From July 16th to 30th, the IFI will present Haunted Landscapes, a season dedicated to the classic folk horror genre, with special guests introducing several screenings: renowned horror fiction novelist and critic Kim Newman and Donald Clarke, film critic with The Irish Times.
Gaining traction in recent years, the term folk horror has been used to yoke together disparate cultural artefacts that exhibit common traits: an interest in paganism; traditional, rural communities with a connection to the land and its regenerative cycles; and the importance of ritual and superstition over scientific rigour. Three UK films are held as exemplars of the genre: Witchfinder General (1968), The Wicker Man (1973) and Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), and while they are central to this season, the IFI will broaden the parameters of the definition to include earlier films that exhibit discernible folk horror traits: the ancient curse of Night of the Demon (1957), Quatermass and the Pit (1967), and the dreamscapes of Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970). Also included is the more recent The Blair Witch Project (1999) which popularised found-footage film by employing folk horror mythology. The films collected in this season hope to argue for the continued relevance of folk horror, not just as an intriguing footnote to the horror genre, but as an uncanny seam of energy that reverberates and echoes through the earthier corners of popular culture.
David O’Mahony, Head of Programming at the IFI, said: “We’re delighted to welcome journalist, film critic and writer Kim Newman to the IFI for what promises to be an exciting season of classic folk horror films. Haunted Landscapes will focus on key films from the genre concerned with paganism and superstition that brought about our foreboding connection to rural land.”
Prominent folk horror writer and critic Kim Newman kicks off the season with introductions to all three opening weekend screenings: Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man on July 16th, and Quatermass and the Pit on 17th. Set in the 17th century, at the peak of the English Civil War, Witchfinder General is the fictionalised account of Matthew Hopkins, a lawyer turned witch-hunter who takes advantage of the turbulent times and preys upon old superstitions. What follows is a grim and brutal story of violence, rape, and torture in this key folk horror work. Also screening on July 16th and often considered the definition of the genre, The Wicker Man is steeped in a singular atmosphere, building inexorably to a terrifying climax. When a girl goes missing on the remote island of Summerisle, Sgt. Howie is dispatched from the mainland to assist in the search. A devout Catholic, Howie is appalled at the island community’s archaic rituals, sexual liberation and pagan belief system. A craft of possibly alien origin is unearthed in Quatermass and the Pit (July 17th) during works to extend the London Underground. Professor Bernard Quatermass, expert in the uncanny, is called upon to investigate and discovers disturbing associations with the craft and the mythology of the city of London relating to pagan beliefs in the devil. A sci-fi horror hybrid that posits some extraordinary alternatives to Darwinian theories of evolution, the film is astonishingly imaginative and enduringly influential.
Valerie and her week of Wonders (July 20th) tells the story of a pubescent girl exploring her burgeoning sexuality with a number of taboo figures: father, priest, brother, other women and a menagerie of nightmarish vampire creatures. Based on the avant-garde novel by Vít?zslav Nezval, a key figure in Czech surrealism, Valerie is a cornerstone of the explosion of creativity in the ‘60s that came to be known as the Czech New Wave.
The Irish Times’ film writer Donald Clarke will introduce Piers Haggard’s Blood on Satan’s Claw on July 23rd. A hideous skull, found in the furrows of a farmer’s field precipitates an outbreak of demonic possession in the town’s young people. This unnerving story of a traditional community being led astray foregrounds the association of evil with nature and landscape. A potent, unsettling work whose fetid atmosphere and maddeningly catchy music prove impossible to shake off after the credits roll.
The Devil Rides Out (July 24th) was a passion project for lead actor Christopher Lee and remains one of Hammer Studios’ most sophisticated productions. The Duc de Richeleau and his friend Rex discover their young charge Simon has fallen in with the powers of Darkness and is about to be baptized into the service of evil. The Duc is fortunately versed in such matters and finds himself locked in a duel with the deadly Mocata, disciple of The Left-Hand Path.
In Night of the Demon (July 27th), Dr. John Holden arrives in England to discredit occult leader Julian Karswell, but when Holden discovers he has been secretly slipped a parchment inscribed with an ancient curse he begins to suspect phenomena that his rational approach cannot explain. Night of the Demon is a sober, chillingly effective exercise in atmosphere and tension building.
Three students went missing in Burkittsville, Maryland in 1994 while shooting a documentary based on a local folk legend known as the Blair Witch. Save for their camera, no trace of the amateur filmmakers was ever found. Although strictly speaking not the first found-footage horror film, the cinematic brio and phenomenal commercial success of The Blair Witch Project (July 30th) popularised the found footage sub-genre by harnessing the viral potential of the Internet as no other film had by that point.
Tickets for the season are available now at www.ifi.ie or at the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477.
FOLK HORROR REVIVAL SCHEDULE
- Witchfinder General – July 16th (18.30)
- The Wicker Man – July 16th (20.45)
- Quatermass And The Pit – July 17th (14.00)
- Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders – July 20th (18.30)
- Blood On Satan’s Claw – July 23Rd (20.30)
- The Devil Rides Out – July 24th (14.00)
- Night Of The Demon – July 27th (18.30)
- The Blair Witch Project – July 30th (20.30)