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  Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror It's In The Trees! It's Coming!
Year: 2021
Director: Kier-La Janisse
Stars: Kier-La Janisse, Jeremy Dyson, Robert Eggers, Piers Haggard, Linda Hayden, Alice Lowe, Ian Ogilvy, Gail-Nina Anderson, Lawrence Gordon Clark, Samm Deighan, Kat Ellinger, Willam Fowler, Briony Kidd, Mark Pilkington, Vic Pratt, Jonathan Rigby, Pete Tombs
Genre: Horror, DocumentaryBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Folk horror is a definition that became popularised in the twenty-first century to mean a style of chiller that relied on getting back to nature, to examining traditions and finding them wanting as often as useful, and drawing on a well of unknowable forces rooted in the earth, be they brought out in human behaviour or in the wider sphere of flora and fauna we share the planet with - and possibly beyond. It became associated with what this documentary terms the unholy trilogy, those being Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan's Claw and The Wicker Man, a trio of British shockers that represented the late nineteen-sixties and early seventies desire to return to pagan ways, while aware of the danger that represented, from enemies in humanity to the powers you were dabbling with...

Some films you settle down with as with a good book, where they demand nothing but your indulgent attention for what is often over two hours of running time. But how about three hours plus of running time? That was what was on offer with writer and director Kier-La Janisse's examination of a subgenre that some here argue barely qualified as a genre at all, in light of the huge amount of candidates for inclusion, and that could explain why there was just so much ground covered here, and the room for quibbling. The diversity angle was one in the eye for those fans who would tell you folk horror was solely the British variant from the sixties to the eighties, though as was pointed out in this, that may be better described by an even newer term, hauntology, which spawned imitators as well.

Anyway, if this sounded daunting already, and you were questioning whether you really needed to have what could be rather nebulous terms explained to you for that length of time, try the first five minutes: even if you did not believe you would be wholly interested in the subject, you were more or less guaranteed to be drawn in by its observations and wealth of clips. Some of those clips looked better than others: vintage Doctor Who had been restored by a dedicated team of archivists, yet the extracts from Jon Pertwee story The Daemons appeared to have been taken from VHS copies uploaded to YouTube in 2008 or something. Meanwhile the notoriously hard to get in decent quality Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural looked absolutely spiffing and must have made more than one collector wonder where that footage came from.

Therefore the quality of the clips was a mixed bag, reminiscent of Mark Cousins' megadocs where the only bits he could gather from his collection were stuff he'd taped off the television in the eighties with the degrading image that implied. This is not nitpicking, as it was important to see the films and episodes looking as good as possible to snare the viewer who was going through this making notes on their "Must See" list, and assembling the footage was as important as the excellent talking heads we heard from throughout. Although Britain took up most of the first half, with items that must have made foreigners wonder frequently, what the hell was that? They put that on TV?! The rest of this cast its net as wide as possible, with generally convincing claims made for American folk horror, Australian folk horror and Continental folk horror, though the Asian and South American material appeared to be largely how they went about their fright flicks as a matter of course. Oddly, China, and importantly Hong Kong, merited no mention whatsoever, not one hopes because of its administration around 2021 banning the genre from its cinemas and TV. But complaining about stuff being missed out was a fool's errand: Janisse had been incredibly diligent in including as much as possible, and it was absorbing.

[Shudder Exclusive: New Documentary Premieres 10th January 2022.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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