10 Unforgettable ‘Folk Horror’ Films

ON

WItchgoat

SHOCK examines 10 films that exemplify the sub-genre of “Folk Horror”.

Although we generally associate the term “Folk Horror” with a strain of rural, uniquely British horror films, the sub-genre’s shadow is cast over international cinema and continues to affect contemporary genre filmmaking.

With the impending release of Robert Eggers’ paralyzing New England Gothic THE WITCH, SHOCK aims to examine a series of pictures that trade in that same earthy kind of “Folk Horror” terror. Movies that hone in on small communities, usually held together by unshakable faith, ignorance, tradition and superstition. When evil – whether real or imagined – is injected into these bleak worlds, it’s a drop of poison in the well, spreading, infecting everything and causing irreparable damage.

Here then are 10 films that deal in mythology, madness and psycho-sexual (and often Satanic) delirium.

FOLKSatan

10. BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (1971) Also known as SATAN’S SKIN, director Piers Haggard’s BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW is a nightmarish and erotic downspiral into folk horror hell. In it, fragments of some kind of hirsute skull are found and cause the residents of a small village to swell into a seething cult of Satanists. MARY POPPINS’ Michelle Dotrice shows how grown up she is and Linda Hayden oozes sexuality, leading her and the village’s children into a hysterical, libidinous inferno. An amazing film.

FOLKVirgin

9.THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960) Swedish film icon Ingmar Bergman’s shattering tale of faith and horror served as the blueprint for the unsavory “rape revenge” sub-genre, specifically Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. But none of its imitators understood Bergman’s poetry. In it, a virginal girl in medieval Sweden crosses the countryside on her way to church when she stops to help a trio of drooling goons. They rape and murder her, causing her grief stricken parents to become just as ruthless in their quest for revenge. A story of how darkness can engulf even the purest of hearts, THE VIRGIN SPRING’s final shot is a grace note in a grim symphony.

FolkKILL

8. KILL LIST (2011) Director Ben Wheatley’s nightmarish thriller bleeds out to become a folk horror film, one whose maniacal climax is virtually impossible to shake (I’m still shaking!). In it, a contract killer is forced to accept a job assassinating a succession of victims; his reluctant journey leads him into a labyrinth from Hell and throws him at the mercy of a coven of occultists. Brilliant filmmaking from one of the genre’s most daring filmmakers.

FolkWITCHF

7. WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968) Released in the U.S. as THE CONQUEROR WORM in a crass move to tie the movie to AIP’s “Poe” cycle, WITCHFINDER GENERAL is a disturbing, non-supernatural folk horror film. In it, Vincent Price plays real-life, self-appointed “Witchfinder” Matthew Hopkins in Cromwell’s England, an arrogant, murderous sadist-cum-sociopath who trades in on the country’s religion-fueled “witch hysteria” to sate his lust for murdering and sexually manipulating women while padding his pocket book. Price is brilliant and the late Michael Reeves directs with a steady hand.

Cry1

6. CRY OF THE BANSHEE (1970) AIP’s attempt to duplicate the success of WITCHFINDER GENERAL, takes that film’s star, Vincent Price, and places him squarely in the center of a legitimately supernatural horror movie. Price plays the witch-hating nobleman Edward Whitman who, along with his repulsive children, kill and torture anyone they think has ties to a local, peaceful witch. When said witch has had enough, she calls on the devil to possess a young man to sexually manipulate and destroy Whitman’s family. Underrated and effectively strange folk horror flick.

FolkOnibaba

5. ONIBABA (1964) Classic Japanese folk horror film directed by Kaneto Shindo is about as eerie as they come, with a mother and daughter in the rural rice fields of Japan trapping and murdering wandering samurai and stealing their money. When one of their victims comes to call wearing a hideous demon mask, the lethal duo’s doomed life begins to rapidly unravel. One of the first and best J-horror movies and not to be watched alone!

FolkWake

4. WAKE WOOD (2011) Hammer Studios, who made their fare share of folk horror gems, returned with this chilling contemporary rural horror film. In it, a grieving couple whose daughter has recently been killed by a mad dog, move to a quiet hamlet where Necromancy reigns supreme. With the help of the kindly but shadowy townsfolk, they manage to resurrect their dead child, except, in true PET SEMATARY fashion…something is dreadfully wrong. An underrated masterpiece of dread.

FolkPlague

3. PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966) Hammer horror gem that quotes classics like WHITE ZOMBIE and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and transplants that undead aesthetic to a rural, Cornish village at the turn of the century. English folklore and superstition weave into voodoo in this atmospheric, often nightmarish picture that still packs a wallop.

FolkWicker2

2. THE WICKER MAN (2006) Laugh if you must. That’s fine. But Neil LaBute’s weird remake of the greatest folk horror film of all time still manages to keep the spirit of what folk horror is about, alive. Despite the absurdist (perhaps, accidental?) comedy at its core (star Nicolas Cage’s “Not the bees” freak out is the mother of all YouTube memes), the film is aging remarkably well, with a general sense of perversity running throughout. It’s not the original, rather this remake is really just another adaption of the same source novel (Ritual) and should be appreciated as such.

FolkWicker1

1. THE WICKER MAN (1973) Every inch a masterpiece, Robin Hardy’s seething, beautiful and emotionally devastating classic is indeed the apex of folk horror, a film about generations surrendering to paganism and about how madness can be bred in the bone. Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward deliver unforgettable performances and the movie is driven by its folk music score, one that informs the film’s movement and pushes it into dream-like surrealism. There is much of THE WITCH in THE WICKER MAN, making this film the ideal picture to absorb before you make your way to theaters on February 19th to see Eggers’ magnum opus.

Did we miss a flick? Name some of your favorite folk horror films in the comments section below…