Viy (Spirit of Evil)

Dir: Konstantin Yershov & Georgi Kropachyov, 1967. Starring: L. Kuravlev, N. Varley, A. Glazyrin. Horror/Fantasy.
Viy (Spirit of Evil)

Viy (Spirit of Evil) is a classic Russian horror film based on a story of the same name by the acclaimed Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. It is a dark, yet humorous film set in medieval times, in the Russian countryside, and it involves demons, witches, and wayward priests.

The story begins with three traveling priests who, after being on their journey for some time, decide that it would be better to find a house to sleep in instead of a field. They soon find an old farmhouse and knock on the gate. The call is answered by an old crone who instructs the priests that if they are to sleep in the farm they must all sleep in separate places.

The story then begins to take on a more sinister tone as it develops around one of the priests, a man named Jhorma. As Jhorma is sleeping he is paid a visit by the old crone who makes an attempt to tempt the priest. At first the priest laughs it off, but he is soon put under a spell by the old woman and she rides his back like a broom into the air and they land together in a remote place. Jhorma, taking the old crone for a witch begins to beat her repeatedly with a stick. In the middle of his beating a young voice cries out, "You're killing me," and the priest looks down to discover that the old crone has transformed into a beautiful woman. The priest, in horror, runs back to his father, who is the local high priest.

When Jhorma finally returns to his father wearied, he is instructed to immediately accompany a group of men back to their village where a beautiful young woman has died a tragic and mysterious death. The dying woman had named Jhorma by name and asked that he hold vigil and pray for her soul for three consecutive nights. When the priest arrives, he is horrified to discover the woman is the same woman he had beaten in the field...

This film recreates the dark and gritty atmosphere of the Russian medieval countryside with great clarity, as all of the costumes and sets are absolutely perfect. Even the crests painted on the walls of the noblemen's halls seem to have been gleaned from some ancient archeological findings. For a fantasy/horror film, Viy holds back many of its fantasy aspects in a very tasteful way. Instead, bringing Russian culture and folklore to the foreground, imbuing the film with a superstitious sense of realism. When the fantasy elements and special effects come into the story, they are very well done and creative. The climactic final scene is the sort of thing any doomy psychedelic rock band would happily dream about being projected behind them while reaching the depths of their satanic jam.

The music is a little jovial for the film in my opinion, but it does accentuate the humorous points nicely. The acting is all very good, some of the villagers seem very authentically rural. The special effects and costumes, as I've mentioned, are all top notch. Some of the imagery is pretty scary, and would be especially for a young child, however, it is devoid of gore, and creates its unsettling vibe through exploitation of biblical fears, demonic imagery, and suspense. Those with an inclination towards a vampiric aesthetic would feel right at home with the vision of Natalya Varley's pallid beauty as she twitches and convulses evilly in the throes of demonic possession (probably the highlight performance of the film).

Ultimately a very enjoyable 1967 Soviet horror film that is highly original, and would be a fine addition to the collection of any fan of vintage horror.

Posted by:
Jonah Rust
Jul 13, 2009 3:15pm
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