The car star of the cult 1980s horror film Upir z feratu (Ferat the Vampire) has gone missing. Ferat, actually a Škoda Super Sport prototype from 1971, has been taken from display at the Škoda museum in Mlada Boleslav. The film is showing in Prague on the 29 November as part of the National Film Archive’s East European horror series.
On the surface it’s a straightforward normalisation film: “look, you won’t even miss decadent western capitalist horror films, because, well, we can do our own!”. A simple plot: a new car from the Ferat Corporation appears to drain its drivers of energy, life even. Our investigative hero sets out to find the secret of the car and the corporation…. I won’t spoil the plot here, although one slightly cruel review suggested it needed a transfusion in the middle.
It’s not as simple as that, though. The team that made the film, for instance, looks decidedly dodgy:
- Director: Juraj Herz, whose films included The Cremator, banned “forever” by the communist authorities
- Lead actor: Jiri Menzel: director of the banned “forever” film Larks on a String
- Bit part: Played by VítOlmer, maverick Czechsploitation director, later to make Bony a Klid, banned on release until it’s black market distribution made a mockery of the ban.
- Uncredited contribution from surrealist animator Jan Švankmajer, then banned from film making.
- Actor Petr Čepek, later to take the lead in several Švankmajer films including Faust.
So, a group of film makers that are not in favour with the regime make one of the few Czechoslovak horror films. It’s tempting to make analogies with the activities of those in Hollywood, USA, during the communist witch hunts of the 50s: the uncredited roles by those banned, and works rich in metaphor and references. Cy Endfield’s Hell Drivers for example.
Švankmajer’s contribution to the film is possibly signalled by the clip of one of his films (ID please!) shown on a TV. In any case, the Faustian nature of the plot sits comfortably within his oeuvre. He is now credited with the creation of the visceral elements of Ferat, including the scene where Menzel’s character approaches the car, slices the throbbing bonnet with a knife, and is drawn to slide his hand into the wound, Cronenberg style, only for the car to attempt to pull him inside in the classic Freudian manner. This scene uses Švankmajer’s hallmark use of raw meat as living flesh, and originally included a complete meat engine that was censored. See this article from Olomouc Museum of Modern Art, which recently hosted an exhibition of Švankmajer’s works and film props.
It’s tempting to credit another animation segment to Švankmajer. The scene is played by Menzel on a home movie projector and includes Juraj Herz hamming it up as a Dracula style vampire. This article adds some background.
If we agree on the allusion to Nosferatu in the title, it’s also possible to see Ferat as a play on Fiat/Ferrari, pillars of the decadent western car industry (although Fiat had widespread collaboration with the communist car industry, especially in Poland and the Soviet Union).
The car itself is real: a prototype built as the Škoda Super Sport, based on the S110R coupe, as are the Škoda rally cars seen in the film. The car, in common with the S110R, had its engine at the rear, the front bonnet covering the luggage area! Bony a Klid, Vit Olmer’s film about gangsterism at the end of the communist era, has a long opening scene filmed at the Škoda Factory in Mlada Boleslav.
Theodor Pištěk, who gave the car it’s makeover, actually drove on the racetrack competitively for Czechoslovakia in the 1970s. The Super Sport also made an appearance in the film Tomorrow I’ll wake up and scald myself with tea ( 1977). Both films are based on short stories written by Czech science fiction author Josef Nesvadba. See this page for other cars used or seen in the film.