Directed by: Konstantin Ershov, Georgiy Kropachyov
Are you a horror fan who wants to take a deep dive into what other countries have to offer in the realm of horror? Well, you’re in luck, because Severin Films has been killing it lately in that department and I am about to tell you about their latest offering.You may not have heard of it but 1967's Viy is an important film, as it was the first horror movie made in Soviet Russia. The good folks at Severin Films have re-released this watershed film for the first time in glorious HD.A young monk named Khoma (Leonid Kuravlyov) is tasked with overseeing the wake of a witch in a tiny and incredibly superstitious village. As expected, he isn’t thrilled about this job. His faith is put to the ultimate test, as demonic spirits taunt and terrorise him, all spurned on by the vengeful witch. Now it’s a battle for Khoma’s very soul in this highly creative and visually interesting '60s film.I will say up front that your standard horror film fan might have a hard time getting into Viy. It’s not gory, it’s not terribly fast paced and its narrative is not traditional in the least. That being said, if you are open to a more artsy, surreal film, this is a treasure of the horror genre.
The film opens with a voice-over: "Viy is a colossal creation of the imagination of simple folk. The tale itself is a purely popular legend. And I tell it without change, in all its simplicity, exactly as I heard it told to me." Thus setting up what I love the most about Viy, which is that it is very much a dark fairy tale that is steeped in rich and Russian folklore.The art department did an amazing job, especially the scenes in which our hero must battle evil forces in an old rundown church. The practical visual effects, while somewhat dated, are still highly entertaining and add a certain broken down charm. I also enjoyed that they used a lot of actual locations to somewhat root the film in reality.While I won’t spoil it for you, I will say the film races towards a wonderfully weird finale filled with spooky treats like walking skeletons, monsters, creepy disembodied hands etc. While maybe not for everyone, this is still a great film and really should be seen by every true cinephile.
Extras include 'Viy the Vampire: An interview with Richard Stanley'. It’s always a treat to hear Stanley (a legendary filmmaker in his own right) talk about any subject, as he is extremely knowledgeable and engaging. Another featurette entitled 'From the Woods to the Cosomos' traces the history of Soviet horror and Sci-fi. Also included is a collection of silent films and an original trailer. If you are someone who doesn’t like subtitles the film is nicely dubbed in English but also has Russian audio. Overall an impressive collection of extras that help inform you about the background of the film and its place in world cinema.