Book Review: Folk Horror by Adam Scovell

 

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What is Folk Horror? When did a group of disparate texts become linked under the banner of a relatively new subgenre? Do the works of M.R. James, Dennis Wheatley, and Nigel Kneale share common preoccupations? Were The Wicker Man, The Blood on Satan’s Claw, and Witchfinder General exploitation films or did they reveal something deeper about that era’s attempts to reconcile conflicting views of past? How has this previously critically scorned subgenre become the focus of scholarship?

Writer and filmmaker Adam Scovell’s text is a subjective survey of the genre that explores its genealogy, formation of a cannon, and wider considerations about cultural shifts. Arguing that the subgenre is fluid, the author suggests that instead of using Folk Horror as a term to retrospectively categrorise books, films, and TV series, it should be employed to open up discussion about thematically connected texts and what present day attempts to form a cannon may say about the critical community.

Acknowledging that ‘Folk’ is an ambiguous term, Scovell’s study suggests that it may refer to cultural practices, aesthetic practices specific to a particular community, and thematic commonalities. Particular focus is paid to the 1960s counter-culture movement and the emergence of alternative lifestyles. This subculture sought to establish a socially progressive model of society which incorporated Folk traditions.

Scovell concedes establishing a precise definition of ‘Horror’ is equally problematic. The term is constantly modified and historically has incorporated Folklore based narratives.

The author suggests that the term may have been originated by director Piers Haggard in a 2003 interview for Fangoria Magazine.

Mark Gatiss’ 2010 documentary series A History of Horror used the term to categorize three films; The Blood on Satan’s Claw, Witchfinder General, and The Wicker Man. Gatiss noted that the films ‘shared a common obsession with the British landscape, its folklore, and superstitions.’ Scovell uses the same three films to form a Folk Horror Chain which provides a theoretical model for analysis of the subgenre, commercial imperatives, reception by later generations of critics and fans, alongside an analysis of contemporary cultural trends.

Scovell’s study is wide-ranging in scope and rigorous in its analysis. The book analyses a vast array of Folk Horror literature, films, and TV series demonstrating that the subgenre is still a potent creative and commercial force. Establishing a theoretical base for further academic investigation, he identifies core thematic elements and offers potential explanations for why Folk Horror continues to resonate.

Folk Horror is published by Auteur Publishing

Adam Scovell’s has written about key Folk Horror films for the BFI.

Interview with Giedrė Žickytė

Director of documentary on the life of one of the most important photographers of the Soviet era talks about the film ahead of its screening at Ciné Lumière.

I wanted to ask you about working with archival footage: your previous film, “How We Played the Revolution”, and “Master and Tatyana” are both related by you working with material that was sourced from archives.

The footage was radically different in both instances – I do not want to repeat myself, I am interested in constantly finding something new. I am simply telling stories that were happening then, but are also connected to the now. And when one tells stories of the past, one cannot do without the archive.

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In one interview, you went as far as to call the film “Tanya and the Archive”.

That’s what seemed alive to me in this film – its main character Tanya with her archive, the archive of Vitas Luckus that she has kept safe for all these years. This film opened a door into a stunning, touching story that happened more than 30 years ago and was kept completely silent. This was a massive challenge – how do you create a film about someone who is no longer here with material that is not, so to say, live, and about photography, which is not a live medium? Cinema is a living thing. That was one of the toughest tasks – how to make a touching film out of all of this. I decided to tell this film through a love story – love was and is something that is alive, that is still alive with Tanya. Her love manifested through the preservation of this archive.

How did Vitas Luckus become your character, how did he come to you?

I feel as though this story is becoming quite well known. Skirmantas Valiulis told me of Vitas Luckus while I was still at university. A journalist from the Netherlands who had published an album of Luckus visited Vilnius and Skirmantas Valiulis invited me to a meeting with him – to talk about a Lithuanian photographer about whom no one was talking about in Lithuania… We met at the “Neringa” and I had no idea that this story would turn my life upside down years later – I was only 19 years old, after all. The story touched me.

Seven years later I found the photocopied pages of the photo album. I read them and I could not sleep for several nights. I started looking for information online and I was astounded at the lack of it – and started having an idea about making a film… Everything fell into place. I wrote a letter to Tatyana since I had to start somewhere and I could not start without her. It was an immensely long letter – you are not going to say, “hi, Tanya, I want to make a film!”. I told her about myself: who I am, how I found Vitas, what I felt, the questions that I have and why this story is important to me. So many questions that I cannot ask of him. Perhaps I could talk to him through her? The last sentence of the letter was: “will you take me back to Vitas’s life and time?”.

She did not answer me for two months – I kept checking every single day and cannot remember ever waiting for something so intensely. It was Christmas in 2008 and she wrote to me on Christmas Day, as if sending the best Christmas gift. The response was this: “yes, Giedre, I will take you back to Vitas’s life and time”. The following year we communicated intensively on the phone – Tanya did not use “Skype” back then, I installed it for her after going to the USA. We talked so much – she would call me, it would be daytime in the USA, night time in Lithuania… And when I visited her, it seemed to me as if I had known her for a hundred years. This is how we started our journey.

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It seems like there was a conversation between the three of you – Vitas, Tanya and you. In the beginning, perhaps, she was a mediator, but the conversations and the bond between you two changed that.

Tanya could never be just a mediator. Everyone had an individual relationship with Vitas – Tanya, his friends, others. I knew I could not speak about Vitas objectively since it’s simply impossible. I do not believe in an objective reality in cinema – what is real in cinema is the feeling, something we all feel. Everything else is simply interpretation. If I had attempted an objective portrayal of Vitas, it would have been an encyclopaedia, a collection of every single version of events. Cinema is something else. Like “How We Played the Revolution” – there were many historical events, but the film is their interpretation. Its essence lies in human emotions, their feelings, the fact they could stand before tanks without being armed. That is true and undeniable. Tanya is alive – she has changed, but her love is alive and it served as a basis for my film and helped me orient myself in that great flood of material.

Interview by Paulina Drėgvaitė

Master and Tatyana screening Wednesday plus Q&A with director Giedre Žickyte – 14th June at 6:30 PM at CINÉ LUMIÈRE – Institut Français du Royaume-Uni.

DVD Review: Maigret – Season 1

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For French viewers, Bruno Cremer’s performance of Paris-based detective Maigret is the interpretation against which all others are judged. Owning the role in the way that Jeremy Brett and Joan Hickson did respectively with Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple, Cremer’s realisation of the pipe-smoking detective is the most authentic screen embodiment of Simenon’s fictitious sleuth.

Premiering a year before ITV’s Michael Gambon starring adaptation, the Cremer series remains a regular fixture on French TV thanks to constant repeats. Running for fourteen years, the producers originally intended to adapt the entirety of the Maigret canon (75 Maigret novels and 29 short stories). 54 feature-length episodes were filmed before plans were abandoned due to Cremer’s ill health.

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Best known to English-speaking audiences for his appearance in William Friedkin’s 1977 remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, Cremer appeared in more than fifty films. He worked with many of Europe’s most prominent directors, including Costa Gavras and Luchiano Visconti.

Already in his early 60s at the time of casting, Cremer had the unenviable task of following Jean Richard who had played the role on French television since 1965 and for an entire nation was Maigret despite being publicly derided by Georges Simenon.
Cremer’s core appeal was that he perfectly conveyed Maigret’s world-weariness, compassion, and humour.

Restoring credibility to a character that over the course of numerous adaptations been reduced to a hat wearing sleuth, Cremer’s fondness for the novels and determination to be true to the source material resulted in the most complex portrayal to date.

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Comprising the first six feature films, this DVD boxset is more faithful to Simenon’s material than ITV’s recent Rowan Atkinson starring version. Despite its age, the series remains a satisfyingly atmospheric recreation of Simenon’s world thankfully devoid of the ersatz Frenchness which has plagued other adaptations.

If you’ve discovered Maigret via Penguin’s issuing of newly translated editions this should be your next DVD boxset purchase.

Maigret – Season 1 is available to order from Amazon.

Book Review: Icelandic Folktales & Legends by Jacqueline Simpson

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While Iceland’s Sagas have been recognised as one of Europe’s most significant bodies of literature its folktales have received comparatively scant attention. The popular conception of European folklore has been largely defined by the Grimm brothers work in preserving Germanic traditions of fairy tales.
For too long Iceland’s rich and distinctive version of the form was largely unknown in the English-speaking world. First published in 1972, Jacqueline Simpson’s study was an attempt to redress the balance. The text presents a selection of narratives which demonstrate that Icelandic folklore and fairytales were localised and aetiological. The author argues that the tales were originally told by a desperately poor hard-working community as a way of understanding their environment and also to reaffirm beliefs. Infused with humour and pathos, the collection provides an invaluable insight into early settlers beliefs and wishes.
Icelandic Folktales & Legends is not a definitive account of the nation’s mythology. Choosing to present thematic consistency rather than a loosely focussed cross section, Jacqueline Simpson has sourced tales from the first three chapters of Jón Árnason’s The Folktales and Fairy Tales of Iceland. The author’s decision to emphasise narratives featuring ghosts, magic, and supernatural beings has resulted in the exclusion of topics and themes which are arguably of equal historical and cultural significance.
Viewed as an introduction, not a definitive overview, the collection is an intriguing voyage into a world filled with trolls, elves, and hidden people.

Icelandic Folktales & Legends is published by The History Press

Is “Out of Thin Air” the next “Making a Murderer”?

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Did six innocent people confess to a murder they didn’t commit? Why has the case remained unsolved? A new documentary sheds light on the investigation.

On the night of January 26th, 1974 Gudmundur Einarsson, an 18-year-old labourer, went to a dance hall in Hafnarfjordur, a port town 10km south of Reykjavik. When the venue closed at two in the morning he attempted to trek home despite the harsh winds and heavy snow. Two girls driving through the town claimed to have seen Gudmundur and an aggressive drunk attempting to hitchhike.

Later that morning Gudmundur was spotted trying to make his way home alone through the thick snow. According to a witness report, he was heavily intoxicated and fell in front of an oncoming car. This would be the last known sighting of Gudmundur.

When Gudmundur failed to turn up for work he was reported missing. Not suspecting foul play, the police conducted a thorough search. Unable to find any trace of Gudmundur’s whereabouts the file was closed after two weeks pending further evidence.

Ten months later Geirfinnur Einarsson (no relation), a 32 year old digger-driver, returned home from work. A colleague had invited him to go and see a film at the local cinema. Geirfinnur declined the offer, claiming he had to be meet someone later that night. The colleague drove Geirfinnur to a nearby cafe where he bought a packet of cigarettes. Returning home he answered the phone and was heard by his wife saying “I’ve been there already. I’ll be there”. He went out again, drove his car and parked near to the cafe. Geirfinnur was last seen in a phone booth. The keys were left in his car’s ignition waiting for a driver who would never return.

Six petty criminals known to the police for alcohol and drug smuggling became prime suspects in the investigation. Initially denying any involvement all six would confess to their involvement in a double murder after being broken by lengthy interrogations, repeated bouts of torture and extended periods of solitary confinement.

Attempts to withdraw the statements were dismissed by the Supreme Court.

To date the police have found no physical evidence of murder.

Halfway through the investigation an embattled government facing a toxic cocktail of the Cod War and a general strike enlisted the services of German “super cop” Karl Schutz to oversee the investigation. Employing a more forceful style of interrogation Schutz extracted fresh confessions that enabled all six to be found guilty for their part in a double murder.

New documentary Out of Thin Air picks up the case and shines a light on this enthralling, enraging, and perplexing tragedy. A real-life Nordic Noir for crime fans yearning to watch something new after Making a Murderer, The Keepers, and The Jinx.

Quentin Bates’ chapter in Truly Criminal: A Crime Writers’ Association Anthology of True Crime provides an exhaustive overview of this case and its continued relevance.

A 2014 BBC World Service documentary interviewed the surviving suspects.

DVD Review: The Octopus – Series One

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Forerunner to Gomorrah demonstrates that Italian Noir is harder edged and more pessimistic than its Scandinavian counterpart.

Italian TV’s first home-grown blockbuster, The Octopus premièred in 1984 and ran for ten seasons produced over seventeen years. Seen in over 100 countries, including the UK where Channel Four screened the first three series. Phenomenally successful in Soviet-era Russia where lead actor Michele Placido became a sex symbol.

Michele Placido is today best known to English-speaking audiences for directing the feature film Romanzo Criminale. As a young man he moved to Rome to study acting and enrol in a police academy. Making his performance début in a stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he trod the boards for two years before embarking on a successful screen career. By the time he signed on to play Commissario Corrado Cattani he was a well-regarded actor in his home country. Playing the lead in The Octopus raised his profile on the international arena. After a particularly tense episode, concerned viewers wrote to Pravda suggesting his character should be offered asylum.

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A watershed moment in Italian TV history. Breaking down barriers between cinema and television industries, The Octopus was the start of a movement which saw key figures from the film industry actively seeking out opportunities to work in television.

Acknowledged for making the public more conscious of the extent organised crime had infiltrated and tainted every aspect of society. Its title refers to the Mafia’s tentacles stretching out and holding public bodies, private sector industries, and media in a tight grip.

When a senior police officer is murdered in an apparent drive-by shooting Commissario Corrado Cattani is reassigned to a small Sicilian town. Tasked with bringing the local mafia boss to justice he soon learns that the entire community is tainted by corruption.

Brutally violent The Octopus is groundbreaking television. Stretching the boundaries of what could be shown on Italian TV, it’s left a lasting legacy. Without this series, Gomorrah and Romanzo Criminale would never have been produced.

The Octopus – Series One is available to order from Amazon.

For more information about Italian Noir check out Barry Forshaw’s Euro Noir

DVD Review: Seaside Hotel – Season One (Badehotellet)

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A period drama starring The Killing‘s Bjarne Henriksen has become an unexpected hit, proving that Danish TV has more to offer than a continuous stream of crime shows.

Series creators Hanna Lundblad and Stig Thorsboe worked on Krøniken (Better Times), a mid-noughties programme that focused on two families alongside the development of Danish broadcasting up until the 1970s. Keen to work on another historical based show they drew inspiration from the UK drama Upstairs Downstairs. The pair decided to use the setting of a beach hotel after reading a newspaper article about coastal resorts during the interwar period.

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Planned to run for five seasons, Seaside Hotel is a Downtown Abbey style show that mixes romance, tragedy and comedy as it follows the lives of the affluent and serving classes from 1928 through to 1932. From the giddy heights of the Jazz Age to the depths of the Great Depression, the personal lives of staff and tourists are transformed by events far beyond Denmark’s borders.

During the Summer of 1928, Europe was still healing after the trauma of World War 1. Within a year the world would face a financial crisis that paved the way for a second global conflict. In the first season, a group of holidaymakers descend on a northern coastal resort seemingly intoxicated by misguided beliefs in a future free of conflict. Oblivious to the forces that would soon change their lives the wealthy patrons of this resort celebrate their holidays with reckless abandon.

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Deliberately paralleling the current economic crisis with events from eighty-nine years ago the screenwriters are discretely commentating on the profligacy and inequalities that brought misery to millions and allowed extremist beliefs to flourish.

Meticulous in attention to detail, costume and set designers have taken great care in recreating the golden age of seaside hotels. Unable to find an existing hotel which would be available for many months of filming the producers constructed a detailed exterior set in a field. With the addition of some sand dunes and computer generated imagery, a highly effective illusion was created convincing viewers that they had been transported to a real seaside hotel.

A significant gamble by its broadcast network, DR. Seaside Hotel represents an attempt to broaden the range of home grown series and demonstrate that Denmark has more to offer than Nordic Noir.

Seen by 57 percent of the Danish TV audience, at the time of writing work has begun on the fifth and final series. Subtitled versions of the first two seasons are available on DVD.

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Each series focuses on the characters’ lives in a specific year. Tonally very different from Matador, this version of Danish history mixes broad comedy with moments of intimate tragedy. Through the prism of the past, the writers provide a subtle commentary which suggests we have not learnt from the past mistakes of history.

Scrupulously researched, Seaside Hotel is a brilliantly sketched account of false optimism. This warm, witty, and moving series is worth tracking down.

Seaside Hotel – Season One is available to order from Amazon