Folk-horror documentary “Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched” hits Fantasia

Folk-horror documentary "Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched" hits Fantasia
Linda Hayden in The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)

The Folk-horror subgenre is a trend now. In the last decade, a comeback of horror movies with a strong background in superstition and ancient religions started with films like Kill List (2011), The Babadook (2014), and the South Korean gem The Wailing (2016), but it wasn’t until Robert EggersThe Witch (2015), fairly tagged “A New-England Folktale”, and Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019), that this new revival emerged for the big audience, generating an uncountable number of new films digging into the subjects of paganism, the occult, ancient superstition and the spirits of the land.

So, although the new generations are growing big interest in these new films, not many are aware of the essential titles that populated the past, especially in the 1970s. Somebody needed to get all that info together and share the knowledge a big portion of the horror fans are eager to dive into. So, author and filmmaker Kier-La Janisse, producer of several film documentaries and founder of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies put all her knowledge in the subject and her contacts in the industry to give form to Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021).

Through the 3 hours and 12 minutes documentary, we hear the testimonies of journalists, filmmakers, and other personalities sharing their knowledge and inputs about the rich universe of folk horror, its origins, and the impact those beliefs have had on the population through centuries. The interviewees include filmmakers Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (Starry Eyes (2014), Pet Sematary (2019)), Alice Lowe (Sightseers (2012), Prevenge (2016)), Mattie Do (Bor Mi Vanh Chark (2019)), Robert Eggers (The Witch (2015), The Lighthouse (2019)), Bruce G. Hallenbeck (London After Midnight (2005)), Emma Tammi (The Wind (2018)), and Piers Haggard (The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), The Quatermass Conclusion (1979)), just to name a few, as well as journalists, film critics, historians, and writers Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Kat Ellinger, Mitch Horowitz, Mark Pilkington, Jonathan Rigby, and Abraham Castillo Flores amongst others.

The documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021) starts with a deep dissertation of the pivotal titles in folk-horror Witchfinder General (1968) by Michael Reeves, The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) by Piers Haggard, and The Wicker Man (1973) by Robin Hardy. From there, Kier-La Janisse together with her interviewed guests elaborates a detailed run through a century of filmmaking showing the crafts of an uncountable set of films that have built the subgenre. The works of authors and filmmakers around the world are used to explain how every civilization, every country, no matter how far, no matter from which continent, has used their own traditions, cults, beliefs, and folklore in order to create a collection of movies that are now part of the history.

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021) is a very complete and, despite its recent release, already basic guide into the world of folk-horror, basic for the followers of the subgenre and also for the horror fans that want to dig more into the subject. In the words of the director Kier-La Janisse, “ (the documentary) investigates the many ways that we alternately celebrate, conceal and manipulate our own histories in an attempt to find spiritual resonance in our surroundings”. David Ehrlich from Indiwire has said, “everything you always wanted to know about pagan blood sacrifices and the lingering psychic traumas of colonialism (but were afraid to discover for yourself)”, while Josh Hurtado of Screen Anarchy quoted “it is Janisse and her panel’s critical assessments that make WOODLANDS worth seeking out immediately. Astounding”.

The movie premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival on March 16, 2021, where it won the Audience Award in the Midnighters section. This summer, besides being part of the Fantasia Film Festival, it is also taking part in the International Film Festival Rotterdam and Melbourne International Film Festival. Check out its official poster.