New to Shudder this week is the docu-film, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror. Directed by Kier-La Janisse, this is a documentary which places the spotlight on folk horror movies, and how they have developed and expanded over the years.
Clocking in at a whopping 192 minutes, the docu-film takes a look at folk horror movies from the UK, before branching out to the US, and then further afield to Australia, Poland, Iceland, and beyond. Along the way, the feature puts various films under the microscope, then juxtaposes them against key historical milestones (the American Civil War, Vietnam, etc), in order to provide some background to what inspired many of the movies that fall within this particular subgenre.
The aim of this documentary is to demonstrate how various social, cultural, and historical events have helped to shape folk horror. And all of this is conveyed on screen through informative excerpts from authors, historians, and industry insiders, and backed up by various clips from the movies.
A large number of iconic films are highlighted as examples in this docu-film, ranging from well-known pictures such as The Wickerman, Midsommar, and Picnic at Hanging Rock, to lesser-known titles including The Lottery, Nang Nak, and Dust Devil. Other films such as The Company of Wolves, Lake Mungo, and Deliverance are mentioned, along with the likes of Witchfinder General and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
While the focus is on cinema, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is not afraid to also give the nod to television, to demonstrate how folk horror has bled from the big screen onto the small screen too, through TV movies such as The Stone Tape and Ghost Stories for Christmas. Essentially no stone is left unturned in this docu-film, with many examples being given.
And to ensure Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched casts its lens far and wide, the docu-film is divided into multiple chapters. Throughout these chapters there are discussions about paganism and witchcraft, to nationalism, religion, political unrest, and humanity’s connection to the natural world.
To put it mildly, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is pretty exhaustive stuff. It is a documentary which brings a lot to the screen, to show just how many folk horror movies there are in existence, and it pulls off its discussions rather successfully.
As a horror buff, and someone who quite likes an informative documentary, I thoroughly enjoyed Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched. This film does a great job of bringing various different conversations together, while showcasing the length and breadth of an often-overlooked subgenre.
More importantly, it does the thing that every good documentary should do – it brings fresh discussion to the table. I’m fairly well-versed in horror movies, yet there are a number of titles in this docu-film that I am less familiar with, so I really appreciate how deep it is willing to go.
As a result of watching Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched there are now a handful of old horror movies I wish to check out. I also feel I have a greater appreciation for folk horror in general, as well as a better understanding of just how far it stretches.
If I do have a little criticism about Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, it is that with so many films and ideas being offered up, there isn’t much time to dwell on individual movies which are given as examples. A couple of the films used to illustrate a topic caught my attention, but they zipped on and off screen too quickly for my liking.
Offering up multiple examples to back up a discussion is great, but this can become detrimental if there isn’t enough time to explore each in turn. However, I do appreciate this docu-film is about a discussion of folk horror as a whole, so there really is only so much room to cover all of the films being highlighted.
Perhaps the success of this docu-film is that because it unearths so much, it simply left me wanting more. It has certainly inspired me to hunt down a few titles and expand my own experience with folk horror accordingly.
If you are a Shudder subscriber, and you’re looking to get a deeper understanding of this particular corner of horror cinema, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is most certainly a film to watch. This is an informative piece, and one which is sure to get the ol’ grey cells fired up, so find a three-hour window in your week, get yourself comfy, and indulge.
The reason it works so well is because it acts as a great introduction for those who are completely new to folk horror, while at the same time it offers a good exploration of the subgenre for those who are already familiar with the topic. By ticking both of these boxes, it provides crossover appeal and becomes a documentary which stands out from the crowd.