Tag Archives: The Wailing

Fright Club: Best Foreign Language Folk Horror

We were so inspired by Kier-La Janisse’s documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched that we decided to dive into some of the best films her 3+ hour documentary couldn’t spend much time on. In particular, we wanted to highlight some of the greatest folk horror films not in the English language.

We highly recommend Roh (2019, Malaysia), La Llorona (2019, Guatemala), and Luz, The Flower of Evil (2019, Colombia). But here are our five favorites:

5. Viy (Russia) (1967)

Drunken seminarians, farmhouses, witches – Viy sets you up from its opening moments for a classic folk tale. Three seminarians turned out for break get lost in the woods. They ask an old lady to let them sleep in her barn for the night. She’s not an ordinary old lady.

Konstantin Ershov and Georgiy Kropachyov’s silly, spooky yarn tells of class struggle and superstition. Poor Khoma, our bumbling, drunk hero, is screwed no matter what he does. State/religious authority will beat him, the wealthy will beat him, or supernatural evil will harm him in ways he can’t quite picture.

Even though there’s a clear element of silliness in this film, the core image of a man in over his head gives this Russian folk horror a punch.

4. November (Poland) (2017)

Imagine a world in which Bergman’s Seventh Seal made it with Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and you kinda get a sense of Rainer Sarnet’s November.

At the center of the film lies the unrequited love of two peasants. Liina (Rea Lest) is hopelessly in love with Hans (Jörgen Liik). Hans has the hots for the daughter of the local German baron. Lina and Hans each try to capture the attention of their beloved while communing with ghosts, employing the services of kratts and witches, managing lycanthropy, evading the plague, circumventing arranged marriages, and avoiding starvation during the impending long winter.

The movie is a mishmash of comedy, romance, fantasy, political theory, and philosophy all shot in exquisite black and white. Somehow it comes together, like the kratts, in a way that seems fresh, bizarre, and interesting.

3. Hagazussa (Germany) (2017)

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.

2. The Wailing (South Korea) (2016)

“Why are you troubled?” Jesus asked, “And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see — for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Though the true meaning of this quote won’t take hold until the final act, it presents many questions. Is this film supernatural? Demonic? Or, given the corporeal nature of the quote, is it rooted in the human flesh?

Yes.

That’s what makes the quote so perfect. Writer/director Hong-jin Na meshes everything together in this bucolic horror where superstition and religion blend. The film echoes with misery, as the title suggests. The filmmaker throws every grisly thing at you – zombies, pustules, demonic possession, police procedural, multiple homicides – and yet keeps it all slippery with overt comedy.

1. Lamb (Iceland) (2021)

Among the many remarkable elements buoying the horror fable Lamb is filmmaker Valdimar Jóhannsson’s ability to tell a complete and riveting tale without a single word of exposition. Rather than devoting dialog to explaining to us what it is we are seeing, Jóhannsson relies on impressive visual storytelling instincts.

His cast of three – well, four, I guess — sells the fairy tale. A childless couple working a sheep farm in Iceland find an unusual newborn lamb and take her in as their own child. As is always the way in old school fables, though, there is much magical happiness but a dire recompense soon to come. It is an absolutely gorgeous, entirely unusual and expertly crafted gem of a film. You should see it.

Fright Club: The Law

The Law figures heavily in horror films. Most of them depict crimes. Bloody, bloody crimes. So, in many cases, the authorities must be brought in. And there are some outstanding genre films depicting a law enforcement officer as hero—Jaws and Slither spring to mind. They are also villains as often as bumbling side characters (we’re looking at you Inside and Last House on the Left).

Today we want to celebrate the films that dive into the police work, that focus squarely on The Law and its investigators. And, again, bloody, bloody crimes.

6. Baskin (2015)

Welcome to hell! Turkish filmmaker Can Evrenol invites you to follow a 5-man police squad into the netherworld, where eye patches are all the rage, pregnancy lasts well under the traditional 40 weeks, and you don’t want to displease Daddy.

The serpentine sequencing of events evokes a dream logic that gives the film an inescapable atmosphere of dread, creepily underscored by its urgent synth score. Evrenol’s imagery is morbidly amazing. Much of it only glimpsed, most of it left unarticulated, but all of it becomes that much more disturbing for its lack of clarity.

The further along the squad gets, the more often you’ll look in horror at something off in a corner, that sneaking WTF? query developing along with your upset stomach.

The central figures in this nightmare are one eye-patch wearing helper who enjoys tossing his or her hair over one shoulder, and the breathtaking father figure played by Mehmet Cerrahoglu. There is no one quite like him.

Cerrahoglu’s remarkable presence authenticates the hellscape. Evrenol’s imaginative set design and wise lighting choices envelope Cerrahoglu, his writhing followers, and his victims in a bloody horror like little else in cinema.

5. Se7en

Serpentine and dark as the sin it depicts, David Fincher’s Se7en marked him as a director willing to work your subconscious and take you to unseemly places. The film compares the strict and merciless justice of an old school God with the rotting corpse of NYC police work as two homicide detectives – one a grizzled veteran (Morgan Freeman), one a hot headed rookie (Brad Pitt) – try to keep up.

Fincher shrouds the mystery in some of the most memorably horrific images set to film. Who can forget that first victim, facedown in his spaghetti? How about Lust? “Get it off me! Get it off me!”

Let’s not even discuss Sloth. Still trying to recover from that, and the film came out in 1995.

Great performances and sleight of hand keep the story itself breathless as you work toward the now legendary climax.

What’s in the box?!!!

4. The Wailing

“Why are you troubled,” Jesus asked, “and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see — for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Though the true meaning of this quote won’t take hold until the final act, it presents many questions. Is this film supernatural? Demonic? Or, given the corporeal nature of the quote, is it rooted in the human flesh?

Yes.

That’s what makes the quote so perfect. Writer/director Hong-jin Na meshes everything together in this bucolic horror where superstition and religion blend. The film echoes with misery, as the title suggests. The filmmaker throws every grisly thing at you – zombies, pustules, demonic possession, police procedural, multiple homicides – and yet keeps it all slippery with overt comedy.

3. I Saw the Devil (2010)

Min-sik Choi (Oldboy) plays a predator who picks on the wrong guy’s fiancé.

That grieving fiancé is a police investigator played by Byung-hun Lee (The Magnificent Seven), whose restrained emotion and elegant good looks perfectly offset Choi’s disheveled explosion of sadistic rage, and we spend 2+ hours witnessing their wildly gruesome game of cat and mouse.

Director Jee-woon Kim (A Tale of Two Sisters) breathes new life into the serial killer formula. With the help of two strong leads, he upends the old “if I want to catch evil, I must become evil” cliché. What they’ve created is a percussively violent horror show that transcends its gory content to tell a fascinating, if repellant, tale.

Beneath the grisly violence of this unwholesome bloodletting is an undercurrent of honest human pathos – not just sadism, but sadness, anger, and the most weirdly dark humor.

If you can see past the outrageously violent images onscreen, you might notice some really fine acting and nimble storytelling lurking inside this bloodbath.

2. Big Bad Wolves (2013)

A mixture of disturbing fairy tale and ugly reality, Israel’s Big Bad Wolves takes you places you really don’t want to go, but damn if it doesn’t keep you mesmerized every minute.

The particularly vulgar slaughter of several little girls sets events in motion. One teacher is suspected. One cop is driven. One father suffers from grief-stricken mania. It’s going to get really ugly.

Filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado (Rabies) implicate everyone, audience included. They create intentional parallels among the three men, pointing to the hypocrisy of the chase and making accusations all around of a taste for the intoxicating bloodlust that comes from dominating a weaker person.

Their taut and twisty script keeps surprises coming, but it’s the humor that’s most unexpected. Handled with dark, dry grace by Lior Ashkenazi (the cop) and Tzahi Grad (the father) – not to mention Doval’e Glickman (the grandfather) – this script elicits shamefaced but magnetic interest. You cannot look away, even when the blowtorch comes out. And God help you, it’s hard not to laugh now and again.

1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

It’s to director Jonathan Demme’s credit that Silence made that leap from lurid exploitation to art. His masterful composition of muted colors and tense but understated score, his visual focus on the characters rather than their actions, and his subtle but powerful use of camera elevate this story above its exploitative trappings. Of course, the performances didn’t hurt.

Hannibal Lecter ranks as one of cinema’s scariest villains, and that accomplishment owes everything to Anthony Hopkins’s performance. It’s his eerie calm, his measured speaking, his superior grin that give Lecter power. Everything about his performance reminds the viewer that this man is smarter than you and he’ll use that for dangerous ends.

Demme makes sure it’s Lecter that gets under our skin in the way he creates a parallel between Lecter and FBI investigator Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). It’s Clarice we’re all meant to identify with, and yet Demme suggests that she and Lecter share some similarities, which means that maybe we share some, too.





Fright Club: Best Horror of 2016

So much great horror in 2016! We may not have had that much to be happy about last year – besides the Cavs national championship (hooray!!) – but at least we can celebrate one outstanding 365 days of horror.

Joined by Killumbus Horror’s fearless leader Bridget, we argue about what is and is not horror – and whether Neon Demon thrills or disappoints – plus a few words on scissoring.

10. Demon

Like the mournful soul that clings to poor bridegroom Piotr (Itay Tiran), Demon sticks to you. Director/co-writer Marcin Wrona’s final feature (he ended his life at a recent festival where the film was playing) offers a spooky, atmospheric rumination on cultural loss.

Wrona sets the Hebrew folktale of the dybbuk – a ghost that possesses the living – inside a Catholic wedding, accomplishing two things in the process. On the surface, he tells an affecting ghost story. More deeply, though, he laments cultural amnesia and reminds us that our collective past continues to haunt us.

With just a hint of Kubrick – never a bad place to go for ghost story inspiration – Wrona combines the familiar with the surprising. His film echoes with a deeply felt pain -a sense of anguish, often depicted as scenes of celebration clash with unexplained images of abject grief.

9. The Love Witch

Wes Anderson with a Black Mass fetish and a feminist point of view, Anna Biller wrote/directed/produced/edited/set-designed/costume-designed/music-supervised the seductive sorcery headtrip The Love Witch.

Elaine (Samantha Robinson – demented perfection) needs a change of scenery. Driving her red convertible up the seacoast highway toward a new life in northern California, her troubles – and her mysteriously dead ex-husband – are behind her. Surely, with her smart eyeshades and magic potions, she’ll find true love.

Expect a loose confection of a plot, as Elaine molds herself into the ideal sex toy, winning and then tiring of her trophies. This allows Biller to simultaneously reaffirm and reverse gender roles with appropriately wicked humor.

8. 10 Cloverfield Lane

Less a sequel than a tangentially related piece, 10 Cloverfield Lane amplifies tensions with genuine filmmaking craftsmanship, unveiling more than one kind of monster.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes from a car crash handcuffed to a pipe in a bunker. Howard (John Goodman, top-notch as usual), may simply be saving her from herself and the apocalypse outside. Good natured Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) certainly thinks so.

Goodman is phenomenal, but Winstead and Gallagher prove, once again, to be among the strongest young actors working in independent film today.

Talented newcomer Dan Trachtenberg toys with tensions as well as claustrophobia in a film that finds often terrifying relevance in the most mundane moments, each leading through a mystery to a hell of a climax.

7. The Wailing

“Why are you troubled,” Jesus asked, “and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see — for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Though the true meaning of this quote won’t take hold until the final act, it presents many questions. Is this film supernatural? Demonic? Or, given the corporeal nature of the quote, is it rooted in the human flesh?

Yes.

That’s what makes the quote so perfect. Na meshes everything together in this bucolic horror where superstition and religion blend. The film echoes with misery, as the title suggests. The filmmaker throws every grisly thing at you – zombies, pustules, demonic possession, police procedural, multiple homicides – and yet keeps it all slippery with overt comedy.

6. The Greasy Strangler

Like the by-product of a high cholesterol diet, The Greasy Strangler will lodge itself into your brain and do a lot of damage.

A touching father/son story about romance, car washes and disco, this movie is like little else ever set to film. Both men fall for one particular “rootie tootie disco cutie,” and if that wasn’t enough, there’s a marauder on the loose – an inhuman beast covered head to toe in cooking grease.

The brilliantly awkward comedy leaves you scratching your head. Every absurd character begs for more screen time, and yet, each gag (and you will gag) goes on for an almost unendurable length of time.

The result is ingenious. Or repellant. Or maybe hilarious – it just depends on your tolerance for WTF horror and sick, sick shit. Whatever else it may be, though, The Greasy Strangler is – I promise you – hard to forget.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPl1vcb4hao

5. Don’t Breathe

For his sophomore effort Don’t Breathe, director Fede Alvarez dials down the blood and gore in favor of almost unbearable tension generated through masterful deployment of set design, sound design, cinematography and one sparse but effective premise.

Young thugs systematically robbing the few remaining upscale Detroit homeowners follow their alpha to a surefire hit: a blind man (Stephen Lang) sitting on $300k.

This is a scrappy film that gives you very little in the way of character development, backstory or scope. Instead, Alvarez focuses so intently on what’s in front of you that you cannot escape – a tension particularly well suited to this claustrophobic nightmare.

4. Under the Shadow

Our tale is set in Tehran circa 1988, at the height of the Iran/Iraq war and just a few years into the “Cultural Revolution” that enforced fundamentalist ideologies.

Shideh (a fearless Narges Rashidi) has been banned from returning to medical school because of her pre-war political leanings. Her husband, a practicing physician, is serving his yearly medical duty with the troops. This leaves Shideh and their young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) alone in their apartment as missiles rain on Tehran.

When a dud missile plants itself in the roof of the building (shades of del Toro’s Devil’s Backbone), Dora starts talking to a secret friend. Maybe the friend would be a better mommy.

The fact that this menacing presence – a djinn, or wind spirit – takes the shape of a flapping, floating burka is no random choice. Shideh’s failure in this moment will determine her daughter’s entire future.

3. Green Room

The tragic loss of 27-year-old talent Anton Yelchin makes this one bittersweet. Young punk band the Ain’t Rights is in desperate need of a paying gig, even if it is at a rough private club for the “boots and braces” crowd (i.e. white power skinheads). Bass guitarist Pat (Yelchin) eschews social media promotion for the “time and aggression” of live shows, and when he accidentally witnesses a murder in the club’s makeshift green room, Pat and his band find plenty of both.

Along with concertgoer Amber (a terrific Imogen Poots), they’re held at gunpoint while the club manager (Macon Blair from Blue Ruin) fetches the mysterious Darcy (Patrick Stewart, gloriously grim) to sort things out. Though Darcy is full of calm reassurances, it quickly becomes clear the captives will have to fight for their lives.

As he did with Blue Ruin, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier plunges unprepared characters into a world of casual savagery, finding out just what they have to offer in a nasty backwoods standoff.

It’s lean, mean, loud and grisly, and a ton of bloody fun.

2. The Eyes of My Mother

First time feature writer/director Nicolas Pesce, with a hell of an assist from cinematographer Zach Kuperstein, casts an eerie spell of lonesome bucolic horror.

There is much power in dropping an audience into a lived-in world – the less we know, the better. Pesce understands this in the same way Tobe Hooper did with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and though The Eyes of My Mother lacks the cynicism, satire and power tools of Hooper’s farmhouse classic, it treads some similar ground.

Where Eyes differs most dramatically from other films is in its restraint. The action is mostly off-screen, leaving us with the sounds of horror and the quiet clean-up of its aftermath to tell us more than we really want to know.

1. The Witch

In set design, dialog, tension-building and performances this film creates an unseemly familial intimacy that you feel guilty for stumbling into. There is an authenticity here – and an opportunity to feel real empathy for this Puritan family – that may never have been reached in a “burn the witch” horror film before.

On the surface The Witch is an “into the woods” horror film that manages to be one part The Crucible, one part The Shining. Below that, though, is a peek into radicalization as relevant today as it would have been in the 1600s.

Beautiful, authentic and boasting spooky lines and images that are equally beautiful and haunting, it is a film – painstakingly crafted by writer/director Robert Eggers – that marks a true new visionary for the genre.