Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
Plot: Explores the folk horror phenomenon from its beginnings in a trilogy of films—Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968), Piers Haggard’s Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973)—through its proliferation on British television in the 1970s and its culturally specific manifestations in American, Asian, Australian and European horror, to the genre’s revival over the last decade.
Review: I’ve never been a huge fan of documentaries and I can probably count on both hands how many I’ve seen in my lifetime, but when fellow movie reviewer and fan of all films a bit weird and otherworldly, Matthew Bailey, recommended I watch this, there was no way I could refuse. Woodlands is three hours long and at no time was I even slightly bored by it. Simply put, this isn’t just a good documentary on the history of folk horror; it’s downright mandatory viewing for all fans of filmmaking period!
While folklore tends to focus on the creatures found in mythological stories, folk horror focuses more on the beliefs of a people, mostly those who have kept themselves isolated from the more modern workings of society as a whole. As the focus is on horror those beliefs portrayed here tend to have darker elements to them. Usually centered on a couple (or in some cases a group of people) travelling to these places for vacation or whatever and having these two alien worlds collide usually makes for the perfect recipe for folk horror.
Woodlands takes us on a very deep dive into the history of this subgenre of horror. From the very beginnings which started in England with movies like Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968) or Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973) this documentary explains the motivation behind these stories as well as the necessity of them. Folk horror or the fear of things we don’t know or understand is universal, so Woodlands expands beyond Europe and touches on how these stories and the movies inspired by them take on different motifs depending on the timeline and the country they come from.
It also explores how industrialisation help shaped some of these stories and how they ebb and flow through the genre due to societal changes or issues the current world may be experiencing. For instance, did you know 1972’s Deliverance is folk horror? It’s also a movie that shows the disconnect so-called modern or developed citizens had for their country-dwelling counterparts and how that disrespect and ignorance comes back to bite them in the ass (or, you know, something worse involving said ass).
One of the many reasons I found this documentary educational and immersive was all of the people involved are actually directly involved with folk horror in some form. Directors, writers, artists; all of whom know exactly what they’re talking about and expand on what little I knew of this genre in very eye-opening ways.
I came away from this with not only a whole new respect for folk horror but with knowledge that will now allow me to appreciate these films on a wholly deeper level. Even if you’ve seen documentaries on horror before, I doubt any of them have ever been as expansive, educational or as entertaining as Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror.
Sommer’s Score: 10 out of 10
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Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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