As typical when finishing a book that attempts to build a canon, as I have tried to do with Folk Horror, the signalling of its publishing means a whole host of new potential examples surface and come to light. Though there were things in the Folk Horror book that I simply left out by sheer chance – Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (2007) being a key example – others have only been viewed or pointed out to me since publication. With this in mind, I wanted to highlight a few of the best which, undoubtedly, would have been in the book if viewed earlier.
Symptoms (1974) – José Ramón Larraz
I was rather surprised to not enjoy Symptoms all that much but it’s clearly deserving as being part of the Folk Horror canon, especially because its narrative conforms pretty perfectly to the Folk Horror Chain. Apart from being brilliantly shot by Trevor Wrenn, it stars Peter Vaughan as an initially villainous gamekeeper to the house of Angela Pleasence who is seemingly possessed by spirits and memories of a former lover. That a film deemed worthy enough to be the UK entry for Cannes disappeared for so long is surprising but the imagery alone in the film makes it worth viewing. It also has an incredibly beautiful and eerie score by John Scott.
The Tomorrow People – The Heart Of Sogguth (1977)
Having now watched all eight seasons of The Tomorrow People, it’s safe to say that several episodes are explicitly relevant to Folk Horror and ideas of Hauntology. However, none do so with quite as much camp brilliance as The Heart Of Soggoth. The episode follows the do-gooding band of Human 0.2’s as they do battle with an evil cult who worship the Devil under the name of Soggoth. The Devil can supposedly be summoned from the core of the planet by the playing of an old African drum which, when amplified through a performance on television, uses the psychic energy of the viewers to aid the summoning. This is, however, the 1970s so the best way the cult believe to achieve this is to pretend to be managers on the lookout for a Bay City Roller’s type band who they then convince to play on a Top Of The Pops-style music slot…
The Appointment (1981) – Lindsey C. Vickers
This film was pointed out to me only recently by Andrew Male but I wish I had seen it sooner. The opening, which greatly mimics the opening of Sidney Hayers’ In the Devil’s Garden (1970), has one of the most unnerving supernatural attacks I’ve ever seen in a film. The narrative then follows a strange, Sapphire and Steel-like premonition tale where Edward Woodward’s car-crash seems to be caused by his daughter, who seemingly has a stark Elektra complex, and her demon pals who, similarly to The Omen, appear as dogs. Though I’ve only managed to watch a pretty ropy VHS rip on YouTube so far, the composition of the imagery alone is clearly spectacular and is crying out for a release and restoration on the BFI’s Flipside label.
The Hungry Grass (1981) – Archie Reid
In this brilliant, short piece of Northern Irish Folk Horror, a cursed piece of grass above a grave gains sentience due to the unhappy spirits buried beneath and subsequently devours an American illustrator. Channelling Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows with its beautiful images of malevolent grass and built on genuine folklore surrounding cursed spots of land, it’s arguably more effect in its five minutes of running time than many recent ghost story series on TV. I first came across this during a huge viewing session of the BFI’s rural archive for work on a new documentary feature by Paul Wright called Arcadia. Information on this strange Folk Horror-esque documentary should be available soon but some basic info can be found here.
Halloween III (1983) – Tommy Lee Wallace
To be clear, Halloween III is more absurd than most of even the campiest of Folk Horror films. I think, if my memory serves me correctly, that it does get a mention in the book but only in passing at most. Nigel Kneale’s credentials should be enough to highlight why it’s relevant even if its initial delving into androids and the like make it seem an odd choice. In some ways, its summoning of an ancient witch magic through a broadcast is similar to the episode of The Tomorrow People but it does so far more manically and even humorously (albeit unintentionally).
Eyes of Fire (1983) – Avery Crouse
The Barbican’s recent season of Folk Horror has been one of the oddest to date with films such as The Company Of Wolves (1984) and Viy (1967) taking surprising precedence. One film that was new to me was Eyes Of Fire; an American Folk Horror entering that same, sweltering territory as Race With The Devil (1975) and even The Evil Dead (1983), albeit in period. It follows a shamed preacher and his followers as they are banished into a haunted wood only to come under attack from Native Americans. Using witchcraft to protect themselves they initially find safety though underestimate the supposed ancient power of the valley which they eventually take refuge in, as well as a young Native Indian who they assume at first to be harmless, much to their misfortune.
Anchoress (1993) – Chris Newby
Though its visuals are far superior to most other aspects of the film, Anchoress deserves to be recognised as an aesthetically beautiful, late Folk Horror film. Some of its shots almost recall the recent adaptation of Hard To Be A God (2015) and also reminds of the repressive side-strand in the narrative of Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders (1970) involving the curbing of a young female’s burgoning sexuality. It also has a brilliant cast which includes Peter Postlethwaite and Christopher Eccleston.
Though I had heard of William Mayne’s work, I did not know how relevant Earthfasts would be, especially its 1994 adaptation by the BBC. His story, A Swarm In May was adapted by the Children’s Film Foundation but the BBC series of Earthfasts has the lot: the ghost of a drummer boy on the Yorkshire Moors, standing stones mysteriously moving by themselves, friends disappearing underground and much more. It’s arguably in the same vein as the BBC’s adaptation of Alan Garner’s Elidor (1995), at least stylistically, and also arguably far superior than that adaptation.
3 thoughts on “Folk Horror Curios”
Really informative piece, with lots of interesting films to delve into at some point (thanks for the links!).
I just thought you should be aware that William Mayne was convicted of sexually assaulting young fans which somewhat diminishes his work for me (brilliant as it is).
Clearly a very talented but deeply troubled man. This probably explains why his work hasn’t been celebrated in recent years.
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Thanks for letting me know about this. I was indeed unaware.