What is folk horror? That’s a question you may have never thought to ask. Well, people have different ideas when coming up with answers. When discussing the folk sub-genre of horror cinema, it’s thought that any kind of narrative with ties to pagan or ancient traditions should fit the bill. Folk horror films don’t necessarily have to be directly linked to European lore either as every region has its own mythology. And though many of these movies will occur in rural parts, the location can be in more urban areas. After all, the scenery may change, but the past doesn’t.
Some of the most famous folk horror films of yesteryears are without a doubt The Blood on Satan’s Claws and The Wicker Man. Today, there’s a resurgence going on with newer titles like The Witch and Midsommar at the forefront. But what of the films that go under the radar? Well, so mote it be, here is a list of lesser known folk horrors that are well worth exploring this month of May.
10. THE PIPER (2015)
At the end of the Korean War, a pipe-playing vagabond and his ill son come upon a village in their trek to Seoul for the boy’s treatment. The stranger offers to remedy the villagers’ rat problem in exchange for money. But when the residents refuse to honor the deal, the piper takes his revenge.
The roles are subverted in this South Korean folk mystery—the outsider seems innocent, but his actions suggest otherwise. Whereas the village, full of people who follow a shaman’s prophecies under false pretenses, become both oppressors and victims. The Piper is a dark reimainging of the classic “Pied Piper of Hamelin” legend, and a fabulous debut from writer and director Kim Gwang-tae.
9. A FIELD IN ENGLAND (2013)
During the 17th century English Civil War, a group of deserters encounter an alchemist who forces them to find buried treasure in a mystical field.
Shot completely in black and white, this period horror is both cerebral and serpentine in its execution. The headiness you feel when watching absolutely reflects the celluoid bedlam that is A Field in England.
8. KAKASHI (2001)
After receiving a letter addressed from a remote village, a woman goes there to see if she can locate her missing brother. Instead, she finds the strange locals erecting scarecrows for an ominous celebration…
This adaptation of renowned manga maker Junji Ito’s story of the same name is indeed consciously paced, but it’s a disquieting horror. The unnerving atmosphere compensates for the lack of concrete answers.
7. THE CITY OF THE DEAD (1960)
When a college student is advised to visit a town notorious for witch hunts in the 17th century, she disappears there without a trace. It’s then up to her brother to find out what happened. Or else history is going to repeat itself.
Also known as Horror Hotel, this Old Hollywood picture starring Christopher Lee is a well-paced and spooky mystery deserving of your time. The lifelike fog inhabiting the town of Whitewood is such a simple gag, but it does wonders for this film’s already foreboding aesthetic.
6. JUG FACE (2013)
In a small, backwoods community, a sect of people worship an unseen creature living within a pit in the ground. Whenever the resident sculptor makes a new ceramic jug, the person whose face he carves will then be sacrificed to the venerated entity within the pit. A teenager named Ada has been chosen, but she refuses to accept her fate as she dreams of leaving this place after learning she’s pregnant. Unfortunately for Ada, escaping will not be easy.
It’s likely some will accuse this indie film of not being horror, but it perfectly encapsulates the fear and uneasiness audiences feel when watching anything else in the genre. In addition, the vague supernatural element heightens the threat at hand. Jug Face is a startling debut from Chad Crawford Kinkle with a marvelous performance from its lead Lauren Ashley Carter.
5. THE BORDERLANDS (2013)
Three men are sent by the Vatican to investigate a supernatural incident at a reopened Devon church. There, they discover a shocking secret deep within this house of worship.
It’s hard to deny the connection between religion and folk horror. Add in found-footage and you’ve got The Borderlands (also known as Final Prayer elsewhere). As generic as the basic plot sounds, the film ends up having one of the most horrifying and bizarre conclusions in recent years.
4. LEFT BANK (2008)
Aspiring athlete Marie moves in with her new boyfriend after suffering a running injury. When mail shows up for the previous tenant of her boyfriend’s apartment, Marie investigates the woman’s disappearance. The deeper she looks, the more questions she has. And soon it’ll be too late for answers.
Even though Left Bank draws inspiration from Rosemary’s Baby, it still forms its own rich mythos. This Belgian film takes place physically in modern times, but its story is of the past. We have gaslighting, Samhain worshipping, witches—everything needed for some good ol’ fashioned folk horror. While the story unfolds slowly, it’s worth the wait as Left Bank is one of the best horror films to come out in the aughts.
3. FOLLOWERS (2017)
A getaway camping trip for a seemingly affable pair of Internet celebrities takes a sinister turn when the couple realizes they’re not alone.
Followers is an entry in the contentious sub-genre of found-footage that you will either marginally enjoy or totally hate. Those who disliked it found the sudden twist—which can’t be discussed without spoiling the movie—unearned. Whereas those who were less displeased found the twist to be a welcome change of pace. The movie doesn’t address the downfalls of Internet popularity or social media envy as thoroughly as it could, but Followers correlates those ideas with another theme that cannot be reviewed without spoilers. It’s not a perfect movie yet it manages to catch you off guard.
2. THE CONSPIRACY (2012)
A pair of filmmakers documenting a conspiracist are baffled when the subject of their project goes missing. Eventually, the two delve deeply into a mystery revolving around a dangerous secret society.
This mockumentary seems almost authentic for two-thirds of the film before it takes a hard, jarring left. The Conspiracy is far-fetched, but that doesn’t make it any less nerve-racking toward the end.
1. ALISON’S BIRTHDAY (1981)
Upon returning to her parents’ home for her nineteenth birthday, Alison begins to feel unwell. Something strange is going on inside Alison‘s house and only her boyfriend can save her.
There’s really nothing too original in this Australian movie about the occult. However, it’s likable and harmless teen oriented horror. From the kooky, synthesized soundtrack to the scene-stealing boyfriend character who’s refreshingly supportive, Alison’s Birthday is a true diamond in the rough.