The horror movie is one of the most popular genres of film. We just love to be scared out of our wits, but there are within this genre of ghosts, ghoulies, vampires and zombies a collection of films that belong to a more unsettling sub-genre. The folk-lore or rural horror film has more than likely been responsible for recruiting fans to the genre as a whole than any other section of this style of film. Yes, many love the slasher films, also there are the sci-fi horror films that were so popular in the late 1950.s and through the 1960’s and 1970’s. Plus the Gothic Horrors and the more psychological stories but, movies in this rural collective for me at least, are even more chilling and unsettling than any Exorcist or flesh-eating fest of gore and blood. The rural horror has to it a greater level of authenticity and a deeper and more believable storyline it oozes reality and draws the audience into a world that is sometimes harsh and violent, a world that consists of remote villages, ghostly fog shrouded landscapes and eerie shadowy sets that are scattered with pagan rituals and evil witchery, but also at times it is the people who are seeking out the purveys of witchcraft in these movies that are the malevolent ones. A number of rural horrors have been based upon events that had taken place in 17th century England or in the Americas during the same period, when Witch finders scoured the land all too eager to burn the latest innocent party to be accused of the black arts, whether they be male, female or child and in some cases animals.
The most well-known example of this type of movie has to be Michael Reeves WITCHFINDER GENERAL scored by beautifully by Paul Ferris and starring Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins, followed by the German horror MARK OF THE DEVIL, which had a rather unusual soundtrack penned by Michael Holm that at times broke into what sounded like music from a Winnetou western with electric violin performances also being utilised, but there again Michael Holm was not a film music composer, but a well-known German vocalist.
WITCHFINDER was the far better film and contained a superior score, with MARK OF THE DEVIL taking a gore fest stance, that at times I have to say was gratuitous and stomach churning, the producers of the film taking every opportunity to promote the violence in adverts and trailers for the film. The sequel MARK OF THE DEVIL PART 2 aka- WITCHES was even more gruesome. The score was provided by Michael Holm once again with British composer John Scott contributing some cues. Then there are examples such as THE BLOODY JUDGE or THRONE OF FIRE directed by Jess Franco, with a score by Bruno Nicolai who was Ennio Morricone’s musical director in his early career. Scenes of torture and graphic violence being scattered throughout.
Hammer films also produced a handful of worthy movies that took place in and around rural settings, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, music by James Bernard.
THE WITCHES, with a score by Richard Rodney Bennett and THE REPTILE with music by Australian born Don Banks for example.
CRY OF THE BANSHEE too is another such film released this time by Hammer’s U.S.A. based rival American International pictures in 1970, with the film having two scores one by Les Baxter and the other which I am confident was the original score being replaced, this was the work of Scottish composer Wilfred Josephs and in my opinion was a fine work that outstripped Baxter’s. Hammer and A.I.P collaborated to release THE VAMPIRE LOVERS also in 1970 with a score penned by Harry Robinson. But was THE VAMPIRE LOVERS more of a Gothic tale, as opposed to being rural?
Thinking about this I looked also at TWINS OF EVIL again scored by Robinson and VAMPIRE CIRCUS that had a powerful soundtrack courtesy of David Whittaker, both are striking examples of Hammer vampire movies, and I personally think I would categorise as more rural horrors than Gothic, simply because of their settings.
A FIELD IN ENGLAND, containing a rather offbeat musical score by Jim Williams is a movie I have watched a few times, but it’s not one that really resonates with me, and I have to say the same about the score. But it is highly thought of in various circles and is an important part of the folk-lore/rural collection of movies. Directed by Ben Wheatley, it was set at the time of the English civil war and focuses upon a group of deserters who leave the battlefield and make their way across country and end up in an overgrown field. They are then snared by an alchemist who forces them into helping him search the field for a treasure that he believes to be buried there. A simple plot you may think, but when you delve deeper into the storyline and also pay more attention to the characters that we are introduced to it becomes clear that this is no simple story with the English civil war being utilised as a backdrop to a psychedelic horror. The alchemist O’Neil we soon begin to see as a representation of Charles the first, or at least the establishment that has sprung up around the incredibly arrogant Monarch, his attempts to enslave and ridicule the Whitehead character in the story and his friends, can be seen as the Monarchies attempts to rule the working class or simple folk of the land.
Whitehead is a Puritan religious teacher, but because of the way he is treated by O’Neil his mood and attitudes begin to alter, in a very similar way that the British people began to react and eventually rebel against Royalty in the 17th Century. Whitehead eventually turning full circle to become a fearsome warrior in very much the same way that the mild-mannered Puritans turned into a force to be reckoned with as the civil war progressed and eventually emerged as the victors delivering England from the clutches of an uncaring King, who was out of touch with his people.
THE WICKER MAN, scored by Paul Giovanni, is without any doubt a shining example of British made rural/folk-lore horror, and positively glows when compared to its rather lack lustre re-make starring the dull and uninspiring Nicholas Cage, but for me the original was not as wonderful as many said it was and still say it is, but there again it is all about personal preference. The music I felt did work but is again not a soundtrack I choose to play that often if at all these days. The recording containing dialogue as well as the vocal performances of the band Magnet with just a handful of orchestral pieces, that are mostly drowned out or interrupted by dialogue excerpts from the movie.
THE CRUCIBLE, easily fits into being a rural horror or drama, although it is not a blood spattered tale of witch finding, but more of a cerebral one, which focuses upon accusations of witch craft and the law and its way of handling these and also the fashion in which it punishes individuals. At times this kind of movie succeeds in being more unnerving and conveying a sense of apprehension and dread than all the hangings, burnings and acts of violence that are associated with hunting so called Witches in the 17th century, because they are I suppose more real to a watching audience. I found THE CRUCIBLE to be gripping and engrossing but at the same time it was unsettling and interesting. Of course, the performances of Daniel Day Lewis, Winona Ryder, Joan Allen and Paul Scofield helped as did George Fenton’s atmospheric score and the cinematography of Andrew Dunn.
Looking at this genre of rural horrors, I also think that we can include more recent films such as THE VILLAGE and THE VVITCH. Although THE VILLAGE as many of us are aware has a twist in its tale.
With the 19th Century Village or as we are led to believe it is, in reality being a community that was established in the 1970’s where the inhabitants have come together because of grief related situations, and all agree to live there as if it were the 19th Century away from the ravages of modern life. James Newton Howard’s excellent score received an Academy Award Nomination, the music being filled with tender emotion and pulsating drama, and adding much to the film’s overall atmosphere.
THE WITCH (2016), was the directorial debut of film maker Robert Eggers, the movie is an impressive and disturbing piece of cinema that at times is so realistic that one feels as if you are actually witnessing the events that are taking place, it is a dread filled story and although a horror movie does not jump out on you as being horrific or indeed gory, it relies instead upon the actions and the scenarios of the central characters evoking a sense of anxiety and fear even at times when nothing menacing is occurring the apprehensive air can literally be cut with a knife. The horror or the dread that is purveyed by Eggers is controlled with precision in each and every scene, teetering on the edge the director utilises the practise of what might or could happen rather than what actually takes place and also relies on the setting of the story to conjure up a sense of isolation and uncertainty.
Set in the 17th Century, it is the tale of a New England family who decide to leave the relative safety of their fellow settlers to set off into the wilderness, the Father played by Ralph Ineson believes that they have to do this because the settlement and its community are not living close enough to the word of God, he thinks that by going off into the wild countryside he and his family will become one with nature and thus be closer to God. They decide to make their home next to a dark and inhospitable forest and it is soon established that forest contains something more than God’s creatures and plants, there is something that is malevolent residing within the shadows, but what could it be?
The sight of the forest alone sets the tone of the story line and makes one mind work overtime in thinking up all sorts of unspeakable situations that could happen. It is recognized that there is a WITCH residing within the forest, but it is not the sight of this Witch that is the focus of the proceedings, the movie works because it ponders the question what will this witch do and what is her course of action towards the family if any at all. What also makes the film effective is the excellent cast, none of whom are names within the film industry. The dialogue is speech era- appropriate English which itself is somewhat unnerving and gives the film further credence. The families baby boy is mysteriously kidnapped literally disappearing in front of his sisters eyes whilst she is playing with him, the family become suspicious of the girl and think that she could be the witch, they then in turn become suspicious of each other and start to argue and disagree about everything, the rest I will let you find out for yourselves, but it is a film that will leave you affected and pondering upon the films content long after you have watched it, the aura and atmosphere at times being almost suffocating whilst you are waiting for something to happen. The music by Canadian composer Mark Korven is superbly supportive. The score being totally in tune with the story, it compliments and enhances the imagery on screen perfectly. It is not a work that one would sit down and listen to on a Sunday morning with your toast and tea, or indeed any afternoon or evening, but as film music it works and works extremely well. The composer incorporates strings and choral elements into the work and at times relies on very subdued nuances, clusters or snatches and stabs of music to create suitably unsettling effects and atmospherics. But these are all live performances as the director insisted that there should be no electronic sounds or support.
The choral performances within the WITCH evoked memories of a TV score from the 1970’s entitled CHILDREN OF THE STONES, which too can be included as a part of the rural or folk lore collective. It was a Harlech Television production (HTV also produced ARTHUR OF THE BRITONS in the 1970’s) that was first shown in 1976, although made for children’s television in the UK it is in my opinion firmly a part of the horror genre, and there were concerns at the time of it first being screened that it was too scary to be shown on a children’s TV slot.
The uneasy sounding music for the series was the work of composer Sidney Sager, and every time the series is discussed the score and opening theme is always mentioned as being chilling and highly atmospheric. The choral led score was performed by The Ambrosian Singers and has t it a very modern sound as in experimental. As far as I am aware the score was not released on any form of recording, which is a great pity as it is an absorbing and outstanding work.
A film which Hammer studios produced with vampires at its centre but not the infamous Count Dracula, was VAMPIRE CIRCUS. It is I think one of the finer examples of Hammer films from the 1970’s and combines touches of gothic horror with that of rural and folk-lore inspired elements. The story was inventive and original plus it also contained traditional aspects of the vampire legend and as with many Hammer movies the blood and sex came in the bucket load. It was a gripping film with many familiar faces from Hammer films history on board. The musical score was by David Whittaker who provided the movie with a grandiose soundtrack, that like the film itself is regarded as one of the studios best. Whittaker had previously worked on DR JECKLE AND SISTER HYDE for the studio, which had originally been offered to composer Harry Robinson, but due to artistic differences Robinson decided not to continue with the project. Whittaker’s score was a great success and Hammer’s musical director Phil Martell thought that the composer suited VAMPIRE CIRCUS perfectly, the rest as they say is history.
VAMPIRE CIRCUS boasted a strong cast, and included Adrienne Corri, Anthony Higgins, John Moulder Brown, Lalla Ward, Robin Sachs, Thorley Walters, David Prowse (pre-Darth Vader) and a fresh-faced actress Lynne Frederick. Set in Serbia in the 19th Century, the movie had one of the most impressive and exciting pre-credit sequences, for a Hammer production, which is saying something as most of the pre-credit sequences created by the studio were excellent. The folk from a small village called Stetl arm themselves with their trusty pitchforks and other assorted weapons that can inflict horrendous wounds and injuries and attack the castle near their village where the vampire Count resides, they are prompted to do this because a young girl has been taken there and they have had enough of the vampire and his evil ways, led by the officials of the village and the school teacher Muller they head up to the castle and find the Vampire Count Mitterhaus who is with one of the village women (Anna) who was the school teachers wife, She has gone over to the dark side and aids the Count in his everyday needs as in sex and luring children and adult victims to his lair to satisfy his blood lust. She has this day gone too far and lured another girl child from the village to the castle, who the evil Vampire soon drains of blood throwing her lifeless body to one side like a rag doll. The Count and Anna then embark on a rather saucy sex scene, which is stopped midway through by the entrance of the angry villagers. There is a fair amount of fang flashing and hissing as the villagers led by Muller enter the Counts bedroom and he even shows off his bare chest and a rather fetching neck collar, as he plays with a sword, then a few threats are exchanged before all hell breaks loose.
But the Vampire is not going down without a fight, he dispatches a few villagers by running them through and then bites several others before he is staked through the back and into his heart by Muller, with his dying breath he curses the village and all of the villagers that are there on the day, but not content with that he issues a curse upon the children of the village even the unborn ones, “Your children will die to give me back my life” he spits at the assembled crowd, it is an impressive opening sequence and one that has stuck with me for many years, as the Vampire takes his last breath the villagers force Anna to run half naked between two lines of men all armed with clubs and chains etc, she does this and is being beaten but the school teacher rushes to her aid and shields her from more punishment. She runs off back into the castle and manages to get to the Count and as blood from her wounds drips onto his lifeless body he comes to life briefly and gives her instructions, he tells her to seek out the Circus of Nights and his cousin Emile, she makes her escape just as the villagers set fire to the castle and then blow it up. The castle is destroyed, and the opening credits roll accompanied by the composer David Whittaker’s imposing and commanding soundtrack, which has also been punctuating and supporting the action within the opening sequence. The Castle lays destroyed and years pass. Fast forward now fifteen years and once again we find ourselves back in Stetl.
The castle has laid in ruins and been overtaken by vegetation and wildlife, but there are rumours that strange noises have been heard from below the ruins. The village is in quarantine there is disease and plague everywhere (sounds familiar) the villagers blame the decaying castle for this and also the Count’s curse. The central government and authorities from other villages set up a blockade manned by soldiers and armed civilians given instructions to shoot anyone that attempts to enter or more importantly leave the village. But to the surprise of many of the inhabitants of Stetl a mysterious and beautiful Gypsy woman manages to get past the blockade and brings with her a convoy of carts and wagons which make up the Circus of Nights, complete with wild animals and acrobats, whilst the village is initially suspicious of these new comers, the village council decide that it will be good for the village and maybe will raise spirits to have the circus there. The circus performers prepare to entertain the village folk and their children, but no one notices that the Gypsy woman who is Anna in another form, who helped the Vampire lord at the beginning of the movie.
She has in the past decade and a half, given birth to twins who are we assume the children of Mitterhaus. She slips away and goes to the castle whilst the villagers are distracted by the circus, where she uncovers the crypt and sets about bringing the Mitterhaus curse to fruition. So is this Gothic or rural or does it have elements of both, I think the latter either way it is an entertaining horror and has an outstanding musical score, that maybe one day will see a full release, rather than just two bad quality sounding cues which were taken from the DVD of the movie on the GDI VAMPIRE COLLECTION.
From Vampires to more witchery and black magic in the form of VIY from 1967, there have in recent years been varying re-telling’s of this classic tale, including Mario Bava.s BLACK SUNDAY in 1960, although Bava slightly lost his way and deviated from the original story. The classic horror tale VIY was penned by Nikolai Gogol in1835, and took the form of a short story, it was like many of the stories written by Gogol’s contemporary Edgar Allen Poe regarded as slightly off beat or weird. Today however it is quite tame compared to new editions to the ranks of horror stories and movies and is looked upon as a straightforward ghost story. The film is attractive because it relies more upon the supernatural horror elements and unnerves via atmosphere and story telling rather than violence and bloodletting.
In the 1960’s the film had mixed reactions outside of Eastern Europe, many western audiences not being in tune with the folk lore and tales of mystery that were commonplace in Eastern Europe. The special effects on the production too were rather clumsy and certainly not industrial light and magic, but again because of the simplicity and the overall artificial look of these they added depth and a sense of otherworldliness to the film. The musical score by Karen Khacaturijan, is a suitably eerie and powerful one, Khacaturian who was the nephew of Arum Khacaturijan, scored several movies in his native Russia. He was born on September 19th, 1920 in Moscow, as Karen Surenovich Khachaturyan. He was a composer and actor, known for Raznotsvetnyye kameshki (1960) and Visokosnyy god (1962). He died on July 19th, 2011 in Moscow. In 1990 there was the Yugoslavian adaptation in the form of the movie A HOLY PLACE, and then another Russian version in 1996 entitled VEDMA THE POWER OF FEAR plus a Korean edition under the title of EVIL SPIRIT in 2008. The original 1967 version and also A HOLY PLACE were almost direct adaptations of the authors story.
But the latest take on the story released in 2014 after initially being announced for an earlier release, is greatly expanded upon and was presented as a re-adaptation of Gogol’s original ideas. Shot in 3D this is certainly one of those edge of the seat movies that I am sure will become essential viewing for many, filled with stunning horror scenes and superb special effects, a sequel is to be filmed. The musical score is by Anton Garcia who should not be confused with Anton Garcia Abril. Anton Garcia was born into a Spanish family who lived in Moscow in 1965. He began his musical studies aged twelve and in 1985 was responsible for forming the first trash metal band in Russia called SHAH who went on to be one of the most well-known and famous bands in the country. In 1995 the band parted company and Anton started to work as a producer working on over twenty long playing albums and composing several songs that would go on to be great success’s for various bands and solo artists.
He has also worked as a composer writing for advertisements and in 2000 he began to write music for film. His score is bursting with vibrant, inventive and exciting themes and the best way to describe it is to say that it is a fusion of the styles that have been employed in movies such as VAN HELSING, CUTTHROAT ISLAND, YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES and the more recent works of Marco Beltrami and Danny Elfman. It is an unrelenting and highly entertaining work that evokes memories of action and adventure soundtracks of bygone days. The production of the movie VIY-3D was beset by various problems most of which were financial. Cameras began to roll on the Russian, German, Ukrainian and Czech co-production in the early part of 2005 but soon ceased as the production hit problems, filming began again but then was stopped on several occasions due to lack of funds, after a number of stops and starts the movie was eventually completed in the December of 2012. However, it still did not see a theatrical release until the January of 2014 and this was restricted to Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
On seeing sections of the movie I was reminded very much of the style of filming that was employed on short films that were part of a BBC series entitled TALES FROM EUROPE, this was a series that showcased many productions from Europe and in particular Eastern Europe. VIY has the same look and atmosphere to it, the film is a colourful, fantastical, mysterious and magical experience that has an aura surrounding it that is attractive and alluring which draws in the watching audience until they are consumed and totally convinced and mesmerized by the events that are unfolding on screen. Set in the early 18th century this richly dark adventure extravaganza tells the story of a cartographer named Jonathan Green (Jason Flemyng) leaves his pregnant betrothed and her insanely enraged Father (Charles Dance) to embark upon a scientific expedition to create a map of the Carpathians which takes him from Western Europe to the East in which he passes through the dark and mysterious land of Transylvania and over the Carpathian Mountains until he finds himself in the Ukraine.
Travelling in a driverless mechanical vehicle that is drawn by horses the traveller happens upon a group of monks who relay to him a terrible and unsettling tale about a witch who lives in a village that is nearby and of their companion a young priest who stood vigil over the body of a young girl in a Church that overlooked the village, the beautiful young girl transpired to be a witch and their companion had never been seen or heard of again. The traveller is intrigued by the monk’s tale and decides that he must travel to the village and make a map of it. He arrives at the village and makes a somewhat spectacular entrance by crashing through its gates after being attacked and pursued by ghostly wolves through a thick and fog shrouded forest. Maybe not a true rural or folk horror, but more of a magical fantasy with underlying horror elements.
THE DUNWICH HORROR, was released in 1970, based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, I thought this was a fairly good movie, it had the look of a TV film rather than a feature, it starred Dean Stockwell, Sandra Dee and Ed Begley, the music was provided by AIP near resident composer Les Baxter, although I would not categorise this squarely as a rural horror, it certainly has its moments and I for one found it to be entertaining. Stockwell’s character is a descendant of a powerful wizard his Mother is in an asylum.
So I suppose this puts him in a good position to be a weirdo that frequents Altars and shrines and other such eerie places and keeps company with some rather strange beings. The score is certainly a highlight of the production, and I would go as far as to say that at times it outshines the action that is being acted out on screen.
The science fiction horror movie VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED is described by the BFI as being the first great strange village movie, the movie was based upon the novel THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS and deals with a group of blonde haired children who have been born to human women in the area but they are not them selves human as they are on the earth because of extra-terrestrial intervention.(I am sure you get the idea). This I think is probably one of the most unsettling British movies produced, they are obviously superior to the rural community where they are living, but it works so well because although they are obviously sub human they too belong in the village and are children after all. The musical score is by British composer Ron Goodwin. The film opens with a local scientist Gordon Zellaby having a telephone conversation, part way through he collapses, but it is not just him who literally falls asleep, every inhabitant of the village and every animal all do the same. After a few hours everything returns to normal or so they think. It transpires that every woman who can become pregnant has done just that. So progresses the story with the horrors and the truth about the children unfolding.
WHISTLE AND I.LL COME TO YOU, is arguably one of the best British ghost stories, which is surprising because there is actually no ghost. However, there is the hint of a haunting by what or who we are not certain, but it deals with a person being terrorised by something, the film was not a feature but made for television. However, because of the quality and cinematic presence of the production it did have screenings in cinemas. And it is an important part of the rural horror collective, there was no score, which in a way made the story that was unfolding on screen more apprehensive and frightening.
A movie I revisited recently was, THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR, and although a fairly entertaining horror it is true to say that it probably does not stand the test of time as well as WITCHFINDER GENERAL, but it is still part of the horror genre from that period which is now considered as cult cinema alongside titles such as THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR from the same year and THE SHUTTERED ROOM from the previous year.
Taking into consideration the wealth of horror movies made during the 1960’s I suppose the film does have something about it to be remembered at all and also to have attained a cult status in later years. It is movies such as this that were the inspiration for later British entries in the form of stylish and disturbing BLOOD ON SATANS CLAW (1971). The musical score for THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR was composed and conducted by British musician/composer/arranger Peter Knight. Knight was the veritable chameleon when it came to his musical skills and was active and popular within many varying genres of music. During his career he worked with THE MOODY BLUES, PETULIA CLARK, HARRY SECOMBE, TOMMY STEELE, NANA MOUSKARI, THE BATCHELORS, VAL DOONICAN, JUDITH DURHAM, THE MOODY BLUES, THE CARPENTERS, CLIFF RICHARD, SCOTT WALKER and LULU. The score was released on a De Wolfe long playing record as the B side to Paul Ferris’s WITCHFINDER GENERAL alas the score for CRIMSON ALTAR has never been commercially released. Knights score for THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR is an atmospheric one, the composer utilising apprehensive but at the same time dramatic music to underline the more unnerving sequences and then drawing on his considerable experience within the pop/easy listening world to fashion a tuneful theme that enhanced scenes between the leading man and lady and also infused an atmosphere of calm into the proceedings, which effectively lulled the watching audience into a false sense of security, thus giving the moments of horror a greater impact. It is something of a mystery as to why the score has never been released commercially, seeing a Knight was a popular figure within the world of music and because of the popularity of the movie at the time of its release and also because the music is already in the library of De Wolfe music, maybe it will be a future project for the company, after all it did only take then forty-five years to release WITCHFINDER GENERAL. Knight died on July 30th, 1985.
Finally mention must be made of BLOOD ON SATANS CLAW, this iconic horror, is I think probably the most malevolent film that I have seen, it has to it a virulence and a stark reality that is uncomfortably authentic. Music was by Marc Wilkinson, the composer creating an unnerving soundtrack to accompany the scenes of sex, sacrifice, witchcraft, and possession that are underlined with harsh and at times sickening violence. Through his work at the National Theatre Wilkinson met Piers Haggard, who was working as an assistant director: the two worked together on the National Theatre production The Dutch Courtesan (1964). Having directed several TV dramas, Haggard was about to direct his first feature film and invited Wilkinson to score. The result is one of Wilkinson’s most celebrated film scores, Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971),acclaimed by Jonathan Rigby in English Gothic as “easily among the best ever composed for a British horror film”.
Wilkinson subsequently gave crucial advice to Paul Giovanni who had been commissioned to score the film The Wicker Man.
and worked again with director Haggard on further TV and film productions, including Quatermass and The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu.