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10 TIMES FOLK HORROR MADE US TOO SCARED FOR A COUNTRY WALK

Written by Helen Mullane

There’s something inherently spooky about the countryside. As leaves rustle and darkness falls, the empty landscape, so gorgeous in the sunshine, can seem alive with fearful possibilities. Perhaps it’s this almost universal feeling that has led to the resurgence in folk horror. As more of us live in the cities, the country starts to look even more remote and fraught with danger.

Starting out as a genre found mostly in novels, with many of the later films based on the work of writers such as MR James and Dennis Wheatley, folk horror enjoyed its first cinematic heyday in the sixties and seventies with classic Hammer horror movies like The Reptile and Plague of the Zombies, and then its most iconic expression in the The Wicker Man, which informs what many of us think when we think of classic folk horror; weird villagers, pagan rituals, and something rotten among the green rolling hills of Great Britain. But there’s so much to this genre as it has inspired books, art, comics and had some of its most classic explorations on TV.

I have always been fascinated by folk horror – I got my first peek at the terrors that inhabit the pastoral idyll as a kid spending inordinate hours in the library devouring any book that came my way. On the shelves, where worn out and dusty tomes were sold for 10p a pop, I discovered Alan Garner, C.S.Lewis (trust me, The Silver Chair is much scarier than you remember) and Nicholas Fisk and a lifelong love was born. As I got older I found scarier versions of the form, and my fascination never waned. This is a genre with something for the naive and battle-hardened alike, and it is perhaps this range that helps it to endure.

In my upcoming comic, Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, I draw from a deep well of folk horror influences, and seek to bring something new to the genre. Here're 10 of my favourites across film, TV, books and comics. These are just the tip of the iceberg and I hope they inspire further investigation.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US PENDA’S FEN

Alan Clarke’s psychosexual classic explores the repressive side of religion as a young man comes to terms with his sexuality against the backdrop of a sleepy country town. It was made by the BBC, one of their classic ‘Play for Today’ productions, a common form of prestige TV at one point. Penda’s Fen is arguably an apex of a form that brought us other stone cold classics such as Robin Red Breast and Lost Hearts.

small-coverBuy Wytches from Amazon UK/US WYTCHES

In Wytches, Scott Snyder and Jock have created a truly stunning new monster. Jock’s impressionist art and Hollingsworth’s wild colour meets Scott’s emotional tale of fatherly love to make this series so much more than just a monster story.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US SAGA OF SWAMP THING #37-50: AMERICAN GOTHIC

It’s no surprise that Swamp Thing has often reached an apex of weirdness and terror under the stewardship of British creators such as Alan Moore and Steve Bissett (and later Grant Morrison and Mark Millar), as the character perfectly lends himself to the trappings of folk horror. There are several storylines that would have been at home in this list, but American Gothic stands out for Bissett’s truly extraordinary art and Moore’s creation of another iconic character who remains a stalwart of the DC stable to this day, everyone’s favourite occult detective, John Constantine.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US HARROW COUNTY

The UK doesn’t have a monopoly on weird happenings and ancient terrors. When the genre meets Southern Gothic the results can be terrifying. In Harrow County Cullen Bunn has crafted a world where the macabre and the charming can happily co-exist.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US THE WICKER MAN

It is amazing to think that a film with the sort of enduring popularity of The Wicker Man flew under the radar on its release. With hindsight we can see how the film perfectly encapsulates the classic themes of repression, forbidden sexuality and the rotten heart of the country idyll that have continued to strike a chord with audiences to this day.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW

Speaking of that very British fear of human sensual experience, nowhere has the fear of burgeoning sexuality been explored so dramatically than in Blood on Satan’s Claw. The kids are most certainly not alright in this shocking story of an idyllic village torn apart by a cult of young people determined to give Satan himself a new earthly home.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US MIDSOMMAR

Folklore and the occult are heavy presences in Ari Aster’s sun-drenched follow up to the smash hit Hereditary. The film draws heavily from folk horror tropes, as once again an idyllic, welcoming community is rotten underneath.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US THE OWL SERVICE

Alan Garner is one of the giants of not just folk horror, but all those surrounding genres that use the eeriness and mystery of the British countryside to great effect. There are so many of his stories that could grace this list from the breathless fantasy of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen to classic television shows such as Beasts, but here we discuss a true classic of both forms, a wonderful novel that was adapted into a stunning YA TV show. A direct inspiration to Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, The Owl Service is based on a Welsh myth in which a woman created from flowers betrays her husband and so is transformed into an owl. The story explores revenge and desire, and the intensity of the teen experience.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US A FIELD IN ENGLAND

This list would not be complete without at least one reference to one of the key figures in the recent folk horror resurgence, Ben Wheatley. First with Kill List and then A Field in England this British director has consistently played with the tropes of a genre that somehow seems to be part of the national psyche. Even the more lighthearted Sightseers could be argued to fit into the type, but it’s in A Field in England with its references to The Witchfinder General, its bucolic landscapes and drugged out surrealism that Wheatley’s inspirations are the most clear.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US CHILDREN OF THE STONES

In many ways in the sixties and seventies folk horror found its natural home and most accomplished expressions on television. Children of the Stones is a masterpiece of slow burn YA terror as a young boy and his dad find an ancient and deadly secret in a seemingly perfect quaint English village.

Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen is set for release on March 10th, 2020.

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About The Author
James Ferguson
Lord of the Funny Books
James has a 2nd grade reading level and, as a result, only reads books with pictures. Horror is his 5th favorite genre right after romantic comedy and just before silent films. No one knows why he's here, but he won't leave.
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