Kier-La Janisse (director)
10 January 2022 (released)
07 January 2022
Its towards the end of this exhaustive (not exhausting) documentary that the contributors speculate why there has been an apparent resurgence of interest in folk horror. It’s an insightful discussion taking changing social mores and interests. However without I hope being patronising, for some, folk horror has never been far from the disc player or streaming service whether it be the older ‘classic’ era or the newer material.
The film naturally starts with what could be the ancestral home, the UK and the beginning like when the term was first used. From there it’s a short step into the three unholy trinity: Witchfinder General, The Wicker Man and Blood from Satan’s Claw. A bit predictable but who would argue against these and in any case, there’s plenty more, diversifying in later chapters to MR James, Nigel Kneale and Dr Who. There’s a bias towards television here that delves into 70’s children’s television with the likes of Children of the Stones and Owl Service with a nod to Psychomania and Company of Wolves. All the while accompanied by excellent contributions from a wide range of people.
Going beyond the UK and Ireland it’s off to the USA and the emergence of stories and tales from the puritans as they started to establish themselves, confronting and the settled native Americans. The Indian burial ground staple is torched as lazy as: these are tribal burial grounds. Beyond the rural areas US folk horror has strong base in the late 70’s alternative religions that ropes in the likes of Midsommer. That may have been set on Sweden but as explained is grounded in the US cults and communes that seem to be peculiar to that country. It’s a fascinating chapter that spreads wide to encompass rural and urban, TV (The Waltons) and film, to witchcraft, voodoo and slavery.
So far and (generally) so familiar however the documentary really comes into its own when it reaches beyond the UK and US. There’s an in-depth appreciation and understanding of what folk horror is in the rest of Europe, Latin America, Asia and Australia. Its feast of the bizarre, traditional and historic: the Eastern and Northern Europe’s artier productions, La Llorona (that dates back to Cortez), Brazil’s afro/catholic blend, Japan’s long tradition of ghosts, Australia’s colonial history and much more. The conclusion is there is no one definition for folk horror.
Director and writer Kier-La Janisse has drawn on many, many expert contributors with even more film and TV clips plus some appropriate commissioned animation to enhance it further. Which all makes for a thoroughly absorbing documentary as well as a masterclass in editing and construction which means its three hours running time should not be a seen challenge. It was presented in its entirety at London FrightFest 2021. Indeed broken up into good length chapters, none of which short changes the subjects, neither totally self-contained or distinct from the whole, this could be watched in segments as well as one sitting.
There is a treasure trove of material here that should satisfy those familiar with folk horror and hopefully pique the curiosity of others. In all cases IMDB will be very handy.
Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror will be available on Shudder from 10 January 2022.