Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Folk Horror Collection on Shudder


Photograph from Psychomania

I’ve been enjoying the Folk Horror collection of movies on Shudder with its fun mix of national and international pictures. Here are my thumbnail reviews on a five-star scale of the ones I’ve seen so far (will maybe add to this list and post it again at a later time)in the order of my preferences.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, American, 1973 (5 stars)
Still one of a small handful of the best and most terrifying horror movies ever made.

Lake Mungo, Australian, 2008 (4 stars).
Easily the best of the movies I’d never seen before. Tense, creepy, surprising, and subtle, and because of the subtlety, the moments that are not subtle are very effective. Some underdeveloped or missing psychological elements bring this one down just a little.

Psychomania (also known as The Death Wheelers), British, 1985 (4 stars). There are few horrors movies this fun and this ridiculous and this unique. It’s not great except for the fact that it’s so great. “The greatest British zombie biker ever made”: for once, the hype is true.

Black Sunday, Italian, 1960 (4 stars). Mario Bava’s first horror film is legendary for a reason. I can’t say that this movie is great, exactly, but it’s very very satisfying horror, a mix of British and Italian elements and starring Barbara Steele, who’s just as good at this sort of movie as everybody says.

Black Sabbath, Italian, 1963 (3 ½ stars). This three-part horror anthology follow-up meant to capitalize on Black Sunday isn’t as great as that one, but it has Boris Karloff in it and the action is a lot of fun if not particularly scary. The effects are ludicrous but only make the movie more of a pleasure.

Wake Wood, Irish and English, 2009 (4 stars). This movie has a lot of great moments and others that aren’t as great as they could have been. Still, it’s the best of the recent horror movies from Ireland that I’ve seen.

Impetigore, Indonesian, 2019 (3 ½ stars). The first 30 to 45 minutes of this movie: wow. As frightening as any recent horror movie I’ve seen. After that, some of the key characters start becoming really dumb, which means that when the horror effects come on full bore it mostly seems like the idiots are getting what they deserve.

Alison’s Birthday, Australian, 1981 (3 ½ stars). The acting and effects are very B movie but they also work in the favor of this surprisingly enjoyable movie. Good claustrophobic tension. The characterizations are no more than expected but still fun. The action is often ridiculous but somehow still both fun and tense.

Rawhead Rex, British, 1986 (3 ½ stars). Sure, the special effects are exactly as terrible as everyone says, but for me at least that didn’t take away from the enjoyment I felt at this movie. I may be biased because it’s based on a Clive Barker short story and because its premise is basically that of classic M.R. James ghost stories: an ancient, pagan evil is lurking in a graveyard. It’s not slow, and there are some great surprises, some of them very unpleasant.

Pyewacket, Canadian 2017 (3 stars). The characterizations aren’t subtle yet this portrayal of a distressed teenager stuck in her relationship with her nasty mom does have some good scenes and good tension. As many reviews say, the movie is as much character study as horror, and while both elements show some promise, the movie doesn’t do as much with them as it might.

A Dark Song, English, 2016 (3 stars). This movie has an effectively tense pace at the start, with interesting characterizations and surprising scenes, but like so many horror movies it doesn’t always know what to do with its premise or the complexities it wishes to set in motion but can’t.

The Hallow, Irish and English, 2015 (3 stars). Essentially, this movie is the same story as Wake Wood with some small differences. Strong atmospherics at the start, and surprisingly interesting dialogue. At a certain point the characters get stuck in a permanent state of non-development and the well done but standard visuals take over with very little surprise.

Lake of the Dead, Norwegian, 1958 (3 stars). A historical curiosity, this black and white, low budget movie has some engaging characters and dialogue (some of it tense) and benefits from its rural setting. The mystery being uncovered is worth it, although the characters are much more frightened than viewers will be.

Children of the Corn, American, 1984 (3 stars) No, I didn’t bother to watch it again. Not the best Stephen King-based movie by any means, and not the worst either. This movie is not as bad as the people who think it’s bad like to think, but it’s also not as good as people think when they try to argue for it as underrated.

Lokis, Polish, 1970 (3 stars). A bit long and rambling, this movie has good atmosphere and tension and some surprises. As much a character study as horror, this movie’s main draw for me is that it’s based on a 1869 French gothic novel by Prosper Mérimée. The pace of the movie is slow so prepare to settle in.

Jug Face, American, 2016 (3 stars). Another of the movies in this collection whose opening parts are the best ones, this movie has some intriguing performances by women but, women-centered or not, it doesn’t do all that much beyond the expected with its dangerous backcountry hick premise.

Eyes of Fire, British, 1983 (2 ½ stars). This one has some moments of genuine strangeness and effective gore. Decent characterizations. The effects are goofy but sometimes enjoyable. Ultimately it settles for flatness and dreamy vagueness instead of really developing its core conflicts and concepts.

Viy, Russian, 1967 (2 ½ stars). Based on a novella by Nikolai Gogol, the main reason to watch this movie is that it’s billed as the first horror movie ever made in Russia. It’s a horror comedy that’s not scary and barely funny except when it’s most trying not to be. The visual effects as the movie goes on are really quite enjoyably strange, but this movie is mostly of historical interest only. Sidepoint: Russians probably don’t need a horror film tradition because their own history gives them all the horror anyone could want.

Messiah of Evil, American, 1973 (2 ½ stars). This is a standard low budget American horror of its era. A few compelling moments, but none of it is ever any better than it looks like it’s going to be. B movie fans might find a lot to enjoy.
Dark Waters, filmed in Ukraine, 1993 (2 stars). Great scenery, and at moments some of the characters are truly weird, but mostly the story is boring and obvious and never frightening or much of anything else, although Louise Salter as the main character is fun to watch.