On Kier-La Janisse’s Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror (2021) – FantasiaFest

by Jacqueline Valencia

(Before this little review, I’d like to commend the people at FantasiaFest for making it possible for disabled folk and people who work from home exclusively, due to being primary caregivers, or whatever iteration keeps us from doing what we love – for making the festival accessible this year. I would like to keep reviewing and participate in film writing and festivals, as do many people who can’t make it out to traditional cinemas. May times like these make everyone see that there is an audience you might not have been able to reach before.

These are hard times, but they are also moments to see opportunities and different perspectives in reflections. I will always prefer to see a film in a classic movie theatre, blockbuster or not. However, being able to participate with everyone and share has been one of the most empowering things that many of us don’t want to lose in the future. Film fests and cinemans, please, keep up with your accessibility and ask your audience what you can do to open up your films to others. When we can, we always choose to be in the theatre, but we can’t inhabit the places that give us joy with the rest of the world, YOU lose out on a percentage of us that will always champion the necessity of film in our lives.)

A few years ago, it was my first time ever having a birthday by myself. I had watched some of my favourite comfort watches and thought as a treat before bed I’d watch something that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I cued up The Wicker Man (1973) on a streaming service and poured one last glass of wine for the night.

The first frame on the screen were the words, “Sunday – the 29th of April, 1973.”

It was the day of my actual birthday.*

I quickly sobered up. It freaked me the hell out that I hadn’t noticed this before. In a sense, the movie, enhanced by it’s haunting Paul Giovanni score and quietly building horror, set a certain part of my brain ablaze. I did some research and later on that week went upon looking for more folk horror. The genre can’t be easily described, since it’s beyond descriptors of ethereal and back to nature themes. Besides Picnic At Hanging Rock, The Blood on Satan’s Claw, and The Witchfinder General, it was hard to find information on more accessible folk horror.

Picnic At Hanging Rock

I was pulled in to a combined feeling of empowerment, and anti-colonialism that this formerly Catholic girl, found intriguing and fearful. I loved it, the best I’ve found in horror films. If you dig deep enough, especially in this day and age, folk horror stories permeate everywhere we settle.

The Wicker Man

Kier- La Janisse‘s Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror does an excellent and enlightening deep dive into this film genre. Clocking in at three hours and a bit, the documentary segments itself into episodes that deal with different geographic timelines in folk horror, including its literary and historical origins. While it is a lengthy documentary, it’s worth it for its extensive research and I ultimately don’t want spoil the unravelling of it. The film plots itself like an educational documentary, however, it goes places I was really hoping it would go to. We’re talking Asian, Brazilian, Polish, Mexican, et cetera, folk horror; American folk horror, beyond The Witch, (Ganja & Hess), hitting even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s a whole segment in the American episode that digs up the screaming elephant in the ground: We all live on an Indian burial ground, and for god’s sake Native peoples are a diverse peoples with many nations within!

There’s so much more and in the end, this isn’t an analysis as usual on this site, but rather a high praise of a documentary that was most needed and emboldened because it goes beyond the popular Britannia of it. Much like Xavier Burgin‘s Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, Kier-La Janisse keeps the audience hanging from revelation to revelation. While I’m sure many horror fans or horror twitter will probably know some of the information explored in this film, it’s not just about the information, but the perspectives it opens up. The idea that we are all haunted by the stories of our ancestors and their folklore isn’t new. Neither is the fact there’s fear in the possibility in going back to the land these days of climate change. We’ve killed and buried for greed and continue doing so. What do we go back to actually? The land where the bodies will be exposed? Ourselves? There is a real fright in knowing that maybe there are truths we have to confront about ourselves. We will always know nothing. There’s freedom in that. Scary freedom.

If you’re really into this subject matter, I suggest buying this film to keep a list of the films, television shows, books, and experts the movie details. I’ve already started a search for some of these. The latest I’ve seen has been Ben Wheatley‘s A Field In England, which I adored for it’s occultish and Shakespearean qualities, but much can be expounded there after watching Janisse’s doc.

I haven’t been able to find a trailer for the doc, which is fine. Here’s a link to the filmmaker’s site with interviews and more of her work.

Ganja & Hess

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