Severin Films continues their mission to bring significant and sharp-edged entertainment to the world with the recent acquisition of three significant cult films -  MORGIANA and THE NINTH HEART from Czech master Juraj Herz, plus Japanese feline frightener BAKENEKO: A VENGEFUL SPIRIT. All three restorations make their debut on the big screen at the Salem Horror Fest next month, with home video editions to follow later in the year. Full details on the films and their screenings in Salem below.

Juraj Herz, Czechoslovakia 1972

US Theatrical Premiere of new restoration courtesy of Severin Films
Introduced by House of Psychotic Women author Kier-La Janisse

The best known in the West of Slovak filmmaker Juraj Herz’ enchanting genre films (The Cremator (1969), Beauty and the Beast (1978), The Ninth Heart (1979) and Ferat Vampir (1982) among them), Morgiana is about two sisters – neither of whom is named Morgiana, that’s the cat, who gets her own cat-cam – who are placed in opposition when one of them inherits the majority of their father’s estate. In a brilliantly affecting dual performance by actress Iva Janžurová, the raven-haired Viktorie contrives to poison her naive fair-haired sister Klara when she is driven mad with jealousy over both their financial predicament and Klara’s abundance of attention from possible suitors. As her sister becomes weaker and more prone to kaleidoscopic hallucinations, Viktorie’s flamboyance threatens to foil her own murderous plans. 

Morgiana is a dark fairytale bursting with extravagance - baroque garden parties, dramatic eye makeup, vintage tarot cards, fish-eye lenses – absolutely breathtaking stuff and a fitting gateway to Herz’ brilliant ouevre. (Kier-La Janisse, excerpted from House of Psychotic Women)

House of Psychotic Women books and box sets will be available at the Severin table throughout the first weekend of the festival.

Juraj Herz, Czechoslovakia 1979

US Theatrical Premiere of new restoration courtesy of Severin Films

Though Juraj Herz’ most critically-lauded work remains his 1969 film The Cremator – first released on DVD in 2006 and given the Criterion treatment in 2020 – his opulent fairytale The Ninth Heart (featured briefly in the documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, playing elsewhere in the festival) is an uncanny trip into an underworld of automatons, stolen hearts and magic. A struggling student befriends an itinerant marionette troupe (led by iconic actor Josef Kemr, who also appeared in folk horror favorites Marketa Lazarová and Witchhammer), and when they collectively run afoul of the local Lord, he volunteers to rescue the Lord’s daughter, who has been put under a spell by an evil alchemist. Inanimate objects spring to life as the living succumb to death in the topsy-turvy world of this dark fable. 

Herz has been noted by historian Kat Ellinger as the only filmmaker in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia to openly identify as a horror director, and studied puppetry at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague alongside Jan Svankmajer, who would remain a key collaborator (Svankmajer’s wife Eva designed the poster for The Ninth Heart and both provided visual effects and animation). It is thus in The Ninth Heart that many of his aesthetic and thematic obsessions converge — puppetry, poverty, imprisonment and death — illuminated by a parade of golden candelabras and a playful sense of the grotesque. (Kier-La Janisse)

Copies of Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched and the accompanying box set All the Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium of Folk Horror will be available at the Severin Table throughout the first weekend of the festival.

Yoshihiro Ishikawa, Japan 1968

World Premiere of New 2K restoration from Severin Films

Also known as Ghost Cat of the Cursed Pond, Bakeneko: A Vengeful Spirit is one of the many mid-century Japanese explorations of “Kaibyo” or “ghost cat”  mythology, and one of the best. Director Yoshihiro Ishikawa was no stranger to kaibyo country, having co-written Nobuo Nakagawa’s equally chilling Black Cat Mansion (1958) and directed Ghost Cat of Otama Pond (1960). Released the same year as Kaneto Shindo’s more well-known Kuroneko, Bakeneko: A Vengeful Spirit mines that indelible trope of the cat ghost story: a violent and greedy Lord kills a young woman when she refuses to become his concubine, only for her cat to drink her blood and become her shapeshifting avenger. “Beginning in a quietly haunting vein reminiscent of Ugetsu,” wrote Spectacle Theatre in their promotional text for a 2016 screening of the film, “Bakeneko descends into a nightmarish parade of splattered blood, decapitations and ghosts gnawing on severed limbs.” Not to be missed by anyone with a beloved feline familiar! (Kier-La Janisse)

This screening of Bakeneko: A Vengeful Spirit is held in conjunction with the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies’ presentation of Alexandra West’s multimedia lecture “The Cat Came Back: Feline Familiars in the Horror Genre”.