a mad scientist and his creepy henchman, and bizarre props designed by none other than Jan Švankmajer. Check out my full review here.
9. Prague Nights (Pražské noci, 1968)
So few Czech films deal with the old legends of Prague, but here’s a three-part anthology that features an excellent depiction of at least one of them: the classic story of The Golem, a clay monster that Rabbi Loew (Josef Bláha) brings to life to defend Prague’s Jewish community. Animator and writer Jiří Brdečka (who also wrote The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians) directed this segment and is credited with story for the film proper.
But while the Golem story is the highlight here, a female spin on the Faust legend directed by Evald Schorm (The Return of the Prodigal Son) is also a treat. Director Miloš Makovec filmed the final segment, an unusual musical piece, along with a contemporary story that frames the anthology.
8. Ferat Vampire (Upír z Feratu, 1981)
Two years before Stephen King wrote Christine, a bloodthirsty Škoda prowled the streets of Prague in this wild horror-comedy from director Juraj Herz about a car that drains the lifeforce of its drivers. A fun cast is led by Czech director Jiří Menzel and Dagmar Veškrnová, who would later become the wife of Czech President Václav Havel.
Herz has also made horror-tinged films like the hallucinatory Morgiana (1971) and a dark version of Beauty and the Beast (Panna a netvor, 1978), both of which are well worth catching.
7. Wolf’s Hole (Vlčí bouda, 1986)
Acclaimed Czech filmmaker Věra Chytilová is best known for her surrealist Czech New Wave comedies like Daisies (Sedmikrasky), but this creepy little shocker, which plays out like a supernatural take on 10 Little Indians at a prime Czech location (a ski lodge by the Sněžka mountain) is a rarity among her eclectic filmography.
Bonus: some creepy snowman-themed horror scenes that easily best the recent flop The Snowman.
6. Horror Story (Krvavý román, 1993)
A Guy Maddin film before Guy Maddin was in vogue, this love letter to silent horror film from director Jaroslav Brabec chucks all manner of eye-popping horror imagery into a kaleidoscope of color-tinted vignettes that slowly transition from intertitles to a sound narrative. All punctuated by bursts of gory violence.
Of all the films on this list, this one has received the rawest of deals; despite it being relatively recent, it has yet to see a DVD release. This Halloween, however, you can catch it on Czech TV via the Czechoslovak Film Channel.
5. The Pied Piper (Krysař, 1988)
Czech animator Jiří Barta’s masterwork, an absolutely gorgeous-yet-horrifying take on the classic tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Krysař never gets enough recognition, perhaps because of its short runtime of 53 minutes (which still, by AMPAS, AFI, and BFI standards, qualifies it as a feature). But it’s an absolutely brilliant animated film, and unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Barta also famously worked on a version of The Golem for years before abandoning the project, and his horror-themed short films like The Club of the Laid Off (Klub odložených) and The Last Theft (Poslední lup) are also well worth checking out.
4. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divů, 1970)
This surreal tale of sexual awakening from director Jaromil Jireš got some major international recognition in recent years after inclusion in the prestigious Criterion Collection. While not outright horror, vampires and other gothic imagery feature throughout the world young Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová) wades through in a dreamlike trance.
An outstanding, wide-ranging soundtrack by Luboš Fišer helps create the palpable atmosphere in this memorably haunting film.
3. Lunacy (Šílení, 2005)
A trio of crazed minds collided when Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer adapted the writings of the Marquis de Sade along with two stories by Edgar Allan Poe (Premature Burial and The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether), resulting in a film that most certainly lives up to its title.
While the director’s trademark stop-motion animation is at a minimum here, wonderful gothic sets and inspired work from some of the Czech Republic’s finest actors (Pavel Liška, Jan Tříska, Aňa Geislerová) help make this Švankmajer's finest live-action feature film. Check out my full review of Lunacy from 2005 here.
2. Witches’ Hammer (Kladivo na čarodějnice, 1969)
The real-life persecution of witches in 17th century Moravia is the basis for this unsettling film from director Otakar Vávra, which used the actual transcripts from the infamous trials at Velké Losiny as a basis. Extended scenes of torture are not graphic, but extremely disconcerting.
Seen as political commentary by censors at the time, Witches' Hammer was quickly banned upon its release in communist Czechoslovakia but rediscovered and widely celebrated 20 years later. The movie rates as one of the best depictions of the witch trials ever put to film, alongside Matthew Reeves’ Witchfinder General.
1. The Cremator (Spalovač mrtvol, 1968)
This profoundly disturbing film from director Juraj Herz takes you inside the deranged mind of a crematorium worker who doesn’t quite descend into madness - he’s been there the whole time. It’s a haunting portrayal of the banality of evil and a landmark from the Czech New Wave that utilizes real-world horrors to get deep under our skin.
A masterpiece of gothic atmosphere with a haunting score by and an unconventional, unforgettable performance by Rudolf Hrušínský in the lead, The Cremator is horror director Herz’s finest achievement. Check out my full review of The Cremator here.
Bonus! Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy (Monstrum z galaxie Arkana, 1981)
This Yugoslav-Czechoslovak co-production, set in Dubrovnik, isn’t primarily Czech nor is it really a horror film; it’s more of a lightly comic piece of science fiction (with a wonderful 80s electronic score), and was released in both Czech and Serbian versions.
But it features a truly spectacular, and surprisingly gory, monster movie climax with a rubber suit creature designed by none other than Jan Švankmajer. It’s one of the wildest horror segments in any Czech (co-)production, though the film itself seems to be (unjustly) long forgotten: