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Nashville FIlm Festival – Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021) – Review

October 7, 2021

Quick Thoughts – Grade – B – Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror is an expansive and educational look into the history of folk horror. Make sure to have a pen and paper nearby, because if you aren’t totally knowledgeable about the genre, you are going to write down a bunch of movies you’ll want to watch. 

A big thank you to the Nashville Film Festival for the screener. More reviews to come! You should definitely check out the festival in 2022, you will see some excellent films. 

Something random happened the day after watching this documentary. While watching, I found myself taking notes about all the folk horror movies that have gone under my radar. One of the movies that was added to the list was The Lair of the White Worm (1988 – It’s on Amazon Prime now), a wild looking movie which was directed by Ken Russell (The Devils, Altered States), and adapted from a Bram Stoker story. That day, John Leavengood (of John’s Horror Corner on MFF- Follow him on Twitter) posted a review of the film, and the obvious coincidence inspired me to start hunting down more folk horror that I haven’t watched. It’s a random aside, but it’s proof that this documentary opened up a whole new world of films I’ve missed. 

Directed and produced by Kier-La Janisse (who wrote the popular book House of Psychotic Women), who started working on this documentary as a half-hour bonus feature for Severin Films (who also produced this doc), Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror has grown into an enlightening behemoth that covers over 240 films during its 194-minute running time. What’s nice is that fans of The Wicker Man (the original), or the recently released The Witch, or Midsommar, will be drawn in, and will definitely understand a genre that is much larger than anyone would think (aside from horror scholars). It’s pretty great that this documentary grew into what it is now, because it means Janisse wasn’t happy with just slapping together a 90-minute doc that only covered the mainstream folk horror hits, and call it a day.

The doc starts off by covering the folk horror unholy trinity of Witchfinder General, The Blood On Satan’s Claw, and The Wicker Man. Then dives into movies like Haxan (1922) and The Golem (1915), which came long before the 1960s/1970s classics, but didn’t make as much of an impact as the three British folk horror films. With the big-hitters out of the way, the doc moves on to Midsommar, The Skeleton Key, Lake Mungo, The Company of Wolves, Children of the Corn, and various international features to have an almost complete guide of the folk horror genre. 

What’s nice about the documentary are the occasional poems, folk songs, and animated collage sequences that break up the talking heads and movie clips. A lot of work went into this doc, and it’s cool seeing the 100% Tomatometer rating, and 7.5 IMDb score. Works like this should be appreciated, because they enlighten, educate and offer something new to fans of cinema who want to learn more about the medium.

The only thing that kept this documentary from getting a higher grade, is in its quest to cover 200+ movies, it never fully explores many of them. It makes sense that production stories weren’t shared, as Janisse wanted to focus on themes of folk horror and scholarship, but it would’ve been nice to hear about the trials and tribulations of the productions that introduced the world to babies being turned into mush (The Witch), or featured hellish descents into satanism and the occult (The Blood on Satan’s Claws). These films either came from national trauma, or were created by directors who grew up watching them, and it would be cool to hear about why they exist. It sounds extreme to drop a grade because the documentary didn’t fit into expectations, but, with so much covered, it’s easy to forget about 90% of it. 

Final thoughts: If you are a fan of cinema, and want to learn more, you should watch this documentary and learn about some cool films.

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