A new theme is running thick through the blood of the Barbican this season, the fires are stoked and the dusty books are given a hearty blow for the Folk Horror mentality of deep and dank Britain. It wasn't too long ago when Christopher Lee and Dennis Wheatley were chilling the bones in theatres and cinemas across the world. The era of pagan based British dark culture perhaps had a moment in the shade while everyone rushed around for twenty years rediscovering existentialism but now the moon has turned blood red once more as a new generation of thrill seekers turn to the occult and archaic practices of forbidden rituals and lore.
Part of the appeal for cult films about cults is that there is a tongue in cheek silliness to the ideas and portrayals of the theme. However, the individuals themselves within the stories are always driven to extreme acts due to their psychological involvement in such mysterious and firmly rooted beliefs. When newcomers to ancient practices are subsequently thrown knee deep into the ongoing evils of devil worship and satanism, superstitions and paranoias begin to dominate the atmosphere. It's a favourite brand for many, calling on the sickly feeling of abstract fear within the safe parameters of controlled media.
As reported in the Guardian, the three directions of cult British horror that inspired the modern movement came from three distinct 1960's films. The Wicker Man took the pagan ritual of human sacrifice and created a scenario in which a blue collar worker is thrown into a realm of trickery, eventual betrayal, then burning alive. Because many witches and suspected witches were burned alive, the film made a very important statement, as well as having some fun with what is actually a peaceful and non human sacrificing ancient belief system. Another film that inspired modern British cult horror was Blood on Satans Claw which as the title suggests calls upon the inherent evil within Satanic practices and the resulting bloodshed. Nasty stuff indeed, which leaves The Witchfinder General as the final 60's masterpiece to complete the “trinity” of films that created the modern scene. As we all know, it has been and is still practised in some parts of the world, the trial and punishment of witches. It is an evil act created out of superstition and fear, which has no place in any civilised society.
Playing on our innate fears and unspoken superstition is always going to be the role of horror artists, and perhaps the reason they do it is because they like to feel they are in control of what makes them the most afraid. When we are the ones writing the script and deciding on how the evil is going to act, we stand in a place of power, albeit internal, that perhaps helps us cope with what makes us afraid. And it gives the adrenaline junkies something to enjoy in the process, which is all good fun.
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