When young religious scholar Khoma and his friends are stuck for somewhere to stay for the night they stumble on the home of an elderly witch which could provide them shelter. However Khoma soon finds himself getting unwanted attention from the cackling old hag, and after he resists she rides him across the skies like a horse. Annoyed at this Khoma takes his revenge, but when the Witch dies, he finds she has turned into a beautiful young maiden from the local town. The maiden’s family specify the maiden had only one dying wish and that is that Khoma should watch over her body for three nights prior to her burial. Khoma is unhappy with this, however is obligated to fulfil this wish, and soon finds when he is sitting alone in the tomb late at night there is more to fear than just the shadows.
Fantasy, gothic, classic horror, Dark Fairytale, Folklore, Witchcraft, comedy.
Writing Credits (in alphabetical order)
Cast (in credits order)
Pannochka (as N. Varley)
Sotnik (as A. Glazyrin)
Vedma (as N. Kutuzov)
Khalyava (as V. Zakharchenko)
Rektor / Dorosh (as P. Vesklyarov)
Gorobets (as V. Salnikov)
Overko (as D. Kapka)
Yavtukh (as S. Shkurat)
Stepan (as G. Sochevko)
Spirid (as N. Yakovchenko)
Uteshitel (as N. Panasev)
Russia is not really renowned for its horror film industry so not only can this movie lay claim to being one of the very few horror films to come out of Soviet Russia, but it is also the first to be made there. Steeped in Russian folklore this is a wild fantasy horror, with Roger Corman style gothic tendencies and creature effects which would make Ray Harryhausen proud. Taken from Nikolai Gogol‘s 1835 story, this cinematic adaptation is fairly faithful to the book, which pans out quite similarly to an Eastern European folk tale. It was also interesting to learn the same story was a basis, in a very loose sense, to Mario Bava’s Black Sunday.
I cannot rate this title enough to those who love vintage horror, something a little bit weird, lovers of the gothic, and fans of the creature feature, Viy brings it all to the screen in its own inimitable way. As we love a touch of the unique over at The Gore Splattered Corner, this certainly does it and while there are some obvious comparisons to the early Roger Corman films in terms of set design (which I doubt are intentional) Viy also has its own personality which brings with it a strong Eastern European flavour, a rare sight in horror from any era. I would imagine with the constrictions of the political climate at the time it was very difficult to make films like this and I do wonder how they managed to get it released at all. Not that there is anything particularly shocking or controversial about it to speak of, it flows more like a dark and twisted fairytale than anything really horrific, but for its time and considering the fact it was made within a strict communist regime it really is quite remarkable.
The entire piece bears the atmosphere of a dark gothic painting with the limited sets working in favour to achieve a very strong stylistic statement. While the plot develops like a fairytale the set resembles one too. No restraint has been shown in holding back on the OTT gothic set garnishing either, which of course works in perfect harmony with the story. The chamber in which the central maiden character lies in particular is stuffed full of gaudy religious icons, and enough candles to set fire to the Empire State Building, this works brilliantly with upholding the creepy atmosphere of the film and also injects a heavy dose of vintage camp into the mood.
Now usually I like to talk about the cast, and the production of any film I review, and I try and seek out trivia on it, yet in this case there is really little to be found. The director Konstantin Ershov appears to have made five other films, all in Russian, none of which are horrors, and is reported to have died in 1984 aged only 49. While Georgi Kropachyov only directed one other film in the 70’s but has carried on working in the film industry, mainly as a production designer, right up until the present day. One notable point has to go to the special effects director Aleksandr Ptushko who incidentally co-wrote the script adaptation from Gogol’s original novel. Ptushko in his day was considered the Russian ‘Walt Disney’, who worked solidly for Russian studio Mosfilm (a State owned film studio which had a prolific output dating back to the early 1920’s) and was able to produce his own very striking visual style, in stop motion animation, creature effects and directing his own brand of Russian fantasy tales. A few of Ptushko’s films made it into the hands of Western audiences most notably Sadko (1952) which was cut and redubbed by Roger ‘s company ten years later and released as The Magic Voyage of Sinbad (it is worth noting the original incarnation of this film bears no contextual resemblance to the edited version) , and Sampo, which saw an American release under the title The Day the Earth Froze. Ptushko was also responsible for the first colour picture and first feature length animated film to ever come out of Russia. At the latter end of his lengthy career he was only responsible for directing the special effects on Viy, (being made around 6 years before his death) not the whole feature, but boy does his trademark show, and if you have seen any of his other films the influence and his visual statement is very clear to see. Worth mentioning are some of the tomb scenes which are mesmerizing, with disorienting camera angles (for example spinning shots), and fantastic creature effects, which sets Viy apart from a lot of its contemporaries and is obviously born from Ptushko’s wealth of experience in creating wild and fantastical imagery. The only thing which was a little disappointing was the creature involved in the final act, making more of a comedy appearance rather than anything, however given the feel of the film, and the practical constraints of the time and place I feel this could be forgiven. If anything it was at least original.
In terms of plot well the first act starts off pretty slowly, but once we get into the consecutive nights at the tomb, it really does start to pick up pace, with the action building from scene to scene, all the way to the action packed climax at the end. Intermingled with this are moments of comedy, there seems to be some poking fun at orthodox religion going on, our priest here is not only a liar and a murderer, but he likes a drink or two as well as a bit of funky Russian dancing. The sense of humour is refreshing light in tone, and adds a nice fun factor into the mix which nicely contrasts with some of the more ‘horror’ based scenes. The film overall is fairly tame however in contrast to todays standards, or even late 60’s standards if you compare it to some of the stuff which was coming out around Western Europe, Britain and the States, but that does not mean it is not worthwhile. I have to say I enjoyed the innocence of it all, and it is certainly unique that has to be said. So if you are a lover of those cheesy old Sinbad films, Roger Corman gothic pieces, or Ray Harryhausen creature effects, this will have some definite appeal. Now available on release with English subtitles this rare example of early Russian horror cinema is a lot of fun, very worthwhile checking out if you like something a little bit different.
An upcoming remake of Viy (in 3D) is being pitched for release in 2014, production has been stalled several times, however it is now in post production.
In Russian only (sorry) but it gives you a good idea.