Tag Archives: Folk Horror

Evil Takes Many Forms

A few nights ago I finally got around the watching a movie that’s been on my to-watch list for a while, the 2016 feature-length debut from writer / director Robert Eggers, “The Witch”.

Ralph Ineson

Subtitled as a “New-England Folktale”, the film begins in 1630 with a scene in which William (Ralph Ineson – “Case Sensitive”, “The Office”) is appearing before the elders of the Puritan plantation on which he and his family live, as he has a fundamental difference of opinion over interpretation of the biblical text by which they live their lives.

Kate Dickie

William, his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie – “Midwinter Of The Spirit”, “Prometheus”) and their four children are banished from the plantation and set off to make their lives on a farm near the edge of a large forest some distance from the plantation.

Anya Taylor-Joy

Eldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy – “Split”, Morgan”) is struggling with the demands of the family’s faith but determined to do the right thing. One day she is playing peek-a-boo outside with Katherine’s new baby Samuel when he suddenly disappears. We, the viewer, then see the baby’s body being used by a witch to make a flying ointment. Katherine is devastated and clearly feels that Thomasin is at least partly to blame for Samuel’s disappearance.

Ellie Grainger & Lucas Dawson With Black Phillip

The young twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger – “The Village”) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) claim that the family’s goat, Black Phillip, speaks to them and they take next to no notice of instructions given by their elder sister, increasing her inner torment.

Harvey Scrimshaw

The parents discuss sending Thomasin away to work for another family as she approaches woman-hood and the farm’s crops fail once again, a conversation overhead by their daughter and her younger brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw – “Oranges And Sunshine”). This leads Caleb to set off in the early hours into the forest in an attempt to hunt for food so that Thomasin won’t have to leave. She goes with him but falls from the horse when Caleb rushes off after a hare and is knocked out.

Sarah Stephens

Deep in the forest Caleb spots a small hut and when he approaches is met by an attractive young woman (model Sarah Stephens) who proves to be a witch, and maybe not as attractive as she first seems. When Thomasin reawakens she manages to find her father but, though they search, there is no sign of Caleb.

Black Phillip

Katherine takes this as further proof that Thomasin is evil, and when Caleb returns, naked and barely conscious, her impression is further strengthened when the young twins, Mercy and Jonas, tell their mother than Thomasin had claimed to be a witch. Thomasin counter-claims that the twins speak with Black Phillip. William responds by locking the three children, along with the goat, in the stable for the night, intending that the family should return to the plantation the next day. However, with all kinds of weird and violent events unfolding thereafter what will become of the family?…

The Witch

I’ve probably said too much already, but I really can’t go too much further into the story without definitely giving too much away. Suffice it to say that this is a pretty decent film. The cinematography gives the whole thing a suitably bleak feel, given the hard times that William’s family are enduring, and it all feels nicely atmospheric too.

Anya Taylor-Joy

The ending of the movie felt a little strange at the time of viewing, but a subsequent read of this article helped to make more sense of things – though it’s best read after viewing the movie! Taylor-Joy and Ineson, in particular, were excellent in their roles but all of the small cast are very good.

The Witch

The dialogue and religious aspect of the film felt realistic for the period of history in which it is set, when witch trials and executions were happening in New England and indeed the end titles claim that much of the dialogue is based upon real diaries and court transcripts etc. from that time, throwing light on the effects of a strict religious lifestyle mixed with the superstition of the age.

Overall, I thought “The Witch” was an intense, gripping, spooky and indeed thought-provoking way to spend an hour and a half – a well recommended movie to lovers of folk horror…

Advertisements

Not Everything Can Be Forgiven

Recently my wife and I watched the feature-length debut film from writer / director Liam Gavin – the horror / drama movie “A Dark Song”.

Catherine Walker

Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker – “Patrick’s Day”, “Dark Touch”) arranges to rent a large isolated house in North Wales for twelve months. She then heads off to meet a man at a railway station.

That man,  Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram – “The Canal”, “Sightseers”), is being hired by Sophia – at great expense – to perform a ritual for her. Initially he declines clearly troubled Sophia’s offer until she admits the reason she gave for wanting to undergo the ritual wasn’t true and tells him something that attracts his attention.

Steve Oram

Stocking up on supplies for the months ahead, as they will be unable to leave the house once the process has begun, the pair head to the house where Joseph makes preparations and gives Sophia instructions about what his demands on her will be.

While Sophia has suffered a great loss, and is still very obviously suffering because of it, Joseph comes across as a rather unpleasant and, at times, abusive individual whose motivations are unclear aside from the large fee that he is promised and his own reward from the ritual…

Hammer Horror’s The Devil Rides Out (1968)

This is a very different take on the whole occult ritual type of movie. About as far away from the classic way Hammer Horror films would glamourise something like a black mass with the stereotypical candles, pentagrams and heaving cleavages as you can get. The ritual involved here seems to be the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage – a several-months-long affair that is attributed to Abraham of Worms (1360-1460) from Germany that seeks to contact one’s Holy Guardian Angel.

The Bookf Of The Sacred Magic Of Abramelin The Mage

This text was apparently of great interest to both Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and seems to involve lots of cleansing, fasting, and the use of numerous candles and symbols.

Shot in Ireland in less than three weeks, I believe, this is a rather intense film that I guess would fall into the folk horror category. Although there are a few other actors that appear on-screen briefly this is for the vast majority of the 100 minute duration an in-depth look at what happens when the two leads are holed up in the house for months on end.

Steve Oram & Catherine Walker

Whether Joseph is a genuine occult expert – albeit a particularly rude and decidedly weird one – or just a charlatan is really left to the viewer to decide as the film could be interpreted in either way, even when we get to the climax of the film which could as easily be in Sophia’s mind as actually taking place.

In truth it is the final section of the movie that lets it down a little. Neither my wife or I were completely sold on the ending and the small budget shows most tellingly at this point too. That said, it does not detract from all that’s gone before that seems to be a far more grounded depiction of the work and personal sacrifice that goes into the kind of ritual being used. Not an easy watch, by any means, but with two excellent performances from Oram and Walker the film is riveting and compelling nonetheless and will likely stick in the memory for some time to come…

If You Trespass Upon Them, They Will Trespass Upon You

Originally titled “The Woods”, the feature film debut from director Corin Hardy is the 2015 British / Irish production of horror movie “The Hallow”.t

Joseph Mawle
Joseph Mawle

Adam Hitchens (Joseph Mawle – “Kill Your Friends”, “Made In Dagenham”) is a tree surgeon who moves to a small Irish village with his wife Clare and baby son Finn.

When Adam is out in the local woods making a survey ahead of some proposed logging he comes across an abandoned building, in which he discovers the corpse of a dead animal with a strange black muddy substance on it. Taking some cell samples, he heads home to investigate further.

Bojana Novakovic
Bojana Novakovic

Meanwhile Clare (Bojana Novakovic – “Devil”, “Generation Um…”) has been busy removing some metal bars that have been screwed in front of all the windows of the house that they have just moved into.

A local man, Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton – “Fifty Dead Men Walking”, “The Fall”), visits Clare, unhappy that Adam is meddling in the woods and demanding that he go to see him when he returns home.

Michael McElhatton
Michael McElhatton

Adam, however, elects to stay at home and study the samples that he collected. Later an upstairs window mysteriously smashes in Finn’s room and the door slams shut on Adam and Clare as they rush to investigate.

Michael Smiley
Michael Smiley

Thinking Colm to be to blame, Adam calls the police. Local policeman Garda Davey (Michael Smiley – “A Field In England”, “Kill List”) attends and says that he believes that a bird must have caused the damage to the window. He also alludes to a local legend regarding the woods known as the Hallow.

Joseph Mawle & Bojana Novakovic
Joseph Mawle & Bojana Novakovic

When Adam goes to the local village the following day to get the window repaired he is again warned about the Hallow, while Clare is visited again by Colm who warns that the couple should leave the village for their own safety. As Adam makes his way home the car suddenly loses all power and stops, the engine compartment inexplicably filling with the black muddy substance. Things get even worse when he does manage to get home. What is causing these unexplained events, and what does the Hallow have in store for the young family?…

This is a decent little horror movie. I suppose you could describe it as being part folk horror (outsiders moving to a remote village with hostile locals) and part supernatural horror (unexplained phenomena). Not gory or overly scary, the film is nonetheless effective in unsettling and chilling the viewer and keeping you watching. The climax is well handled and the final scene as the credits roll is a perfect ending. Worth a watch…b

Beware Those You Love The Most

Last night I watched a recent supernatural horror film from the Hammer Films stable. An Irish / British co-production released in 2011, “Wake Wood” was directed by David Keating (“Cherry Tree”, “The Last Of The High Kings”) from a story penned by Brendan McCarthy.

wake-wood-dvd-cover-91

Ella Connolly
Ella Connolly

As the movie opens the action switches between watching a couple driving in their car through the countryside to a small town called Wakewood and to seeing flashbacks of their daughter’s birthday.

Alice (Ella Connolly – “Eliot & Me”) goes to feed a dog in the backyard at her father’s veterinary practice on her way to school on her birthday, only to be savagely attacked and killed by the dog.

Eva Birthistle & Aidan Gillen
Eva Birthistle & Aidan Gillen

Her parents Patrick (Aidan Gillen – “Still”, “Game Of Thrones”) and Louise (Eva Birthistle – “Waking The Dead”, “The Last Kingdom”) are devastated at the loss of their only child and some months afterwards they up-sticks and move to Wakewood.

Timothy Spall
Timothy Spall

While Louise works in the local chemists Patrick works as a rural vet for Arthur (Timothy Spall –  “Mr. Turner”, “The Damned United”), undertaking most of the farm visits etc.

Still struggling with their grief and loss, things are difficult for the couple, and when Louise becomes unnerved by a couple of things she notices about some of the locals she decides she wants to leave and asks Patrick to take her to the station.

Aidan Gillen & Eva Birthistle
Aidan Gillen & Eva Birthistle

On their way the car mysteriously malfunctions and the pair stumble across open fields until they find themselves at Arthur’s farmhouse. With no answer at the door Louise goes to check the yard, where she witnesses a strange and disturbing ritual taking place.

Timothy Spall
Timothy Spall

Following an accident where a farmer is killed by his bull, witnessed by both Patrick and Louise, the couple decide that the town is not for either of them – until Arthur tells them that he can bring a person back from the dead for three days, and will do so with Alice so that they can see her again and say goodbye properly.

Ella Connolly, Eva Birthistle & Aidan Gillen
Ella Connolly, Eva Birthistle & Aidan Gillen

There are some conditions attached, however. The body must have been in the ground for less than a year, they cannot leave the border of the town (marked by remarkably sinister wind turbines) during the three days and the couple must stay permanently in Wakewood thereafter. Patrick and Louise eagerly agree but are less than honest about one of the details necessary for the process to work smoothly.

Eva Birthistle, Ella Connolly & Aidan Gillen
Eva Birthistle, Ella Connolly & Aidan Gillen

Alice is reborn in the ritual that Louise had earlier spied and the couple are overjoyed. But gradually it becomes clear that things are not what they should have been and that their little white lie may be more costly than they could have ever imagined…

Ella Connolly
Ella Connolly

This film tells a folk horror tale which is similar in ways to the likes of “The Wicker Man” and “The Blood On Satan’s Claw” with aspects of paganism, sacrifice and ritual, not to mention seemingly odd locals in a remote location. There are also parallels to be made with Stephen King’s “Pet Semetary” but I felt that this movie, a low-budget affair, was different enough to stand on its own merits.

A genuinely creepy affair with some rather gruesome moments and a neat twist or two at its conclusion, this is a great film from the resurrected Hammer Films studio. Great stuff…

wake-wood-movie-poster-hammer-films-dvd-cover

Look At Her Long Enough And She May Be The Last Thing You’ll Ever See!

Forty six years ago today, on 8 August 1969, the actress Sharon Tate was brutally murdered at 10050 Cielo Drive, the rented home she shared with her film-maker husband Roman Polanski, by members of the Manson Family – followers of criminal guru Charles Manson.

Over the coming days I’m going to look at the films that Tate starred in before her untimely death, starting with “Eye Of The Devil”, her first starring role filmed in 1965 and released in the UK during the summer of 1966.

PHOTO_20629346_66470_9229404_ap1

Philip Loraine - Day Of The Arrow
Philip Loraine – Day Of The Arrow

Directed by J. Lee Thompson (“The Guns Of Navarone”, “Conquest Of The PLanet Of The Apes”) the movie was based on a novel by Philip Loraine titled “Day Of The Arrow”.

David Niven
David Niven

Philippe de Montfauçon (David Niven – “Murder By Death”, “The Pink Panther”) is a wealthy vineyard owner who becomes concerned when he learns that his crops have failed for the third consecutive year.

Deborah Kerr
Deborah Kerr

He heads off to the family estate at Montfauçon Castle in Belenac to rectify matters, but tells his wife Catherine (Deborah Kerr – “From Here To Eternity”, “The Sundowners”) that he does not want her or their children to go with him, something that Catherine is none too pleased about.

Donald Pleasence & David Niven
Donald Pleasence & David Niven

Arriving in Belnac, Philippe is greeted by the village priest, Father Dominic (Donald Pleasence – “The Eagle Had Landed”, “From Beyond The Grave”), who makes vague references to a duty which he says that he was sure Philippe would not refuse when the time came.

Sharon Tate & Robert Duncan
Sharon Tate & Robert Duncan

Still at their home, Catherine is disturbed when the couple’s young son Jacques (Robert Duncan – “Rasputin : The Mad Monk”) has a sleepwalking episode during which he talks of going to see his father, leading her to decide that she needs to take the children out to the estate.

David Hemmings
David Hemmings

When Catherine gets to the castle she is unsettled by a pair of mysterious siblings. Christian de Caray (David Hemmings – “Blow-Up”, “Barbarella”) who likes to wander around the castle grounds shooting birds with his bow and arrow and his sister Odile de Caray (Tate) who has a hypnotic effect on those around her.

eod-016[1]When Catherine sees the siblings sneaking into the castle with a dove that Christian had killed and follows them to witness some kind of pagan ritual taking place. Spying hooded figures in the woods has Catherine further spooked and fearful for the safety of her husband…

Tate apparently met with the High Priest and High Priestess of Alexandrian Wicca in the UK to prepare for her role.

Sharon Tate
Sharon Tate

Although she and Hemmings both have relatively minor roles in terms of speaking parts, their presence is essential to the feel of the film and Tate, in particular, is quite spellbinding – beautiful and also projecting an ethereal quality that, for me, really made the film much more effective that it might otherwise have been.

Also known as “13”, this is certainly an interesting film with clear parallels with “The Wicker Man”, especially in terms of how it treats paganism and pagan rites and the narrative about sacrifice with regard to failed crops, and the isolated and insular community involved. Whilst it isn’t in the same league as its more famous counterpart this particular film is still well worthy of watching.

eye_of_devil_poster_02

Does Witchcraft Exist Today?

Released in 1966 by Hammer Films and directed by Cyril Frankel (“On The Fiddle”, “The Trygon Factor”) is the occult horror film “The Witches”.

TheWitches1966Poster

Peter Curtis - The Devil's Own
Peter Curtis – The Devil’s Own

Based on the Peter Curtis novel “The Devil’s Own”, the rights were apparently bought by the actress Joan Fontaine (“Suspicion”, “Rebecca”) and taken to Hammer for Fontaine’s final big-screen role.

Gwen Mayfield (played by Fontaine) is a British schoolteacher working as a missionary in Africa

Joan Fontaine
Joan Fontaine

who suffers a nervous breakdown after an encounter with a witch doctor during a local tribal rebellion. Returning to England she accepts the position of headteacher at a small school in the fictional village of Heddaby, hired by the Reverend Alan Bax and his sister Stephanie.

Kay Walsh & Alec McCowen
Kay Walsh & Alec McCowen

When she arrives and is greeted by Stephanie (Kay Walsh – “The Beauty Jungle”, “A Study In Terror”) she is somewhat disconcerted to discover that the Reverend Bax is actually just plain old Alan (Alec McCowen – “Frenzy”, “The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner”) – a man who likes to dress up as a vicar and listen to tapes of church organ music – and that the village church is no more than ruins.

Ingrid Boulting
Ingrid Boulting

It’s not long before Gwen is noticing that things just don’t seem right in the village – strange dolls, spooky black cats, decidedly odd residents etc. – and she is disturbed by the apparent treatment being given to one of her pupils, fourteen year old Linda Rigg (Ingrid Boulting – “The Last Tycoon”). Is there something sinister going on in this peaceful village or is Gwen still traumatized by her experience in Africa?…

This is one of the lesser celebrated Hammer films, but should really be regarded similarly to the likes of 1968’s “The Devil Rides Out”. There is also a case for making comparisons with the classic “The Wicker Man” which came seven years after this early example of what could be termed “folk horror”.

The final scenes don’t have the same potency found in the aforementioned “The Wicker Man” by any means, and are the weak link of the film in truth, but this is still well worthy of watching…the-witches1

Flesh To Touch… Flesh To Burn!

“The Wicker Man” is a 1973 horror thriller film, directed by Robin Hardy, bringing Anthony Shaffer’s screenplay to the screen.

wicker-man-1973

Edward Woodward plays Sergeant Howie, a devoutly Christian policeman, who receives a note in the post claiming that a young girl, Rowan Morrison, has disappeared.

Edward Woodward
Edward Woodward

He travels to a Scottish island, Summerisle, to investigate. This remote and isolated community is led by the strange Lord Summerisle, played by Christopher Lee.

When he arrives he discovers that seemingly no one has heard of the missing girl, not even Mrs. Morrison who Howie believes to be Rowan’s mother.

Britt Ekland
Britt Ekland

Howie takes a room in the Green Man Inn for his stay on the island, and, with his religious convictions, is shocked to hear the bawdy songs sung in the pub, notably “The Landlord’s Daughter” which celebrates the sexuality of the titular character, Willow MacGregor (played by Britt Ekland).

May Celebrations on Summerisle
May Celebrations on Summerisle

He sees a series of framed photographs depicting the annual harvest celebrations featuring the May Queen, but the most recent photograph is missing, apparently broken.

Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee
Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee

When the policeman finds evidence in the school that Rowan did, in fact, exist the teacher tells him that Rowan died, but returned in another form. After further unsuccessful inquiries, he approaches Lord Summerisle for permission to dig up Rowan’s grave, suspecting that she must have been murdered. Although Lord Summerisle is charming, Howie cannot reconcile himself with the pagan attitudes that he encounters. When the grave is exhumed, Howie is shocked to discover it contains only the corpse of a rabbit.

Summerisle Harvest Photograph
Summerisle Harvest Photograph

Howie realises that the islanders pay homage to the pagan Gods of their ancestors, and with the island being reliant on the crops that they produce, specifically their apples, he suspects that due to a crop failure Rowan is being kept hidden away to be sacrificed to the Gods and resolves to find and rescue her.

The Wicker Man
The Wicker Man

The final scenes of the have lost nothing over the years, remaining as powerful as ever.

This film has long been one of my all-time favourites, but I was unaware until recently that there was more to it than the version shown in cinemas as supporting feature to “Don’t Look Now” in 1973 and on TV from time to time since then.

11798The history of “The Wicker Man” began in 1971 when Christopher Lee and Anthony Shaffer, together with movie producer Peter Snell began to discuss making a film based on the 1967 novel “Ritual” by David Pinner. The three bought the film rights to the book and, with director Robin Hardy on board, came up with a new story using the original novel as inspiration.

Following filming in the Autumn of 1972 an edited version of the film, removing some introductory scenes on the Scottish mainland and some of Lord Summerisle’s explanations of the history of the island, and running to approximately 99 minutes was prepared.

One of the bosses at the film studio, British Lion, then asked American director Roger Corman to make some suggestions to make the film more “marketable”. Corman’s sugestions resulted in a further thirteen minutes of footage being removed, and the order of some scenes being changed around. The resulting 87 minute version is known as the theatrical version and was shown in cinemas in 1973.

The-Wicker-Man-R2-cover-dvd-freeI have now been able to see the “Director’s Cut” version, which restores most of the footage cut from the original version and puts elements of the story back to the place in which they were originally placed.

The film has a better flow as a result and, even though some of the restored footage does not have the same picture quality as a result of having been cut out decades ago, is a much more complete and satisfying experience.

The Wicker Man Soundtrack
The Wicker Man Soundtrack

A mention must also be made of the superb soundtrack, which for many years was unavailable. Put together by Paul Giovanni and performed by Magnet (a group put together specifically to record the soundtrack) and featuring various members of the cast, the music is a mixture of takes on traditional songs, such as the main title theme and “Corn Riggs” which are based on songs by Robert Burns (1759-1796) and “Sumer Is Icumen In” which originates from Middle English sometime circa 1200, and original songs such as the beautiful “Willow’s Song” and “Gently Johnny”, all arranged to give a feel of the pre-Christian pagan culture of the film – well worth finding a copy of the album.

And what of “The Wicker Tree”, Robin Hardy’s 2011 “spiritual successor”? The film explores similar themes, and even features Christopher Lee in a brief cameo role. However, although entertaining, the film does not in any way compare positively to the original film – much the same must be said of the 2006 remake of “The Wicker Man” starring Nicolas Cage.

To this viewer the old film remains far more evocative and powerful than the successor or remake. Maybe in the same way that Sergeant Howie discovered the old Gods were more powerful than his newer Christian God…