Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021)
January 10, 2022 8:42 AM - Subscribe

From writer/director Kier-La Janisse (author of House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films comes "a seductive mega-text" (Indiewire) through the history of folk horror. Exploring the rural roots, occult creeds and cultural lore that continue to shape international cinema, this SXSW Audience Award winning documentary features clips from over 200 films and interviews with more than 50 filmmakers, authors and scholars. Severin Films presents this "astounding achievement" (Screen Anarchy) that Rue Morgue calls "an unprecedented journey into where folk horror has been, where it's going and ultimately what it says about humanity."

Recently released on Blu-Ray by Severin, both on its own and as part of the mammoth 15 disc folk horror box set, All the Haunts Be Ours, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is now also streaming in the US on Shudder.
posted by DirtyOldTown (8 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

Kier-La Janisse is the best kind of nerd: brilliant, amazingly thorough, gifted at finding connections and shaping history into a coherent story, and idiosyncratic in a way that feels both personal and universal. I'm so stoked to watch this I can hardly stand it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:51 AM on January 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

I saw that this was on Shudder today and was excited!
posted by miss-lapin at 11:38 AM on January 10, 2022

Really remarkable piece of work, and like everything Kier-La does it's a gateway to more and more things to explore.

Some kind soul over at Letterboxd has compiled a list of all the films mentioned in this doc.
posted by remembrancer at 12:57 PM on January 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Just watched it and liked it, but I have two conflicting complaints. First, they show too little of each film discussed. Second, at over three hours it's a tad long. I would have preferred a less encyclopedic history with a bit more time for each film discussed. Despite all that, I still really liked it.
posted by Stanczyk at 2:36 PM on January 10, 2022

I finally was able to allocate some time to watch this in one sitting last night. Overall, I think this is a very good documentary. The first half in particular is, I think, clearly the stronger part. Kier-La Janisse has managed to get a lot of interesting voices, who I know from my reading on the subject, have explored folk horror. Also nice that we get more of a discussion of the origin of the term and its use (i.e. predates Gatiss' History of Horror).

I think the latter half is a bit weaker and a bit more scattered though perhaps this might be due to how folk horror outside of the UK is maybe less academically explored? Also how Canada is treated (lumped in with US) is a bit odd though maybe it is doing that thing people in Europe and the UK tend to do - when they say "America" they mean "North America". I thought it was a bit thin on Canadian folk horror despite featuring clips from Clearcut, the NFB films and Edge of a Knife. Especially odd as Kier-La Janisse is Canadian. But she does have an interview with one of the right people (at least in regard to Aboriginal film in Canada), Jesse Wente. It is especially glaring perhaps as I think the section on Australia is very good. They mention Wake in Fright but sadly do not mention that it was a Canadian director.

Also I would have liked, I know this is likely more an issue for me then anyone else, a little more discussion about hauntology which I do think might have some overlap with folk horror. Particularly the idea that there can be something from the past, undealt with or ignored, that percolates up and effects the present. And I was glad that at least it was mentioned that folk horror is less of a genre than a feeling (one of the interviewees mentions it as a mode in the musical sense which I think is on the right path).
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:07 AM on February 2, 2022

I thought Janisse's film was brilliant. The structure of the film was very careful to begin with the (mostly British) films that prompted critics and historians to recognize "folk horror" as a subgenre/modality as a way of orienting the conversation, certainly.

But it then also made a point of spreading out all across the world to show that while the films that may have prompted people to reach for the term "folk horror" were initially British, it's really something primal that can be seen all around the world. This made far more sense as an organizing strategy that going strictly chronological, since, for instance it's not likely the filmmakers who made Viy even saw Onibaba, they may not have even known that it existed. Since the lineage of what we might call folk horror was so often regional, it makes far more sense to look at it by region.

I heard an interview with Janisse where she mentioned that the two most common comments she gets on the film are: "Why is it so long?" and "Why didn't you include _________?" The juxtaposition of those two is hilarious.

Folk horror is, as noted above, a pretty slippery concept, so I think Kier-La Janisse did a pretty terrific job of making a cohesive film about it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:30 AM on February 2, 2022

Oh don't get me wrong I happily consumed it and I think Kier-La Janisse does an excellent job (the fact I need more I think is telling here). Even if it is solely used as a means to find interesting movies I think this documentary is worth a look.

Coming from a place where the landscape is immense and ancient, the mood of folk horror I think is something that has always resonated with me. When I was a teen I actively entertained entering the fields of geology and archaeology for that reason - to understand the memory of a place and how we as moderns fit into that (I didn't but I made a valiant attempt). So having a label or a core set of ideas to look for in a work is weirdly empowering.
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:21 AM on February 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

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