Russian cinema isn’t known for being prolific when it comes to horror films and one of the first happens to be one of the best and most enduring. Based on a novella by Nikolai Gogol, it’s a fairy tale that utilises almost every trick in the cinematic book and excels in every way.
After an eventful at a farmhouse, which ended with a trainee monk being ridden like a broomstick by an old hag witch and him beating her almost to death before she transformed to a beautiful young woman, the monk is made to go back to read prayers for the stricken woman. Over the course of three nights, he is haunted within an inch of his life by the malevolent spirit of the woman.
What makes Viy so special isn’t so much the direction of Konstantin Ershov and Georgiy Kropachyov but the effects created by Aleksandr Ptushko alongside the cinematography of Viktor Pishchalnikov and Fyodor Provorov. There are terrifying moments early on that stand out, especially the transgressive scene involving the old witch (played by male actor Nikolai Kutuzov), which is the stuff of nightmares alone. The film gains its classic status, however, thanks to a bombardment of in-camera effects, jaunty camera angles, and a building sense of dread that explodes with an assault of strange, nightmarish characters.
Also included in Eureka’s limited edition is a later Serbian adaptation of Gogol’s story, 1990’s A Holy Place (Sveto mesto). The quality of the HD transfer isn’t perfect, with plenty of damage particularly at the start and reel changes, but it doesn’t affect the enjoyment. It’s a vastly different version compared to the 1967 version as it lacks the visual effects, but is still atmospheric and entertaining.
Viy is a seminal part of cinema and Eureka’s presentation is first class. It’s an unmissable movie that deserves to be in any horror fan’s collection.