Vermont International film Foundation & Vermont Folklife Center Present:
What Do we mean by “Folk Horror”?
As with most genre terms there is plenty of room to quibble over definitions, but one of my favorite takes on folk horror comes from Andy Paciorek of Folk Horror Revival in his essay From the Forests, Fields and Furrows: An Introduction. In it Paciorek explores the history of the term in relation to film and fiction, and examines writer Adam Scovell’s extremely insightful perspectives on the topic.
Beyond Folk Horror Revival and Scovell’s own blog, Celluloid Wicker Man, a quick Google search will turn up plenty more explorations of—and debates on—what constitutes folk horror, so I encourage you to go forth and seek them out.
As for this folklorist, I take a fairly broad view of what I consider “folk horror”: any creative work that draws folklore (belief, folk and fairy tales, urban legends, etc.) into the conventions of horror fits the bill for me.
In comics this includes titles like Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook’s Harrow County, Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods and Baba Yaga’s Assistant, the striking (often extremely disturbing) work of Julia Gfrörer, and even lighter fare like Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden. In fiction it’s hard to top Manly Wade Wellman’s “Silver John” stories (soon to be republished as The Complete John the Balladeer) and the classic works by Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Susan Cooper, Angela Carter, and Shirley Jackson among many others.
As for films, the list is long, and includes genre-defining movies like Witchfinder General, Wicker Man, Blood on Satan’s Claw, Cry of the Banshee and their more modern relations like the VVitch, A Field in England and Midsommar, as well as wonderful, terrifying, folklore-inspired films like An American Werewolf in London, Pan’s Labyrinth, Company of Wolves, Blair Witch Project, The Hallow, and on and on.
I also love the Hong Kong-made jiangshi horror-comedy films like Encounters of the Spooky Kind and the Mr. Vampire series that feature Taoist priests battling hopping vampires.
So go! Buy some comics and books, hit Neflix and Amazon and Shudder, and dive into that weird, creepy place where folklore gets scary, but quick.
— Andy Kolovos
What about the films?
Is there such a thing as Vermont folk horror? Through the Vermont Folk Horror Roadshow we open that discussion by drawing on two films recently preserved by the Vermont Archive Movie Project (VAMP), a program of the Vermont International Film Foundation.
Made by a Vermont-based women’s collective, TRANSFORMATIONS (1972) is, more than anything else, a celebration of the 60s/70s women’s movement and the importance neo-pagan spirituality within it. Filled with night fires, music and ritual, it fits the folk horror bill soundly. Walter Ungerer’s THE ANIMAL (1976) makes its way into the Vermont folk horror canon by a more meandering route—highlighting key elements of the genre such as rural isolation, the precariousness of outsider status, the weight of the unexplained, and (above all) landscape and environment as a locus of fear.
And I know Steve Bissette has much more to say, so join us when the Vermont Horror Roadshow crawls into your hamlet this fall.