Viy (1967)

Directors: Georgi Kropachyov & Konstantin Yershov

Now I first heard about this film when I encountered it in the 1001 Movies book. I knew there was Soviet SF and fantasy, but I’d never heard anything about Soviet horror before. Then a few months later I found it on DVD at Abbey’s (one of the first import discs I bought there). Then when I watched it… eh? Suffice to say that whatever I’d got was, well, not quite what I was expecting somehow. I think I was expecting a more conventional horror film than Viy really is. Still, a few other folks have watched it over on the ICM forum for this year’s horror challenge, so I thought I should give it another go and see if I’d missed something first time round. Lo, for I had, namely the voiceover introduction at the very start of the film, the words of the story’s original author Nikolai Gogol characterising it as “a colossal creation of the imagination of simple folk… a purely popular legend”. Now, Wiki queries just how much actual “popular” myth the story really contains, but I think that’s beside the point anyway; for me, at least, that introduction suddenly made me realise how I should view the thing. It’s not a horror film in the usual western sense, but more of a folkloric thing like Paradjanov’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors… obviously nothing like in the same style or anything, but perhaps in similar spirit, for want of a better word (and, also, with similar Ukrainian setting and elements). I probably wouldn’t have got that feeling had I not seen the Paradjanov film, obviously, but never mind: at least now I finally realised what I was dealing with and so had a better appreciation of what the film actually does (and of the special effects side of things too; comparatively primitive as they may look, they were obviously revolutionary within the Soviet industry). It was a lot more fun to watch second time round as a result, which I suppose goes to show some films really do require more than one viewing (and maybe a bit of additional filmic experience)…

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