Reviews | Written by Martin Unsworth 29/08/2021

WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED: A HISTORY OF FOLK HORROR [FrightFest 2021]

Folk horror has become a label bandied a lot lately. Films such as Midsommar and The VVitch have made the style in vogue. Director Kier-La Janisse (who wrote the fantastic book House of Psychotic Women) delves into the subgenre with this expansive (it’s well over three hours long) but fascinating documentary.

While many believe what we know as folk horror began with what is termed ‘The Unholy Trinity’ - Witchfinder General, The Wicker Man, and The Blood on Satan’s Claw - there are many more titles from all over the world to be discovered, going back to the silent days of cinema. Janisse’s documentary starts with these three films as a base to build an understanding of the term folk horror and the varied nature of what makes a movie come under that label. By getting these big names out of the way in the first twenty minutes, we’re free to uncover a wealth of pagan and witchy riches.

The talking heads gathered to elaborate on the subject are an impressive bunch. Very few are regulars to this kind of production, so it’s interesting to hear some fresh voices. These range from the academics to the filmmakers themselves, such as Robert Eggers, who has helped bring folk horror to the multiplex with arthouse breakouts such as The VVitch and The Lighthouse.

The documentary is divided into six chapters, each focusing on a particular branch of the folk horror tree, but naturally, themes and topics weave their way throughout. This approach will no doubt make the film easier to divide if necessary for easier home consumption. However, don’t let the runtime put you off, it’s very easy to get engrossed in the subject matter and you’ll be wanting longer to delve into the myriad of facts and film clips. The choice of music is perfect too (including a track from The Unthanks, who provided the beautiful soundtrack for the Worzel Gummidge revamp), giving the flavour of the pastures, strange local customs, and eerie forests that await.

You’ll be advised to have a pen and paper handy to note down the titles to add to your ‘track down’ list as there are sure to be some that have passed you by over the years. There was one traumatic moment for this writer, however, when Kat Ellinger remarked on being forced to do ‘country dancing’ at junior school. I’d totally blanked that experience from my memory. [*Shudder*]

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is the best kind of genre documentary: informative, intelligent and, above all, entertaining.