October 25–31, 2019

It’s in the Trees! It’s Coming! British Folk Horror!

With American director Ari Aster’s sunbathed Swedish nightmare Midsommar bringing renewed attention to the pastoral, pagan freak-out known as folk horror, The Cinematheque thought it apt to explore the lineage and enduring legacy of this most unholy horror subgenre in honour of Samhain (pronounced sah-win), the ancient Celtic harvest festival that predates Halloween.

Coined in 2003 by British director Piers Haggard in reference to his 1971 satanic-panic curio The Blood on Satan’s Claw, the term folk horror” didn’t gain traction until horror aficionado Mark Gatiss used it in his 2010 BBC docu-series History of Horror to describe a trinity of like-minded UK horror films (Haggard’s included) that emerged in the late 1960s and early 70s. Chief among them was Robin Hardy’s now-legendary The Wicker Man (1973), a sinister, sing-song hallucination that, unlike its Olde England-set predecessors, tapped terror from the premise of pagan-god worshippers existing in modern-day Britain. That conceit was not dissimilar to the one in RKO horror-auteur Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 occult classic and seminal folk-horror forebear Night of the Demon, which pits an American sceptic against runic hexes and devil-conjuring cultists in contemporary London. (It also supplied the audio snippet It’s in the trees! It’s coming!,” a near-perfect summation of folk horror’s rural anxieties, for Kate Bush’s 1985 scorcher Hounds of Love.”)

This Samhain season, till the fields of British folk horror with screenings of The Wicker Man, in its director-approved final cut”; Night of the Demon, in its original full-length cut; and, in a 35mm engagement, Brit cult director Ben Wheatley’s deranged Wicker Man remix Kill List (2011), arguably the film that initiated the folk-horror revival.


List of Programmed Films

Date Film Title Director(s) Year Country
2019-Oct The Wicker Man Robin Hardy 1973 United Kingdom
2019-Oct Night of the Demon Jacques Tourneur 1957 United Kingdom
2019-Oct Kill List Ben Wheatley 2011 United Kingdom