Viy (1967)

“I summon the vampires! I summon the werewolves! I summon Viy!”

‘Viy’, directed by Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov in 1967, is a rare Soviet-era Russian horror movie. Based on a story by Nikolai Gogol, it focuses on a philosophy student called Khoma, played by Leonid Kuravlyov. Khoma encounters a witch whilst on his way home for the holidays. The witch kidnaps him, but he escapes by beating her with a stick after which she transforms into a younger woman. Later, Khoma is summoned to a village and finds himself forced to stand vigil in the church with the corpse of the young woman/witch over three nights, and it becomes quickly clear that she isn’t prepared to remain inactive. It’s a fun, witty movie which doesn’t take itself seriously, is packed with comedic characters and bawdy jokes, but still manages occasionally to unsettle. The special effects are primitive, relying a great deal on rear projection and at times resembling Jean Cocteau, whilst the final monster, the ‘Viy’ of the title, is almost Jim Henson-like in construction. There’s a Roger Corman shoestring budget feel to this film, and at times I was reminded of Sam Raimi’s low budget shocker ‘The Evil Dead’. As with Raimi’s movie, here the camera performs energetic and dizzying actions, spiralling around the characters and, at times, acting as their point of view. The film is creaky and old-fashioned, but demonstrates a pleasing inventiveness. In the end, it’s existence as one of the first horror movies made Communist controlled Russia, at a time when the film industry was so heavily regulated and monitored, makes this a significant film and one worth watching.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s not high-art and is a little disposable, but it is diverting and amusing. Watching it in a double-bill with ‘The Evil Dead’ would be interesting, or you could go the other way and watch it with Tarkovsky’s ‘Andrei Rublev’ just for fun.

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