10th Aug2021

Fantasia 2021: Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched

by Jim Morazzini

Features: Robert Eggers, Lawrence Gordon Clark, Piers Haggard, Alice Lowe, Jonathan Rigby | Written and Directed by Kier-La Janisse

After watching Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror you certainly can’t accuse writer/director Kier-La Janisse (Eurocrime! the Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ’70s) of just skimming the topic’s surface. Book-ended by animated credits sequences and featuring paper collages by Guy Maddin (Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, Cowards Bend the Knee) Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is a deep dive into the definition and history of folk horror. The film’s three hours and fifteen minutes are split into six chapters that make up three roughly hour-long segments.

The first segment deals with the “Unholy Trinity” of Witchfinder General, The Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man. While it doesn’t deny their influence and importance, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched very quickly dispenses with the idea that they are the root of the genre, citing films from as far back as 1922’s Haxan.

This evolves into a look at folk horror in British TV that includes episodes of Dr. Who, the BBC’s series, “A Ghost Story for Christmas”, and films like The Stone Tapes. Films referenced include Quatermass and the Pit/Five Million Years to Earth and Psychomania neither of which I would never have thought of as folk horror. More obvious choices ranging from Rawhead Rex to Ben Wheatley’s Kill List and A Field in England are discussed, although Wheatley’s In the Earth seems to have missed the cut.

The next segment focuses on American folk horror and we get plenty on Stephen King and a bit on H.P. Lovecraft. The VVitch and Midsommar get the bulk of the attention when it comes to film. And while I was happy to see footage from the sadly forgotten Eyes of Fire incorporated into Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, I wish they had spent time discussing it.

The final segment of Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched deals with folk horror from everywhere else with a strong emphasis on Australia and films like The Last Wave, Picnic at Hanging Rock and, another one I hadn’t considered, Wake in Fright. Films from places like Iceland are cited as well as the original version of Norway’s Lake of Death. Its recent reboot however is ignored. Estonia is represented by a clip from November, another film that deserves more attention than it gets here. The more recent Kratt however, isn’t mentioned. Given its scope, this could, and probably should have been a feature of its own.

All of this is filtered through a host of interviews that include filmmakers Piers Haggard (director, Blood on Satan’s Claw), Lawrence Gordon Clark (director, A Ghost Story for Christmas series), Alice Lowe (director, Prevenge) and Robert Eggers (director, The Witch). Authors interviewed include Howard David Ingham (author, We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror), Kat Ellinger (Editor, Diabolique Magazine) and Maisha Wester (Author, African American Gothic). The writer and director of The Wicker Man, Anthony Shaffer and Robin Hardy are seen in archival interviews.

These interviews take in everything from straight filmmaking discussion to the historical and psychological underpinning of the genre. Everything from the clash between the old and new ways and rural and city life to witches as symbols of female empowerment. So if hearing the word “patriarchy” makes you foam at the mouth and scream “Woke bullshit!” you may want to think twice about watching Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched.

Otherwise Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is a fascinating and informative look at folk horror. It’s a film that will be better suited to home viewing where you can break it up into a couple of sittings to avoid information overload and/or a numb ass from sitting for over three hours.

**** 4/5

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched screened as part of this years Fantasia Film Festival.

Review originally posted on Voices From the Balcony.

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