[FANTASIA 2021] MOVIE REVIEW: WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED: A HISTORY OF FOLK HORROR is one of the best specialist horror documentaries you can experience.


While you might dismiss Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched as yet another digest capsule horror documentary, film historian and director Kier-La Janisse opens up the world of this particular film niche into something even a casual observer would want to dive into.

In the past couple of years, digest-style film documentaries have become a popular view amongst horror fans. From the In Search of Darkness documentaries; these films give you a bit of a Cliffs Notes digest of a certain genre of film and whet your appetite for why you might want to check out the film on home media or watch it on a streaming service. At first glance, I assumed Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, produced by Severin Films. would be the same sort of fare, albeit focused on 70s English country horror films. While there is some of that, looking at films like Witchfinder General (1968, directed by Michael Reeves), Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971, directed by Piers Haggard), and The Wicker Man (1973, directed by Robin Hardy), this documentary strikes far beyond that provenance and goes far and wide into cataloging this particular niche of films from all over the world to indoctrinate the viewer into the cult of folk horror fandom.

Much like the In Search of Darkness documentaries, Woodlands and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror goes into great detail in interviewing the filmmakers, actors, producers, and talent behind some of these films, both in terms of archival interviews and new ones done especially for the release. Janisse’s documentary also features cool interstitials between the chapter breaks used to denote different sections exploring folk horror in film and how she defines it, with original music and animation to keep the viewer engaged throughout. What really makes the documentary unique is the scholarly perspective used throughout the piece. It is not so much to try and validate this subgenre, but rather to show the importance and influence of these films culturally. We see how films like Wicker Man draw on the vast tradition of England’s pagan heritage, “the old religion,” and in some way is a response to what they saw as a ‘Christian’ puritanical influence that was creeping into cultural life. We see how the English ghost story tradition follows through in film that plays into a folk horror tradition and how many ways that tradition plays out in film and around the world.

It’s in exploring the tradition of folk horror beyond English and American films where Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched is a real joy and intrigue to watch. From seeing the folk horror traditions of the Jewish culture in terms of hanging ghosts like the Dibbuk in films like 2015’s Demon, to how rural South American folk stories like the Crying Woman or La Llorona have cultural parallels around the world and how that’s subverted in a powerful way such as in the 2020 Guatemalan horror La Llorona. It’s also refreshing seeing the perspective of film and festival programmers who grow up with these traditions and how that influences their film programming. It’s a rich tapestry of how this tradition influences filmmakers and films and the way Janisse presents it makes it mandatory watching for any fan of cinema history and tradition.

Overall, Woodland Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror is a rich and engrossing deep dive into the history and influence of a particular niche in the horror tradition. It has a scholarly depth to it that makes it feel deeper than many recent horror documentaries and you can feel the passion and love for the genre from all involved. Definitely a must-see for the film aficionado and the modern horror fan looking to broaden their perspective beyond 80’s films and slasher flicks.