Tuesday, 14 October 2014

31 Days of Horror: Viy (BNN) (1967)

Viy (BNN) (1967)
Director: Konstantin Ershov and Georgi Kropachyov
Starring: Leonid Kuravlyov, Natalya Varley, and Aleksey Glazyrin
Running Time: 72 min

 This was the first Russian horror film ever and we all know what the first attempts usually look like.  Also, it was shot in 1967, during the cold war and it's not like this is Tarkovsky, a director who's been around for years, so I am leery about this film.   However, it is based on a story that wasn't written by Russian novelist Nikolai Gogol in the 1800's and I do like horror stories from back then, so maybe  This could be the War and Peace of horror movies, da?

  After leaving the seminary school for the summer, Khoma Brutus and this two friends get lost in the woods at night.  They find an out of the way farm house and bang on the gate, so they can wake up the owner to ask if they can stay the night.  The haggard old woman who answers the gate at first refuses, then changes are mind and splits the three of them up. One in the house, one in the loft and Khoma in the barn.  While Khoma is trying to get some much needed rest, the old woman sneaks into the barn and tries to get close to Khoma, which he is totally not into.  Eventually, she ends up riding him...  literally, on his shoulders and she grabs a broom, so they can fly off into the country side.   Khoma is scared as they hover high above the ground and he curses the old witch out, until she brings them back to earth.  Once they land back on the ground, like any good christian, Khoma beats the old woman to near death because she is a witch.  Unfortunately, the witch turns into a beautiful young woman and Khoma terrified at what he has done runs away back to the seminar.
  A day after returning to the seminar, he is summoned to the office of the high priest and is told that a wealthy farmer as specifically requested that he reads the last rites for his daughter before she dies to save her soul.  He tells Khoma that the dying daughter asked for him by name and he will be leaving right away with the farmer's men.  Khoma tries to weasel out of it but he is forced into the wagon with the farmer's men.  On the way, the stop for a evening of drinks and then get back on the road to reach the farm by dawn.  When they do, the daughter is dead and when Khoma see the body of the girl, he realizes it was the witch that he had killed. whoops.  He is approached by the father and told that he must spend the next three nights locked in the church, praying for her soul because that was her dying wish and if he refuses than he will receive a thousand lashes from his men.  Will Khoma be able to muster his courage and spend three terrifying night with the body of an evil vengeful witch and if he does what kind of horrors await him there as punishment for killing the witch in the first place?

  This film was a pleasant surprise in many ways for me. It was a lot of fun to watch and there was some exceptional special effects and make-up, that someone wouldn't expect from Soviet Russia back then.  What caught me off guard was that there was a lot of humour in the film, right off the bat with the seminary school students being terrible and when let go for the summer, it looked like vikings  raiding the nearby village.  As well as, Khoma and the farmers, always drinking and it seemed more like slapstick than horror for the first half of the film, with Khoma trying to escape his captors.  The dialogue was witty and sharp, which makes me wonder if it's from the source material or if it was added in from the screenplay writers.
  However this is a horror, so besides all the clever dialogue and humorous posturing, there was a some pretty incredible effects, for a Soviet film in 1967, used in the final showdown with Khoma and the witch.  The directors unloaded with both barrels some of the creepiest monsters and nightmarish sequences that I'd seen in a while.  The witch ends up calling all the demons from hell and when the creatures that arrive, they looked pretty hellish, in a good way.  And it wasn't only how they looked but the way the creatures arrived into the scenes.  Hands grabbing from the walls, ghoulish paintings coming to life and dozens of unnameable creatures coming from the ground.  I found it really impressive.

  The only issues that I have are probably due to budget, technological limitations of the time and the Soviet Union being so restrictive to their film makers.  Sure, there are some scenes that are obvious green screens and during the first two time nights of the prayers, the witch spinning around the scared circle does get a little monotonous but the filming techniques and shots that these directors are achieving for this time and place are pretty incredible.
  The only other thing was that you don't know what happened to Khoma's friends, until the end.  Which just kind of bugged me.  I thought that they would have turned up earlier.  It's not that important but I hate when characters disappear for not reason.

 This a fantastic film and if you can find it, watch it!  The story may seem hokey and pedestrian at first but it has some snappy dialogue and the ending is brilliant.  This is an underrated gem that can be enjoyed by a horror fan of any age and at any time.

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