Folk horror is one of the most nebulous subgenres in horror. While modern folk horror like THE WITCH and MIDSOMMAR wear the moniker on their sleeve, there are dozens if not hundreds of films throughout the history of horror that have been discussed or labeled as such retroactively to the point where it can become almost mind boggling to look into.
This makes writer Kier-la Janisse‘s debut documentary, WOODLANDS DARK & DAYS BEWITCHED: A HISTORY OF FOLK HORROR potentially one of the most important horror documentaries in years, and it does not disappoint.
Chronicling folk horror from the original “Unholy Trinity” of THE WICKER MAN, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, and BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW of the ’70s through the modern folk horror revival, which goes as up to date as Jayro Bustamante’s LA LLORONA, this documentary looks at the folk horror movement from almost every possible angle.
The film is divided up into chapters representing British, American, and International folk horror, with the internal material being the most holistic cross section of voices and ethnicities I have ever seen in a horror documentary that is not specifically focused on those things. The American section on its own contains directors and writers discussing folk horror from Native, Appalachian, Black, and Latin perspectives; and the documentary as a whole does not shy away from the political and social causes for this genre and for its mainstream resurrection in the 2000s. Diving them are phenomenal transitional art segments including folk poetry, music, and wonderfully eerie animation that makes you feel like you’re watching a story unfold around you and makes the film a part of folk horror in itself.
It has a hefty run time, a little over three hours, but it never feels long and honestly my only real critique is that I wish it had been able to be longer. The wealth of information and voices is fascinating and well organized, with the film clips shown and discussed within making a master list of folk horror from around the world and across the decades that you absolutely must see in your lifetime.
At all times Kier-La’s love and passion for folk horror shines through, as does the passion of the writers, directors, actors, historians, and media critics that we see throughout, all of a quality that I could only compare to Shudder’s HORROR NOIRE.
WOODLANDS DARK & DAYS BEWITCHED is a brilliant entry into the modern annals of horror documentaries, and one that is an absolute must see for horror fans, even if they’re not specifically a fan of folk horror itself. I cannot wait to see what Kier-la comes up with next.
Tags: Adam Scovell, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Alice Lowe, Documentaries, Folk Horror, Horror, Jeremy Dyson, Jonathan Rigby, Kat Ellinger, Kier-La Janisse, Lawrence Gordon Clark, Maisha Wester, Piers Haggard, Robert Eggers, Severin Films, SXSW 2021