Witches, starvation, ghouls, oppression, Church and governmental oppression—there’s a reason they call them the Dark Ages! Filmmaker George Popov (Hex, The Droving) joins us to discuss the best horror movies about the Dark Ages.
6. Black Death (2010)
What Christopher Smith (Severance) delivers with Black Death that few if any horror filmmakers tackling the same themes match is a clear eye as to the flaws and merits on both sides of the witch hunt.
Eddie Redmayne is an innocent and a believer; Sean Bean is no innocent, but he does believe. Both are part of a Christian army who get word of a village untouched by pestilence—a village where some say the dead have been raised.
What follows is a punishingly human drama about using religion to suit your own ends, about what evil we are and are not willing to accept, and about the end of innocence.
5. The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
The sixth of seven Roger Corman/Vincent Price Poe films—and maybe the best—sees Price in a role that delights in its own evil.
No Corman film has ever used color to such glorious extreme, a tactic absolutely in keeping with Poe’s text. The film works from a short story, padding with subplots (one from Poe, one from elsewhere) that work well within the story and generate a little emotional depth beneath the lurid color and debauchery.
Stay through to the end, whatever you do, but do give this one a chance.
4. Hex (2017)
Two soldiers separated from their companies during England’s Civil War chase each other into a deep forest. The rebel Thomas (William Young) is young, soft and open to the dark poetry and doom of witchcraft. He’s not long in the woods before he sees his true enemy is not the countryman behind him with his sword drawn.
Richard (Daniel Oldroyd) fights for King and Country, strident and single-minded, logic keeps him from believing until he has little choice.
There is more happening here than you realize, and it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that you only recognize the film’s purpose when they are ready for you to do so. The result is a satisfying tale with more power than just magic.
3. Army of Darkness (1992)
Easily the most fun you’ll have with a Dark Ages film, Army of Darkness is Sam Raimi’s third and silliest installment in his Evil Dead trilogy. In it, like a Connecticut Yankee, hero Ash (Bruce Campbell at his buffest) finds himself transported to dark times.
You know what he finds. Deadites.
Ash must woo the girl (and then maybe accidentally get her changed into a deadite, which will necessitate killing her), say the spell (which he may or may not entirely screw up, inadvertently raising an army of darkness), and save the day.
Endlessly quotable, utterly bananas, and just a thrill ride of Monty Python meets Three Stooges meets Ray Harryhausen fun, Army of Darkness is a treasure.
2. The Head Hunter (2018)
In a land of yore, the geography forbidding, a far off trumpet calls for the hardiest of warriors—those equipped to fight beasts.
Director Jordan Downey shows much and tells little in his nearly wordless medieval fantasy, The Head Hunter. The filmmaker parses out all the information you’ll need to follow this simple vengeance myth, but pay attention. Very little in this film is without meaning—no creepy image, no creak or slam.
In what is essentially a one man show, Christopher Rygh delivers a quiet, brooding performance for a quiet, brooding film. He cuts an impressive figure as the Vikingesque warrior at the center of this adventure and his work speaks of joyless endurance.
Making a remarkably assured feature debut as director, Lukas Feigelfeld mesmerizes with his German Gothic poetry, Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse.
Settled somewhere in the 15th Century Alps, the film shadows lonely, ostracized women struggling against a period where plague, paranoia and superstition reigned.
It would be easy to mistake the story Feigelfeld (who also writes) develops as a take on horror’s common “is she crazy or is there malevolence afoot?” theme. But the filmmaker’s hallucinatory tone and Aleksandra Cwen’s grounded performance allow Hagazussa to straddle that line and perhaps introduce a third option—maybe both are true.
The film lends itself to a reading more lyrical than literal. Feigelfeld’s influences from Murnau to Lynch show themselves in his deliberate pacing and the sheer beauty of his delusional segments. He’s captured this moment in time, this draining and ugly paranoia that caused women such misery, with imagery that is perplexingly beautiful.