Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror traces the elusive definition and legacy of folk horror films from a Western perspective.
Popular horror tends to be a divisive subject in the horror community. Some believe there are strict requirements for what makes a horror film fall into this category, such as the need to look like the pastoral location and the people (often British and white) who embody fictional worlds, such as the years 1973. The wicker man or the years 1968 Sorcerer General. Others see this horror subset as more open-ended, and point out how films like those of 1992 Candy – with its take on community values (albeit in an urban landscape) and transmitted cultural beliefs – is a popular horror.
In Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A Popular Horror Story, scholar, writer and director Kier-La Janisse seeks to answer the question: what is popular horror? Comprised of clips from over 200 horror films from over 50 filmmakers and academics, Janisse builds an interactive roadmap of popular horror past and charts directions for its future.
The most magical part of Bewitched: A Popular Horror Story is its perfect opening. Audiences are treated to a caveat and an ethereal voiceover warning viewers of what lives in the woods, as composer Jim Williams gives the film a haunting cover of the rhyme “Ode For Sorrow”. What follows is a series of definitions from those interviewed in the 194-minute documentary, all of whom express their views on what popular horror is. The answers range from stories about “pre-Christian beliefs” to “flickering lights in the dark woods” to “the power of ritual and the power of collective storytelling.” Janisse’s directorial debut is like candy for the horror obsessed who prefer to take notes and embrace curiosity.
In terms of structure, Bewitched: A Popular Horror Story is incredibly simple. The film begins with how Oscar James Campbell coined the term folk horror and rotates his first act to discuss the ‘holy trinity’ of folk horror films: Sorcerer General, Blood on Satan’s claw and The wicker man. From then on, the documentary travels in the history of cinema in a sequential manner.
However, it should be noted that more than half of the documentary focuses on Westernized views on popular horror. Despite the ambitious promise that Bewitched: A Popular Horror Story Aimed at covering American, Asian, Australian and European folk horror, it primarily examines British folk horror and explores how early European immigrants conceived American folk horror – with special and loving attention given to the cultures of the settlers of the Appalachians.
While Janisse Is it that cover of movies like the years 2003 Mother’s love only, a Brazilian folk horror film, and the 1999s Nang nak from Thailand, it can be hard not to wonder how limited the choice was to make the Holy Trinity of Folk Horror the film’s starting point. If every culture has had to consider the cost of industrialization and globalization, or what the documentary often calls “the loss of the old ways,” sometimes it’s hard not to pause in the middle of viewing to wonder what. than is get to other cultures? How do these old habits and forgotten cultures – especially the natives – express these same scruples about film or other media of the time? Unfortunately, these questions don’t gain enough screen time to be explored in depth.
By the end of the film, Janisse never comes up with a definition of what popular horror is and instead highlights aspects of the genre from each guest’s response. Janisse’s choice to put the film together in this way works well as its structure becomes folk horror: a collection of voices spanning the past and present and seeking to pass that knowledge on to future generations. Globally, Bewitched Dark and Days Woodlands is an incredibly enchanting documentary film and it’s one that diehard horror movies will likely refer to for years to come.
Enter the magical and haunting world of Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror on Shudder.
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