Halloween is a perfect time to showcase British Folk Horror films

Credit to Author: Stuart Derdeyn| Date: Mon, 21 Oct 2019 18:00:03 +0000

When: Oct. 25-31, various times

Where: The Cinematheque, 1131 Howe St.

Tickets and info:thecinematheque.ca

Samhain, the ancient Celtic festival named for the Druidic religion’s Lord of Darkness, runs Oct. 31 to Nov. 1. Falling between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, the event marked the end of the harvest and the onset of the darker time. Celebrated with animist costumes, sacrifices — both literal and symbolic — and myriad rituals, the pre-Halloween tradition has fuelled the creation of a unique genre of cinema called British folk horror.

The term first entered the language in 2003 when director Piers Haggard used it to describe his 1971 film the Blood on Satan’s Claw. Later, Mark Gatiss revisited it in his 2010 BBC documentary series on the history of horror.

Blood on Satan’s Claw tells the tale of a rural village undergoing demonic possession in the 1700s. The film is grouped with Witchfinder General (1968) and The Wicker Man (1973) in an unholy trinity of terror cinema preying upon people’s fears of everything from small towns to paganism. It’s a familiar narrative in horror movies today, ranging from the Blair Witch Project to the Witch, and most recently manifested in director Ari Aster’s hit Midsommar.

For this Samhain season, the Cinematheque presents three classics of the folk-horror genre. Beginning with 1957’s Night of the Demon, the series also includes The Wicker Man and the film most commonly seen as the sequel to that 1973 film, director Ben Wheatley’s Kill List (2011). The Cinematheque’s Shaun Inouye curated the series.

“This is a sub-genre that has spun out to become its own genre, which really appears to have begun with these late-’60s/early ’70s films from the U.K. that broke with the whole classic gothic Hammer Film Productions of the era (Frankenstein and Dracula, etc.),” said Inouye. “All three dealt with these ancient evils lurking beneath the soil, and these secret societies that upheld the pagan rites and rituals that went along with them. In such a conservative society, the idea of the terror from these heathen fringe groups really resonated.”

One need only read the news about “Piggate” involving former British prime minister David Cameron and the rumoured initiation ceremonies at the Oxford’s exclusive Piers Gaveston Society, or tales of the Bullingdon Club, to understand just how deep the traditions of secret societies and offbeat traditions runs in the U.K. Toss in a bit of urban-rural or class-based sub narrative conflicts into the script and any visit to the pastoral countryside at this time of year is poised to go poorly.

“The most common horror element deals with human sacrifice and that the protagonist is almost a kind of pawn in a cult’s grand design, helpless to do anything about the inevitable end,” said Inouye. “There is this sinister jubilance to these movies, with their sun-washed colour palette and dark themes. With the release and success of Midsommar, we really wanted to do a deep dive of the sub-genre in terms of its origins, heyday and its return.”

The Night of the Demon is seen by many as the precursor to the whole sub-genre. The black-and-white chiller-thriller not only builds to a genuinely warped climax, but it also features a creature that would inspire countless others due to its impact. Inouye says that director Jacques Tourneur didn’t ever want to reveal the demon, but the studio insisted, so he created an all-time nightmare being. The Wicker Man has become such a popular cult film that it gets referenced in everything from new movies to long-running series such as Midsommer Murders or Supernatural. Wheatley’s Kill List brings the occult-influenced, unwilling pawn story into the modern time.

“There are even definite folkloric elements, such as runic symbols and other iconography, in the first season of True Detective,” said Inouye. “You even have that whole terrifying rural backwater kind of place that is scary to city folk. Drop in characters who are complete fish-out-of-water and think that they have the right world view and it’s a recipe for something bad to happen.”

Tapping into societal disillusionment with some weird back-to-the-land oddness can equal spine-tingling storylines. It’s a good bet that this won’t be the last time the Cinematheque taps into the folk-horror genre.

And for those who want to add to their viewing experience, the Folk Horror Freak-Out! Halloween Party (Oct. 31, 7 p.m.; the Cinematheque. Tickets and info: $20 advance; $25 at the door) includes a participatory theatre ritual with Jarin Schnexnider in partnership with What Lab and a screening of Kill List. Dress code is all white, with robes encouraged.

Also, a warning this Samhain. Don’t watch the 2006 remake of The Wicker Man starring Nicholas Cage. It’s too horrifying.