In their 4.5 Bloody Knife review, Maddie Flowers Sheehy calls Kier-La Janisse's three hour documentary a journey deep into the woods that seeks to define the origins of folk horror.
At over three hours, the Woodlands Dark and Days Betwitched (2021) documentary film produced and directed by Kier-La Janisse for Severin Films is an encyclopedia of folk horror. It’s both a history lesson and an analysis of the genre itself, segmented into six sub-sections, beginning with the "Unholy Trinity", credited for giving birth to folk horror which includes, Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968), Piers Haggard’s Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973) in addition to the British classics we all know. We’re taken into a deep-dive on paganism and its influence on cinema, eventually traveling around the world, with stops in the American South and ghostly fields of Japan. We travel to Sweden in Ari Aster's daylight horror Midsommar (2019), African tribal rituals, witchcraft in Italy and indigenous tragedies, through Estonia, Russia, the Australian Outback, and other places we would truly long to live deliciously.
"Folk horror is based upon the juxtiposition of the prosaic and the uncanny. It's strange things found in fields, lights flickering in dark woods, the darkness in children's play, being lost in ancient landscapes. The devil having a cup of tea with you. The power of ritual and the power of collective storytelling."
The documentary discusses over 200 films, television plays, episodes and literature that can be defined by the subgenre with over 50 interviewees including Robert Eggers (director, The Witch), Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (Author, 1000 Women in Horror), Kat Ellinger (Editor, Diabolique Magazine), Adam Scovell (author, Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange) and many more. It is a living tome of folk horror standards and hidden gems. Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched also introduced me to scholars, authors, filmmakers and magicians, all who not only love folk horror, but the meaning behind it all.
My watchlist exploded, along with my "people to watch" list, through bookstore searches and social media follows. My love of horror has grown significantly over the last handful of years. I love trashy slashers, bright red buckets of blood, the artistry of Giallo films and the neon-soaked body horror of the 80s. However, there's something about folk horror that draws me in the more I learn about the so-obliquely defined subgenre.
A patch of dead grass here, a society at odds with nature or the modernization of industry, a group of cultists growing in strength, and pieces of history all wrapped up and intertwined within. There is real magic in our collective history, when old women in the villages created protection charms to ward against evil and men in the town were afraid of the same old women's power. There were supernatural and moral stories that were passed on through the generations with terrifying events and creatures, tales and myths created in order to teach a lesson.
Folk horror is made up of folk tales, all directly influenced by the region, year and the culture they were created in. Folk tales where something has gone wrong forcing the narrative to sway and when the film is over, you have to clean the dirt from under your fingernails and take notice of what you've learned.