GORE IN THE STORE
WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED: A HISTORY OF FOLK HORROR *****
Directed by Kier-La Janisse. Documentary, 195 minutes.
Reviewed as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2021.
What was originally intended as a DVD extra is now a three and a quarter hour bonanza that proves itself as perhaps the most informative, knowledgeable, and downright essential film documentary in quite some time. Despite going through a real renaissance folk horror could still be classed as a niche sub-genre, especially to non-fans of the genre. Kier-La Janisse however has accomplished a massive feat here with this epic look at the still growing field that will capture the interest of any fan of cinema as well as those who are already devoted to this eerie area of horror.
Over fifty interviewees, including such recognisable figures as Alice Lowe, Robert Eggers and Jeremy Dyson contribute fascinating insight and commentary on a sub-genre that although rooted in the past has more than enough to say on the present day. Divided into five chapters, the first and longest section deals with Britain’s contribution to folk horror and quickly deals with “the Unholy Trinity” of the films that kickstarted the genre; Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man. From here we travel backwards and forwards through the media that has defined a certain aspect of our shared culture. Such figures as Arthur Machen and M.R. James, whose 1970’s BBC adaptations were a staple of Christmas television, go onto influence film and television resulting in such varied films like those mentioned above and lyrical television dramas such as PENDA’S FEN to the gonzo madness of undead bikers terrorising small town English values in PSYCHOMANIA. So prevalent is folk horror in this period that its tendrils even reached into children’s television with such staples as DOCTOR WHO, THE OWL SERVICE and even BAGPUSS.
From the UK we then travel and explore folk horror across the globe unearthing a vast library of films and books that juxtapose the old with the modern. The myth of Indian burial grounds for example is looked at and neatly skewered whilst the colonial history and migratory experience of America informs the horror genre of that nation. Poland, Italy and Brazil also prove fertile ground for the geographical complexities of folk horror with their own distinct takes on the genre while Australia and Japan challenge the U.K. with their own large catalogues of movies that skewer their own myth laden histories and cultures.
Its mammoth running time may seem daunting but flies by. This could be due to the frequency of clips and interviewees which keeps things flowing smoothly. But this is far more than just a clip show punctuated by talking heads. Animated collage sequences directed by Guy Maddin surface throughout while the haunting soundtrack helps give another layer of otherworldliness to the whole affair. The sheer amount of information and perception shown by everyone here is fresh and interesting without being repetitive whilst the quantity of films shown is a real treasure trove of the familiar and unfamiliar. Be advised that you may want to keep a pen and notebook handy to keep track of the films and books you may be introduced to here and will no doubt want to track down afterwards.
For newcomers and long-time folk horror fans this is an indispensable encyclopaedia to a seemingly evergreen category of cinema. Invest your time with it to find out why it is so resonant and popular in culture right now with this cinematic slab of educational horror that invigorates, entertains, and educates.