The Rise Of Folk Horror
Lately a wealth of film footage has been restored and returned to cinemas, especially by the BFI, and in the light of British film’s ever-increasing financial instability it seems a good option for young filmmakers to mix existing footage into new forms. Terence Davies did it with ‘Of Time and the City’, about Liverpool, and ‘The Show of Shows’ did it with rare fairground archive material and a Sigur Ros soundtrack.
At the end of the film ‘God’s Own Country’, a dark look at like in rural Yorkshire, there was a montage of happier times featuring old colour footage from earlier in the 20th century. Now comes ‘Arcadia’, which seems at first like an expanded version of that end scene, but takes a swerve into something stranger and more ritualistic.
It dovetails into a new movement that has appeared in recent years called Folk Horror.
Adam Scovell’s fine study entitled ‘Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange’ is an intelligent look at rural mythologies on film. ‘Folk Horror’ has become recognised as a movie sub-category, although it should more accurately be called ‘Folk Supernatural’. It understands that the ancient mysteries of the land affect those who still live there in profound and lasting ways, and suggests that it is here that the true spirit of a nation resides.
Folk Horror, once the province of MR James and Arthur Machen, is largely about atmosphere and suggestion, and always leaves something unknowable behind. My first awareness of it came with ‘Night of the Demon’. When I was 20 I was invited to a party in a barn in Cornwall, and we drove back through a tunnel of trees that looked exactly like the terrifying one in the film.
‘Folk Supernatural’ includes films like ‘A Field in England’ (probably the strangest example), ‘Witchfinder General’, ‘Wake Wood’, ‘Blood On Satan’s Claw’, ‘The Wicker Man’ (original UK version), ‘Penda’s Fen’, ‘Kill List’ and ‘The Ritual’. Perhaps ‘Arcadia’ is best placed in that category. Clearly some of the footage is shot at Lewes on Guy Fawkes Night, which I’ve attended a few times and included in the B&M novel ‘The Burning Man’.
There are other stories to be told in this area. ‘The Lore of the Land’ by Westwood & Simpson is a huge tome compiling all of the folk rituals and beliefs of the UK, and if you’re short of ideas there’s enough in it to fill a hundred novels or films.