Movie Review: ‘Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched’

One of the beautiful things about horror as a film genre is that there are so many different subgenres that filmmakers can take their stories into. One distinctly British style of horror is folk horror, a style of horror movie which draws on the pagan roots of those who once lived on those lands and how their beliefs and practices clash with modernity. This branch of the horror tree is explored in-depth in the new documentary from the steaming service Shudder, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched. Beginning with the focal point of the Unholy Trilogy of the genre: Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claws, and The Wicker Man, the documentary looks at how folk horror gained popularity and impacted the culture.

With vignettes of songs and poetry from a place and times centuries old for atmosphere, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, traces this genre back to it’s literary origins as authors like M.R. James who first told scary stories drawing on Britain’s natural world. From there it exploded in the 1970’s with filmmakers like Piers Haggard and Michael Reeves who made statements with their works as to what happens with the growing grasp of contemporary culture collides with the ancient realms of of the past which still lingers. Filmmakers, academics, and authors provide their insight into folk horror. Every aspect of the sub genre is discussed and how these movies drawing on elements of the far past reflected a world audiences recognized so very much. While folk horror is without a doubt a British-centric style of terror it permeated throughout the rest of the world. This is not lost on Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, as it also looks at how folk horror has been interpreted on a global stage based on the histories of other nations. They look at how in American cinema you have films from the groundbreaking classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Robert Eggers’ recent masterpiece The Witch. In Japan there are unnerving flicks like Noroi: The Curse and Onibaba which draw on that country’s own roots.

While Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is not a short documentary by any stretch of the imagination, it is endlessly fascinating. Covering a number of films, television shows, and books of the folk horror genre this film will keep the attention of any die-hard horror fan while still proving entertaining to lay people who don’t know Vincent Price from Vincent Smith (I don’t know who Vincent Smith is so….).