The Viewing Circle

Folk Horror Revival

Viewing Circle

Viewing guide (October 2018)

Welcome to the FHR Viewing Circle – a bit like a book club but with no books and you don’t actually get to meet the other members. Click on the link below, sit back and watch and then come back to this thread and add your thoughts and comments below and join in the discussion……

The idea behind the Viewing Circle was to post links to some folk horror viewing (accessible on-line) with a brief introduction listing original release/broadcast dates, notable actors, directors and composers, a brief synopsis and the occasional review from its original release. The hope was that like with a Bookclub those folk horror revivalists who watched the suggested viewing would then discuss it adding their own thoughts or questions to the original FHR Viewing Club thread.

It was decided to pilot this idea in the month of October in the run-up to Halloween alternating between Film and TV programmes every 2-3 days. If this proved successful the Viewing Circle could possibly continue with the potential for some exclusive viewings of new works in the future.

What follows is the introduction section for each of the FHR Viewing Circle recommendations from October 2018.

1 – Our first Folk Horror treat for the lead up to Halloween is episode 4 of Series 2 of `Shadows’

`Shadows’ was a British Supernatural television anthology series produced by Thames Television for ITV between 1975 and 1978. Extending over three seasons, it featured ghost and horror dramas for children.

Guest actors included John Nettleton, Gareth Thomas, Jenny Agutter, Pauline Quirke, Brian Glover, June Brown, Rachel Herbert, Jacqueline Pearce and Gwyneth Strong. The series was also notable for reviving the character of Mr. Stabs who first appeared in Ace of Wands.

Notable writers for the series included J. B. Priestley, Fay Weldon, Penelope Lively and PJ Hammond.

This episode – Dark Encounter – was written by Susan Cooper and stars Alex Scott, Shelagh Fraser (who played Aunt Beru in Star Wars), Brian Glover, Hugh Morton, Margot Field, Carolyn Courage, and Graham Kennedy. It was first aired on 18th August 1978.

`A middle-aged Londoner returns to the remote village that sheltered him as a child from the London blitz. He realizes that he’s afraid of the woods around the village, but can’t remember why.’

2 – Our second Folk Horror treat for the lead up to Halloween is `The Juniper Tree’ – A Dark Tale of Witchcraft & Mysticism.

`The Juniper Tree’ is a 1990 Icelandic fantasy art house drama film directed and written by Nietzchka Keene. Based on the fairy tale “The Juniper Tree” collected by the Brothers Grimm, it stars a small cast of five actors, Björk, Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir, Guðrún Gísladóttir, Valdimar Örn Flygenring and Geirlaug Sunna Þormar.

Margit and her older sister, Katla, flee their homeland in Iceland after their mother is killed for practicing witchcraft. Needing a place to stay, Katla casts a spell over a young farmer named Jóhann which makes him fall in love with her, ensuring the wellbeing of herself and Margit. Jóhann’s son, Jóhas, sees through Katla’s plan and pleads for his father to make her go away. To help Jóhas in his struggle, Margit’s mother appears to Margit in visions and provides a magic amulet of protection for the boy. Will Jóhas be able to rid his family of Katla or will she continue to control them with her witchcraft?

`The Juniper Tree’ was shot in Iceland with an extraordinarily small budget in the summer of 1986, but because of financial problems later on in the editing room, it was not released until 1990, when it competed for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was shot in black and white to highlight its dramatic content and as a resource to place the story in the Middle Ages. Some scenes were filmed in the Seljalandsfoss, Iceland.

3 – Our third Folk Horror treat for the lead up to Halloween is `The Beast’ – a classic episode from `West Country Tales’

Shown in the early 80s by the BBC `West Country Tales’ was a rural Tales of the Unexpected. The twist was that the stories were apparently based on letters collected by the producer recounting real life experiences.

The most memorable was `The Beast’ which aired on 1st March 1982. `A city dweller returns to the Cornish farmhouse of his youth, only to find that the current occupants are being stalked by a strange creature.’

Most of the cast and indeed the director (Kevin Crooks) seemed to have worked solely on `West Country Tales’ but Milton Reid who played the Beast had an interesting career appearing in `The Spy who loved me’, `Dr.Phibes rises again’, `The Return of the Pink Panther, `The Goodies’ and `Cannon and Ball’ as well as an uncredited role in Folk Horror classic `Blood on Satan’s Claw’.

The Narrator for all episodes was Jack Watson who in his 45 year career appeared in `Sky’, `The Changes’, `Arthur of the Britons’, `The Gorgon’ and `Peeping Tom’ as well as countless war films such as `North Sea Hijack’, `Wild Geese’, `The Devil’s Brigade’ and `The Hill’.

4 – Our forth Folk Horror treat for the lead up to Halloween is `Psychomania’ ( AKA The Death Wheelers).

“A stone cold classic with a great cast and superb soundtrack.” – J.Peters

A gang of young people call themselves the Living Dead. They terrorize the population from their small town. After an agreement with the devil, if they kill themselves firmly believing in it, they will survive and gain eternal life. Following their leader, they commit suicide one after the other, but things don’t necessarily turn out as expected……what’s not to love?!

Released in1973 it was George Sanders last film (He had previously won an Academy Award for his role in All About Eve and was the voice of the malevolent man-hating tiger Shere Khan in Disney’s The Jungle Book.) and also featured the late great Beryl Reid as well as Bill Pertwee (of Dad’s Army fame) and Robert Hardy. The soundtrack was by John Cameron who had previously worked with Donovan as well as writing the masterful `Kes’ soundtrack. An interview with John as well as a review of the soundtrack can be found in `Harvest Hymns’ from FHR publishing wing `Wyrd Harvest Press’.

It wasn’t critically well received at the time but has since become a cult classic and has seen fans of the film making pilgrimages to Walton-on-Thames to hunt down the filming locations.

5 – Our fifth Folk Horror treat for the lead up to Halloween is `Moondial’ – the complete series.

`Moondial’ was a six-part serial made for children by the BBC and transmitted in 1988. The series was written by Helen Cresswell, who also wrote the 1987 novel on which the series was based

Regarded as a nostalgic favourite by followers of 1980s BBC children’s drama, `Moondial’ employs extensive location filming (in the grounds of Belton House in Lincolnshire) and fantastical, dreamlike imagery. It also boosts an evocative soundtrack and memorable titles scene.

“Teenager Minty expects to spend a quiet holiday near historical Belton House with her mother’s godmother, “Aunt” Mary. However, soon after leaving Minty, her mother is involved in an accident and lies comatose in the hospital. Distraught, Minty begins wandering the Belton grounds. When she touches the sun-dial/moon-dial in the garden, she is transported through time. First to the late 19th century where she meets Tom, a sickly and abused servant. Second to the 18th century where she meets Sarah, a mysterious cloaked child who is in danger. Can Minty find a way to help these ghosts of the past?”

It included in its cast the late great Arthur Hewlett and Jacqueline Pearce – who sadly passed away just last month.

Arthur Hewlett (12 March 1907– 25 February 1997)

He is best remembered for his roles on television, including Quatermass and the Pit, The Avengers, The Saint, The Changes, Blake’s 7, Doctor Who (in the serials State of Decay and Terror of the Vervoids) and The Black Adder

Jacqueline Pearce (20 December 1943 – 3 September 2018)

Jacqueline was best known as the villain Servalan in the British science fiction TV series Blake’s 7. Of interest to this group she also starred in The Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile, which were filmed simultaneously on the same location and both released in 1966.

Sit back, turn down the lights and prepared to be taken back to 1988 when a nation of school children were entranced by this wonderful tale……

6 – Our sixth Folk Horror treat for the lead up to Halloween is `The Devil’s Widow’.

Released in 1970 `The Devil’s Widow’ was based on ancient Scottish folk song, The Ballad of Tam Lin. It starred Ava Gardner and Ian McShane as well as featuring the talents of Stephanie Beecham Sinead Cusack, Joanna Lumley and Madeline Smith and was Planet of the Apes regular Roddy McDowall’s only directorial credit The film had original music by Stanley Myers (responsible for some classic horror soundtracks for House of Whipcord, Frightmare, House of Mortal Sin) and a musical version of the original poem recorded by Pentangle.

“McDowall builds a broodingly enigmatic sense of menace out of stray allusions and apparitions that hover without ever really being explained or over-exploited: the snatches of [Robert] Burns intimating the presence of diabolic machinations; the girl terrified by her own unspoken Tarot prophecies; the dialogue that rings like blank verse, as though it had been used over and over again. Above all, though, this menace is effective chiefly because it is rhymed with a mounting sense of quiet decorum, as though reality, the world of the ordinary, everyday banality, were suddenly present to Tom for the first time.”
— Tom Milne, Monthly Film Bulletin, June 1977

7 – Our seventh Folk Horror treat for the lead up to Halloween is `The Flypaper’

This was the first episode in series 3 of `Tales of the Unexpected’ and was first aired on 9th August 1980. Adapted from a story by unappreciated English writer Elizabeth Taylor, `The Flypaper’ is as usual introduced by Roald Dahl, who wryly admits that the story is so effectively grim, that he wishes he had written it. It features the not inconsiderable acting talents of Stephanie Cole (Talking Heads, Waiting for God, Doc Martin) and Alfred Burke (Children of the Damned, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – his final film role)

`The police are dragging the marshes for a missing school-girl and a sinister man is approaching other young girls. Young Sylvia is on a bus on the way home from school when a friendly old man begins to talk to her. A woman steps in to help and brings her to her caravan home to call for the police…….’

“A lean, paranoid and gently merciless tale that will affect you and stick with you for a very, very long time.” – Chris Alexander

(It would be interesting to read your thoughts on this as a piece of `Folk Horror’ so please come back and leave comments in the thread below.)

8 – Our eighth Folk Horror treat for the lead up to Halloween is `The Coming’ (aka “Burned At The Stake”)

Released in 1981 the version online is an old VHS print…so picture quality may be a bit dark in many night scenes…..but it all adds to the atmosphere and harks back to the days of bootleg videos of hard to get hold of horror films.

In 1692 a young girl in Salem, Massachusetts, accuses several residents of being witches, and they are burned at the stake. In 1980 a young woman who is a descendant of the accuser believes she is being terrorized by the ghost of the father of the women who were burned as witches.

The cast for this film is made up of various character actors who had extensive careers on American TV but are not noted for any particularly well-known movies except for Susan Swift who appeared in Audrey Rose and Halloween: The cures of Micheal Myers. It was directed by Bert Ira Gordon (Mr B.I.G) who was a major name in the giant monster B-movies of the 50’s and 60’s responsible for such classics as The Amazing Colossal Man, Village of the Giants and Earth Vs The Spider

Its theatrical release was both scattered and limited and it was through a slot as a CBS Late Night Movie in 1988 that The Coming attained its biggest audience and its reputation started to grow.

9 – Our ninth Folk Horror treat for the lead up to Halloween is `The Exorcism’

First broadcast on 7th November 1972 `The Exorcism’ was the first episode of BBC2 series `Dead of Night’

Dead of Night ran for a single series in the autumn of 1972. Of its seven 50-minute episodes, only three—”The Exorcism”, “Return Flight”, and “A Woman Sobbing”—are known to exist today in the BBC’s archives.These were released together on DVD by the British Film Institute in 2015, with the scripts for the missing episodes of the series included as PDF files on the disc. The Stone Tape (1972) was conceived and made as an episode of this anthology series, but was removed from it before being transmitted and shown as a standalone television play instead.

It features a moving performance by Anna Crooper (1938 – 2007) who made a name for herself as a character actor in various TV crime dramas such as Poirot, Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Midsomer Murders and Miss Marple but is perhaps best known in this group for her role in 1970’s Play for Today `Robin Redbreast’. This episode also featured Edward Petherbridge who you may know from the 1961 TV version of the Ben Jonson play `The Alchemist’, 1975’s The Ash Tree or more recently `Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

Perhaps the biggest name of this very limited cast was Clive Swift. A great British actor born in 1936 he has starred in The Stalls of Barchester, Death Line (1972 the movie), Nigel Kneale’s Beast, Twice in Doctor Who, Tales of the Unexpected, Excalibur and TV series Shadows that featured earlier in suggested viewing for the FHR Viewing Circle. He is however probably best known as long suffering Richard in `Keeping Up Appearances’

`Two couples are having a dinner party in their country cottage (this is of course the 1970s) when strange events begin to hamper their middle-class evening. The Exorcism has a number of wonderful moments as well as some entertaining period features. While the atmosphere becomes more and more suspenseful as the cottage seems to become possessed, it is still extremely difficult for one to ignore and not get distracted by Clive Swift and Sylvia Kay’s hyper-1970s clothing. Swift also brings to mind his role as Dr. Black in two of the BBC Ghost stories, making the series feel part of a natural family…’ Adam Scovell (2013)

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