OOM #30 – Viy (1967)

Hello and welcome to the penultimate day of the October Overlook’s Madness! Here we are, once again looking back and seeing how much time was spent watching, writing, preparing and then editing these posts (who am I kidding, I barely edit these pieces), and I see that it’s worth it. In the end, I end up watching lots of films that I wouldn’t at any other time of the year, or wouldn’t have the chance to otherwise. The reflections and passion of those who go through the same endeavors is compelling and I salute them, as surely they are saluting me. Horror hounds, be proud and be brave, October may be about to be over, but the horror continues.

So, the movie that James Rolfe talked about today was the incredibly hilarious and almost masterpiece by director Mel Brooks, ‘Young Frankenstein’ (1974). What most surprised me of this movie, it’s not how hilarious it is, or how it relates to horror in many ways, but how close it is to something like ‘Son of Frankenstein’ (1935) in terms of plot, characters and ambient. The film is also surprisingly well made in terms of how closely it follows the places, the cinematography, as James Rolfe says in his video, it feels as if it was a lost Universal Horror movie from the ’30s. I can’t help but think of all the hilarious sequences, the ‘walk this way’ bit, the blind man scene, ‘oh sweet mystery of life’, and anything with the incredible Gene Wilder acting the hell out of this doomed character. Sadly, I haven’t written on this movie, but I had all that to say about it, and thus I rate it 9 out of 10 (the whole Ritz thing kinda stalls for me, but I’d have to see it again, and I will).

So, that leaves us with, again, another day of continuing through our list of recommended horror films. Yesterday we took a look at ‘Seconds’ (1966), and it was actually the only recommended horror movie from its year, so we advance one year further to find three movies waiting for us, this just being the most accessible at the moment in terms of a quick watch so you can have your daily horror movie. Here we have for today the Russian vampire folk tale horror movie ‘Viy’ (1967), a classic under some standards and for some people, so let’s see what this movie has to offer us! Take it away… me! (I guess).

This might be among the oddest horror films that I’ve seen this month, mainly because of its origin, it’s not common to see films that deal with horrific subjects that come from the strange and unknowable country of Russia. Going into the fable/tale written by Nikolai Gogol, the movie takes place in a time were cossacks were actually folk people and not part of a military group. Here the tale starts from the root of an orthodox chapel, where many monks study in hopes of becoming scholars, theologists or philosophers, and our protagonist is a young monk who is prone to mischief and bad luck, as one of the first encounters he has once he leaves the seminary for a holiday is a witch who tries to bewitch him by transforming into a young woman, who doesn’t have an effect on him due to his religious nature. Later he is called to give a funeral service to a young woman who has recently died, that’s when he notices that the woman is the same as the witch, and that he was mentioned by the dying girl as the one responsible for her funeral.

Ok, maybe it doesn’t exactly sound really exciting, but the film suddenly has a turn for the best once we know that the monk has to stay three nights inside the chapel where the young woman is being guarded so she is protected from evil spirits. Sadly, once we enter there we already know that she’s a vampire, a witch that’s being possessed and has her body completely under the control of the evil forces of the night. Once the sun sets and the monk is there praying (and sometimes doing ridiculous stuff, like sniffing a powder to keep himself awake all night) the woman comes to life and starts to harass him, only that he is quick in drawing a protection circle. People have compared these sequences to the slapstick nature of ‘Evil Dead II’ (1987), and I think they’re right, while not as charismatic as Bruce Campbell, the movie does hare its weight of similarities as well as direct references (at one point, the curse makes the monk turn his hair white, just like in the 1987 film, where Ash turns some of his hair white due to the fear of being confronted with a huge monster), and in many ways this is also a horror comedy, one that leaves most of its laughs to the ridicule of the main character and his scared nature.

I don’t know if there is such a thing as ‘Russian humor’ but I think this movie may describe it, as it mostly serves from the movements, jumps, dances and the stuttering nature of the monk who tries hard not to be attacked by the witch. The ending is maybe the most impressive thing this movie has, as in the final night the witch has had enough and calls for all the vampires and werewolves (she says Wurdalaks, which is a kind of Russian/Ukranian vampire that attacks people at night, maiming them instead of just biting them) to finally break the magic circle in which he is protected. She also calls for a Viy, the title of the film, a bulky giant rock creature, whose eyes are so frightening and powerful that break the protection spell of the monk. Those final moments make all the other duller moments of the movie work, it makes up for the stiff nature of some of the framing, and while visually innovative in its use of green screen and miniature work, it’s mostly scary when it comes to the ending and the hordes of creatures, designs and makeup that actually do surprise an audience of today.

8/10

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