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All The Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium Of Folk Horror (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review - Part Two

    Ian Jane

  • All The Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium Of Folk Horror (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review - Part Two

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: December 7th, 2021.
    Director: Djordje Kadijevic, Otakar Ví¡vra, Konstantin Ershov, Georgiy Kropachyov
    Cast: Petar Bozovic, Mirjana Nikolic, Slobodan 'Cica' Perovic, Vladimí­r Smeral, Elo Romancik, Sona Valentoví¡, Leonid Kuralev, Natalya Varley
    Year: 1973, 1970, 1967
    Purchase From Amazon

    All The Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium Of Folk Horror - Movie Review:

    With what may very well be their most ambitious boxed set release yet, Severin Films compiles a wealth of folk horror productions and loads of accompanying bonus features to put this most unique of horror subgenres into ever important context.

    Here's a look at discs three and four from this twelve disc set.

    Disc 3: LEPTIRICA

    Said to be based on Milovan Glišić's 1880 Serbian vampire story After Ninety Years, written well before Stoker penned Dracula, 1973's Leptirica, or The She-Butterfly in English, was directed by Djordje Kadijevic, takes place in a small village in the 1800's. Here we learn early on that the village has a problem - a toothy monster cloaked in a black robe has decided to make the town's only flour mill its home and, after four mill keepers are found dead, it's making it exceedingly difficult to keep the mill running.

    Meanwhile, a young man named Strahinja (Petar Bozovic) hopes to wed his girlfriend, Radojka (Mirjana Nikolic) but when he asks her guardian, Zivan (Slobodan 'Cica' Perovic), for permission, he is denied because he is a pauper. When the hard drinking village elders and the local priest find out about his predicament, they offer him a job at the mill, which he accepts, though they fail to disclose to Strahinja the current details regarding the mill's new resident.

    Trying to figure out how to get rid of the monster, the townsmen, frequently full of brandy, decided to unearth the grave of one an ancient vampire named Sava Savanovic, hoping that putting a stake through the coffin will solve their problems. It doesn't quite work out that way, and after a butterfly escapes from the coffin, Strahinja finds himself in quiet the predicament as he steals Radojka away from Zivan and gets ever closer to their wedding night.

    This sixty-five minute made for TV movie is quite atmospheric and pretty entertaining. Some of the comedic relief with the town drunks doesn't quite fit the more serious tone of the rest of the movie but Kadijevic paces the film quite well and the picture has no problem holding our attention from start to finish. The production values are also pretty decent, with the serene village making for a nice backdrop for the horror and the period costumes looking 'right' for the time in which the story has been set. There aren't a lot of makeup effects used in the picture but when they do appear on camera they are well done and make for some very memorable set pieces.

    Reportedly the first horror film made in Serbia (back when it was still Yugoslavia), Leptirica isn't likely going to send seasoned horror film fans into fits of terror but it has some legitimately creepy spots in it and features some generally strong performances from all involved. The fullframe cinematography is quite good and the film makes good use of color and of sound, with the caterwauling of what sounds like a man imitating a monkey coming out of the woods particularly weird.


    Directed by Otakar Ví¡vra in 1970, Witchhammer is set in the Czechoslovakia of the seventeenth century in the small village of Velké Losiny. Early on, an aging and poor woman tries to steal a communion wafer out of the church during the service and is caught. When she's grilled about her motives, she mentions that she needed it to give to an 'herbalist' who was going to use it to cure her sick cow. She's accused of witchcraft and the local Countess agrees with the local clergy that an inquisitor should be brought in as the old woman must be part of a coven.

    It is decided that infamous witch hunter JindÅ™ich FrantiÅ¡ek Boblig (Vladimí­r Smeral) and his team will be brought in to weed out the devil worshippers but it soon becomes obvious to the audience, and local minister Krystof Lautner (Elo Romancik) that Boblig isn't interested in rooting out actual witches so much as he is in getting rid of those who oppose him and lining his own pockets.

    Unfortunately for Lautner, those above him in the Catholic Church frown upon his relationship with his cook, Zuzana (Sona Valentoví¡) so when he speaks up against Boblig's methods and intentions, he and Zuzana both find themselves in hot water with the witch hunters. As Boblig's inquisition grows in both scope and cruelty he coerces many of the women, and soon some of the men, from the town into confessing to acts of black magic that they didn't actually commit, many of them burned at the stake for their supposed transgressions.

    Based on the novel of the same name by Ví¡clav Kaplickí½ and beautifully shot in black and white by skilled cinematographer Josef Illik, Witchhammer (also known as The Witch's Hammer) is more of a grim historical drama than a straight horror movie, though the events that take place in the picture should frighten anyone with a sense of moral decency. Filled with striking visuals that accent the cruelty and hypocrisy on display in the film, it is nevertheless a genuinely beautiful looking film at times, even as it captures the very embodiment of human ugliness. Those hoping for a good time at the movie will be left scarred, but anyone who can appreciate thought provoking arthouse cinema should find much to appreciate here.

    If the budget clearly wasn't massive, it doesn't matter most of the time. Ví¡vra and company never seem to need to overshoot, and the occasional gore effects worked into the torture scenes are as effective as they are minimalist. The score accents the horror and the drama in equal measure and even as the film approaches the two hour mark, the pacing seems spot on.

    Just as importantly, the acting is spot on. Vladimí­r Smeral is perfectly despicable as Boblig, a man who wallows in his corrupt intentions but still manages to convince and even charm many of the locals involved in all of this simply by playing up their religious convictions. He's excellent here, so good in fact that you wind up hating him by the time it is all over with. Elo Romancik as the noble Lautner, the one man willing to take a stand against Boblig, is just as good. We know he isn't perfect and so does he, and Romancik portrays him not as flawless, but as human. Sona Valentoví¡ doesn't get as much to do here as the two male leads but her work in the film is excellent. When Boblig and his cronies eventually 'break' her, we feel for her in a big way.

    As far as Viy goes, Khoma Brut (Leonid Kuralev) and his two friends are, along with the rest of their class, given a break for their work at the seminary but told by the headmaster not to get into too much trouble on their break. They head out into the surrounding area and wind up taking solace for the night at a remote country home inhabited only by a single old woman. She agrees to let them in but states that they must each go to sleep in separate places. As she sends Khoma's two friends off for the night, she decides to keep him for herself. He pushes back against her advances but soon she grabs him and her besom and whisks him off into the night sky. Clearly, she's a witch. He pleads with her to put him down and when she eventually obliges, he beats her within an inch of her life, at which point she transforms from an aged hag into a gorgeous young woman (Natalya Varley).

    A short time later, Khoma is back at the seminary when the headmaster tells him he's needed elsewhere. It seems that a young woman named Pannochka who recently passed away asked her father as her dying request to have Khoma deliver her last rites. As such, he travels to a nearby village where he meets with the father of the deceased, unsure why he's been called here - until he sees the body of the girl that he beat just a few days prior. Khoma is then coerced into spending three nights in the local church with her body, praying over her, until she can finally be laid to rest.

    It doesn't play out like he'd hoped it would.

    Based on the story 'The Vij' by Nikolai Gogol (the same source material used by Mario Bava for Black Sunday), Viy starts off as a fantasy picture with elements of comedy thrown into but takes a sharp right turn into twisted gothic horror just past the half way mark of its seventy-seven-minute running time. We won't spoil the story for those who haven't seen it (though be forewarned that some of the screen caps posted below will), but it's in this last half of the movie where the impressive effects work from Aleksandr Ptushko really shines. There's a lot of creativity on display and the results as are unique as they are unsettling.

    The movie's Russian heritage also gives it a unique cultural slant not just in the language spoken but in the wardrobe, the set design and the costumes on display. The interior of the church features some fantastic and odd little details you wouldn't see in a North American or Western European church, pay attention to the paintings here, they help add to the film's bizarre atmosphere. The film deals in some interesting Russian customs as well, and not just the consumption of vodka (although that does occur!), but the way which people grieve for the loss of a loved one and in the way that Christian orthodoxy is portrayed.

    Leonid Kuralev is good as the male lead in the picture. He starts off full of bravado and machismo, but his attitude quickly changes as the events that transpire around him warp his psyche. He plays tortured and distressed very well! Natalya Varley is also very good here in a completely silent part. She's made up in such a way to look beautiful but also to look frightening and she uses her eyes wonderfully to really make a strong impression.

    All The Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium Of Folk Horror - Blu-ray Review:

    Leptirica is presented in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer in its proper 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio taken from an 'HD master from Public Service Media Radio Television of Serbia.' Using up 19GBS of space on the 50GB disc, the picture quality isn't going to floor you but it is decent enough. Sometimes things look a bit soft but this likely stems back to the elements available. Colors are handled well and while there is some print damage noticeable here and there, the pictures is free of any problematic compression artifacts or noise reduction issues.

    Witchhammer arrives on Blu-ray framed at 2.35.1 with the black and white image presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and using up 23.6GBs of space. Taken from an 'HD restored master supplied by the Czech Film Center' it shows some damage and obvious wear and tear but is, for the most part, in very nice shape.

    Severin Films brings Viy to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.33.1 fullframe taking up 18.7Gbs of space on the 50GB disc it shares with Witchhammer. Aside from a noticeable blue tint (not having seen this film before I can't say if it should look that way or not), the image quality here is really strong. Detail is quite nice, especially in close up shots, and there's good texture too. There are some white specks here and there but no serious print damage to take you out of the viewing experience. The image is free of noise reduction, edge enhancement and compression issues and retains the expected amount of natural film grain throughout.

    Leptirica uses a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track in its native Serbian language with optional subtitles offered in English. The quality of the track is fine. It might not be reference quality but it is clean and properly balanced. The film's clever sound design is reproduced pretty effectively and there aren't any problems with any distortion, though you might hear a bit of minor hiss now and again.

    The Czech language audio on Witchhammer, which uses a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono option and includes optional English subtitles, is fine for an older track. The levels are balanced properly and the dialogue is clear. There aren't any issues with hiss, distortion or sibilance and the score has better range than you might think it would, given the age of the film and the mono source material. No problems to note here, it all sounds quite good.

    For VIY, 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks are provided in the original Russian and dubbed English options, with optional subtitles available in English only. While it's nice to have the English track here, the Russian track fights with the film better. It's limited in range, as you'd probably expect, but it sounds pretty clean and clear. It's properly balanced and free of any hiss or distortion.

    Disc 3: LEPTIRICA

    Extras for Leptirica begin with Radical Fairy Tales, an interview with director Djordje Kadijevic that runs for just over thirty-one minutes. He speaks about choosing the subjects for his films, adapting works of literature for the screen, his thoughts on the film's source material, getting his start making war-related films in the aftermath of WWII, other filmmakers whose work influenced his own, why he switched from making war films to making films based on fairy tales, his work as an art history professor and how it affects his filmmaking, why he made certain changes to the story when he made Leptirica, how audiences reacted to the film when it first premiered and how it was received by the press, the differences between fantasy in Eastern Europe versus Western Europe, why he is attracted to certain themes that turn up in his films, and details on some of the other films that he's made over the years.

    Also included on the third disc are some bonus short films, all presented 'newly remastered in HD from archival film elements at Public Service Media Radio Television of Serbia.' The first of these is the forty-five minute Štićenik, which was directed by Djordje Kadijevic in 1973.

    This black and white fullframe feature, presented in Serbian DTS-HD 2.0 Mono with English subtitles, opens with a young man running as if his life depended on it across a desolate field from an unseen pursuer. A few minutes in and we realize he's being chased by a man in a black coat and hat. The chase takes them around a lake where the young man knocks on the door of a mental hospital, the doctor who answers kind enough to let him come in once he spies the man in black nearby. He tells the doctor his name is Mihailo and they take him to a room with a bed, insisting that he stay in the hospital. It soon becomes apparent that the doctor believes Mihailo to be mentally ill, although once we see the man in black try to kill an orderly named Nikola we realize that he probably isn't. The man in black eventually tells the doctor that Mihailo was in his care and that he's escaped from his hospital, but the doctor refuses to let him take Mihailo back. Mihailo, meanwhile, draws an ominous looking tree and talks to the doctor about his predicament, the man in black still skulking about outside. Is the man in black telling the truth and will Mihailo make it out of the hospital alive?

    Beautifully shot and super atmospheric, this is a tense and intriguing short film that proves rife with atmosphere. The fantastic lighting and high contrast cinematography creates a dark, shadowy landscape inside the hospital, with quick trips outside to periodically concentrate on an oddly ominous rocking chair to break things up a bit. The acting is very good, quite convincing, and the effective but minimalist soundtrack, used sparingly, adds to the film's compelling charms.

    Diary Of An Inmate is a ten minute interview with Štićenik's lead actor Milan Mihailovic. This piece covers how he got the role without auditioning, getting along with the director and the other cast members, the publicity that surrounded the making of this TV movie, the source material that was turned into the movie, thoughts on the character of the man in black and what he represents, shooting in an old castle that doubled for the hospital, how despite the horrific nature of the movie the shoot was quite pleasant, the stunts that were required at the end of the movie, how he feels the movie was ahead of its time and misunderstood by audiences of its day and how he feels Djordje Kadijevic's films will never be forgotten.

    The second short is the sixty minute Devičanska Svirka, again directed by Djordje Kadijevic in 1973. This black and white fullframe production, is again in DTS-HD 2.0 Mono and in Sernia, is titled The Maiden's Tune in English. It opens with a man arriving at a remote country home, carriage driver refusing to take him any further on his journey. The man takes his case and decides to proceed on foot through the barren land, where he comes across a castle that a young boy tells him belongs to 'the lady.' The boy tells him not to go there, but he doesn't listen. Shortly after, the boy is struck down by a speeding carriage with a beautiful woman inside. The man is let in and the carriage takes them to the castle. Here the boy is pronounced dead. The woman, who is as beautiful as she is strange, asks the man for help. We learn that the man's name is Ivan (Goran Sultanovic) and the woman, whose name is Sibila (Olivera Katarina), gives him a quick history of the castle, her behavior getting increasingly weird as the conversation goes on. They embrace and begin to make love not far from the boy's corpse, watched by a strange, silent man that neither of them notices. Soon, she shows him a memorial to her late husband and their make out session continues. When we next see Sibila she's in a wedding gown and telling him she loves him and that she promises to tell him her secrets. It goes on to get quite a bit weirder from there, tension building quite effectively to a really strong conclusion.

    A lot of the same qualities of the first short apply here as well - stark black and white cinematography, a shadowy interior, strange character played by talented and convincing actors, it all works quite well. Again, the sound design is quite strong but it is the visuals that really sell it and the location plays a big part in making that happen. It's quite melodramatic but its strong gothic qualities help to keep it from going off track.

    Prisoner Of Song is an interview with Devičanska Svirka's lead actor Goran Sultanovic. This segment runs for thirteen minutes. He talks about how he got the role, getting along with his co-star and how well she treated him, his prior experience as an actor, his thoughts on the script, how rare it was for a Serbian film to deal with horror or sci-fi elements, how the film was covered in the media, shooting on location in an old castle, getting along with the director who he describes as quite gentle, how he didn't actually get to see the movie until twenty years after it was made and his thoughts on the film overall.


    The main extra for Witchhammer is an audio commentary with Czech film historian and curator Irena Kovarova who talks about seeing the film in Prague for the first time in the nineties after films like this, which were banned by the communist regime, were again made available to the public. She goes over the film's production history and provides a lot of helpful cultural context here as to a lot of what we see on screen. She notes that the film is based on a lot of real events, people and places and goes over a fair bit of that history, and she also covers a lot of the symbolism on display in the film. She talks about the director's history and importance in his homeland, some of the social commentary on display in the picture, why the film was banned by the communists, thoughts and details on a lot of the cast and crew that worked on the picture, the costume design used in the film and lots more - it's quite a detailed and informative talk.

    The Womb Of Woman Is The Gateway To Hell is a twenty-three minute filmed appreciation by essayist and critic Kat Ellinger and produced and edited by film historian Michael Brooke ported over from the UK Second Run release. This goes over the director's history, the film's place in cult film fandom and lurid promotional materials, the use of torture scenes in promotional images, how the film compares to similar pictures such as Witchfinder General, The Demons and others as well as the influence of films like Day Of Wrath, the effect of the communist powers on Czech cinema, the exploration of themes and traditions in Otakar Ví¡vra's films, the depiction of women in the film from the very first scene and then throughout the film, the actual text of the Malleus Maleficarum that plays a big role in the film, other films that deal with similar subject material such as Valley Of The Bees and more.

    The disc also includes a sixty-two minute episode of The Projection Booth Podcast with host Mike White and guest critics Samm Deighan and Rahne Alexander. This plays out as a partial audio commentary over the feature. They go over the history of the film, the book that the story is based on, the way that the movie explores the persecution of women, how they commentators first discovered the movie, the motivations of the different characters in the film, the depictions of sexuality in the movie, the dour atmosphere and tone of the film, the cultural connectivity of witch hunts that took place all over the world around the time that this movie is set, how certain characters in the film really just serve as bait, some of the parallels between the politics in this film and modern America, some of the more poignant lines of dialogue in the film,

    As far as the extras for Viy are concerned, in the thirty-four-minute Soviet Cinema: John Leman Riley On The History Of Soviet Fantasy And Sci-Fi Film we sit down with the writer who cover some of the same ground as Stanley to start - the literary origins of the material - before then going on to talk about Viy and quite a few other Russian genre pictures. There are some great clips contained in this piece that will no doubt make you want to seek out some of the material discussed. The man knows his stuff and gives us an interesting and concise 'crash courses' in what is definitely an underexplored territory in terms of horror and sci-fi pictures.

    On top of that, the disc also includes three vintage Russian silent horror films. The first of these is The Portrait, a strange little ten-minute piece from 1915 about a man who quite literally sees the subject of a portrait on his wall come to life. The film might be primitive in terms of its technique but it's pretty effective!

    The second short is The Queen Of Spades, from 1916, a sixteen-minute clip (presumably from a longer feature) that lets us know that the countess suffers from insomnia. Her aides lay her down and leave her be, at which point she fades away and we see a younger woman and her escort arrive in the room. A man in a wig creeps about the home, the young woman fades back into the older countess, and we learn that she can foretell card games, the young man pleading with her to tell him her secret. She refuses until he pulls out a gun, at which point she passes away from fear. The young man, Hermann, tells her beloved what happened. He's distressed by the events, even more so when, the next night, the countess returns to pay him a visit. It's a neat short, again, quite atmospheric and nicely shot.

    1917's Satan Exultant, which clocks in at roughly twenty-minutes, tells the story of a minister named Talnoks and his brother Pavel as they hunker down for a night of bad weather. Soon enough, Satan himself appears, pretending to be a traveler in need of shelter for the night, and then does what Satan does best - tries to get the inhabitants of the home to give into temptation. Note that this is just a portion of the film, not a complete version, but what's here is very interesting and quite atmospheric.

    Note that the Richard Stanley interview that appeared on Severin's single disc issue from 2020 has not been ported over to this release.

    All The Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium Of Folk Horror - The Final Word:

    Discs three and four of All The Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium Of Folk Horror offer up some seriously great movies in nice presentations on two discs loaded with high quality extras (don't miss out on the short films, they're excellent). There's some fascinating stuff here and the films are loaded with eerie imagery and set pieces.

    Click on the images below for full sized The All The Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium Of Folk Horror Blu-ray screen caps!

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