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Somehow the shadows are heavier, the nights darker, and woods thicker in Middle Europe, home of Count Dracula, the Brothers Grimm, and Jan Svankmajer. The last is a Czech master whose work exemplifies central Europe’s propensity for the artfully ominous and intriguingly grotesque. A program of four Svankmajer shorts (at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, July 16, and 6:45 p.m. Thursday, July 17) is a highlight of this survey of Czech parables; the Svankmajer films include such gothic mini-masterpieces as Castle of Otranto and The Pit, the Pendulum, and Hope. Also featured is Jirí Barta’s The Pied Piper (at 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, July 16, and 8 p.m. Thursday, July 17), which employs puppets, oil paintings, and actual rats to tell the familiar story. The program isn’t all animation, however, nor all derived from fantasy. Two films draw their horrors from life under Nazi occupation: The Fifth Horseman Is Fear (at 6:45 p.m. Friday, July 11, and 1 p.m. Saturday, July 12) follows a Jewish doctor who can’t decide if he should treat a wounded resistance fighter, and The Cremator (pictured; at 8:50 p.m. Saturday, July 12, and 5 p.m. Sunday, July 13) is about a man who constructs a personal chamber of horrors. Most of these films were made in the ’60s and ’70s, when Soviet rule inspired dread, but the series also includes 1988’s Invisible (at 8:45 p.m. Monday, July 14, and 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, July 15), a Gothic thriller about a woman whose crazed uncle thinks he’s unseeable. The series runs to Thursday, July 17 (see Showtimes for a full schedule), at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $8.50. (301) 495-6700. (Mark Jenkins)