Fantasia 2021 – Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror

By Naomi Roper

A beguiling and definitive look at folk horror. 

What do you think of when you hear the term folk horror? Edward Woodward screaming while Christopher Lee dances? Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror is on a mission to show you that there is far more to folk horror than just The Wicker Man.

Director Kier-La Janisse and Severin Films have crafted an enchanting, engrossing and entertaining documentary that explores folk horror in movies and television around the world. It starts off with an in-depth look at the so-called “unholy” trinity of folk horror movies – Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw and, of course, The Wicker Man.

The documentary then looks at British folk horror through the years considering the impact of the BBC’s Ghost Stories for Christmas and the proliferation of folk horror plotlines on British TV in the 1970’s (including Doctor Who!) The British folk horror segment also looks at films such as Ken Russell’s The Lair of the White Worm  and the work of Ben Wheatley (Kill List, A Field in England) and considers the works of influential British horror writers such as M.R. James and Nigel Kneale(who it is argued didn’t get the respect he was due as he worked predominantly in television in a time when being a TV writer wasn’t quite so revered.) The documentary also looks at the spate of horror TV for children including Moondial (which scared the living daylights out of me as a child!)

The documentary then looks at folk horror in the US gently taking issue with the enduring trope of the “Indian burial ground”. As a commentator rather dryly notes the whole of the USA is an Indian burial ground. The US segment looks at films such as The Witch, Pet Semetary, The Shining, Candyman, The Wind (this is on Shudder – go watch immediately it’s incredible) and others. The documentary then goes on to look at folk horror depictions internationally before rounding out with a segment on the recent folk horror revival considering why these turbulent times are resulting in a resurgence in folk horror tropes in movies and TV.

The documentary features over 50 interviewees including Robert Eggers (director, The Witch), Alice Lowe (director & star of Prevenge), Jeremy Dyson (The League of Gentlemen, Ghost Stories (co writer/director)) and a host of film historians and journalists including Kat Ellinger (editor, Diabolique Magazine) and Jonathan Rigby (film historian who gets endearingly excited throughout at every mention of the word “folk horror” in print over the years). 

The film also features a haunting original score by Jim Williams (A Field in England), collage art animations by Guy Maddin and poetry readings. 

At 3 hours and 10 minutes long Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is quite the time commitment and yet I also felt like it was weirdly not long enough. I wanted a far more in-depth look at the recent revival in folk horror (the segment focuses more on why it’s so prevalent now rather than the films themselves) and as always with documentaries like this, there were some interesting omissions (Candyman which I would consider Urban Horror is included but not The Blair Witch Project? And no love for movies such as The Shrine, The Canal and The Hallow but as always with a documentary like this everyone will have their own faves that weren’t included).

Director and producer Kier-La Janisse has put together a deeply engrossing documentary that will delight folk horror enthusiasts but is crucially just as delightful a watch to those who barely know what the term means. Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is an engrossing, enchanting delight and the definitive word on folk horror depictions on screen.

4.5 stars out of 5

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is playing at the Fantasia International Film Festival and tickets are available now

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1 Comment

  1. August 8, 2021 / 7:36 am

    Glad to know that there is a horror documentary that informs the newer generation of horror fans that there is much more to folk horror than just MIDSOMMAR(which many modern horror fans act as though is the only folk horror film[which it actually isn’t]).