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

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

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    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: December 7th, 2021.
    Director: Ben Wheatley, Chris Newby, Alan Clarke, James MacTaggart
    Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Ryan Pope, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover, Michael Smiley, Natalie Morse, Christopher Eccleston, Spencer Banks, John Atkinson, Georgine Anderson, Anna Cropper, Amanda Walker, Julian Holloway
    Year: 2021, 1993, 1974, 1970
    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 the last two Blu-ray discs from this twelve disc set.


    Set during the mid-17th century English Civil War, Ben Wheatley's 2013 film, A Field In England, follows a man named Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith), an alchemist's assistant, feels from the cruel Commander Trower (Julian Barratt) only to have a soldier named Cutler (Ryan Pope) come to his rescue. When Cutler kills Trower and saves Whitehead's life, he goes on to meet Jacob (Peter Ferdinando) and Friend (Richard Glover), two soldiers that have deserted their ranks. When Cutler speaks of a tavern nearby, the men decide to make the hike but are instead led to a large, empty field with a whole lot of mushrooms growing in it.

    Cutler harvests some of the mushrooms and makes a meal for he and the others to enjoy. Whitehouse declines, but the others indulge and things start to get strange from here. They come across an Irishman named O'Neill (Michael Smiley) who they learn is a competitor to the alchemist Cutler is employed by and who has stolen from Whitehead's superior officer some important documents that Whitehouse would like to get back. O'Neill tells the group that there's treasure hidden somewhere in the field and soon becomes the de facto leader of the group.

    As the influence of the mushrooms start to take effect, the men search for the treasure but what little organization they had quickly falls apart under the influence of not only the hallucinogens consumed, but O'Neill sinister sway as well.

    A decidedly strange but refreshingly unique film, A Field In England, shot digitally in black and white on location in England complete with period attire and weaponry, it's a trippy but rewarding watch worth seeking out. The performances from the small but talented cast are strong across the board, with Michael Smiley in particular stealing quite a few scenes in the second half of the movie.

    Wheatley, who co-edited the film with writer Amy Jump, paces the film very effectively. It starts off with a particularly tense scene, mellows out for a bit to let the characters properly develop, and then ramps things up in a big way, using plenty of quirky visuals tricks, to bring the viewer into a similar headspace as some of the characters. As things quickly get out of control and we start to question how much of what we're seeing is real or hallucinated by the characters in the movie, Wheatley succeeds in pulling us into the narrative and holding our attention right up until the film's gripping, bloody finale.

    Directed by Chris Newby from a script by Judith Stanley-Smith and Christine Watkins, 1993's Anchoress, shot in stark black and white, is a visually sumptuous film about a teenaged girl named Christine Carpenter (Natalie Morse) who lives in fourteenth century England. Deeply religious, Christine is fascinated to the point of obsession with a statue of the Virgin Mary that resides in the church she regularly attends, even experiencing visions related to it. The Reeve (Gene Bervoets) who owns the building where Christine lives with her sister and parents, wants to marry her but she's not interested in his propositions.

    The priest of said church (Christopher Eccleston, probably best known for his short stint on Doctor Who), doesn't do a particularly good job of hiding his attraction to Christine and he takes it upon himself to suggest that Christine become an Anchoress. The idea here is that Christine would dedicate her life to the church and be literally walled inside a room in the church where she'd have the responsibility of blessing the different members of the congregation through a single window, her only outlet to the world outside. When Christine agrees to this, the priest soon accuses her mother Pauline (Toyay Willcox) of being a witch, causing Christine to break her vows to try and sort things out.

    Very deliberate with its pacing, Anchoress leans more towards the historical drama than the horror film you might expect it to be given its inclusion in this set, but it very definitely does have strong folk horror elements to it and, particularly in its final third, it gets to be quite tense. Newby, who made his feature directorial debut with this film, does a very good job of letting us get to know Christine and her lot in life well enough that we can see why she'd be attracted to the concept of becoming an Anchoress in the first place, and Natalie Morse's excellent performance does a great job of bringing the character to life.

    The visuals, however, really help to sell this movie. From the start of the picture all the way through to the finale, the movie is rife with interesting religious imagery, realistic looking characters, quirky period architecture and beautiful use of shadow and light. Based on the true story of Anchoress Of Shere, the movie makes us think about the church's place in society, feminist theory and spirituality in general, never pandering to its audience. A typical horror film this is not, but Anchoress is really well-made and easy to appreciate for all the things it is, rather than isn't.


    Directed by the infamous Alan Clarke and written David Rudkin, Penda's Fen, which was originally shown as an episode of Play For Today on the BBC in 1974, tells the story of a teenaged boy named Stephen (Spencer Banks) who, when we meet him, is enrolled in a military school. Spencer was raised a protestant, his father (John Atkinson) having worked as a Reverend at a town church.

    These days, however, Stephen is starting to question things. He's also obsessing over Elgar's 'The Dream Of Gerontius' and has become quite the fan of classical music. Soon, Stephen starts to study the compositions and instrumentation in more detail. While his knack for classical music is admirable in some circles, as a military cadet his small frame and lack of athletic abilities do him no favors. He's a smaller kid than most of his classmates and he's frequently picked on by everyone from his fellow cadets to the local milkman. Compounding all of the stress that Stephen is experiencing in his adolescence is the fact that he's starting to wonder if he might, in fact, be gay.

    When all of this stress starts to manifest in a series of unsettling dreams that plague him with depictions of arcane rituals and sinister demons, Stephen starts to lose his grip on his own sanity.

    A complex yet rewarding film, Penda's Fen is whip smart and quiet engaging. Anyone who has ever questioned societal mores or the religious doctrine of their homeland will see in Stephen's character a kindred spirit. Clarke and his crew do a great job of making him feel like a very real person, with Rudkin's script adding lots of depth to keep all of this interesting. The pacing isn't rapid fire but Clarke, skilled director that he was, keeps control and delivers enough bits and pieces in even the film's calmer moments to make the more intense bits hit harder.

    This isn't a typical horror film, it's as much an unusual character drama as anything else, but it does an interesting, and sometimes subtlety creepy, job of working Stephen's mindsight into Europe's pagan past with some strong visuals and interesting camerawork. It's also worth noting, of course, that Spencer Banks deserves a lot of credit for his very strong performance here, he really brings out a lot of Stephen's humanity with his work in front of the camera.

    Robin Redbreast, directed by James MacTaggart from a script by John Bowen, also debuted on Play For Today, though a few years earlier than the first film on this final disc, debuting in 1970. The story details the unusual exploits of a woman named Norah Palmer (Anna Cropper) who makes her living as a script editor for the BBC itself. When her long term relationship doesn't end the way she'd hoped it would, she decides to get away from it all for a little while and head off to 'The Place Of Birds,' an aged country cottage that she and her significant other purchased but never quite got around to properly doing much with.

    It takes Norah a little while to get accustomed to the quirky ways of the locals that live in the area and her housekeeper, Mrs. Vigo (Freda Bamford), seems to have trouble minding her own business. She can't help but notice the local jack-of-all-trades, Rob (Andy Bradford), because he's got a penchant for practicing martials arts in his underwear nearby, and she seems to warm up a bit to local smart guy, Mr. Fisher (Bernard Hepton). She does notice not too long after her arrival, however, that the locals seem to have a lot more interest in ancient, sometimes very pagan, traditions that most of England has long done away with.

    When Norah spends the night with Rob on the eve of the Harvest Festival, she soon finds herself pregnant, something seeming to have happened with her diaphragm. She panics and heads back to her home in the city, unsure what to do about her situation, though fairly intent on getting an abortion. When she ultimately heads back to the cottage, she learns that she was little more than a pawn in a sinister game still being played, one that leads up to the town's upcoming Easter celebration.

    There are elements here that parallel The Wicker Man a bit but Robin Redbreast definitely does enough of its own thing to never feel like the same story. There's a certain staginess to some of the scenes that doesn't help the material and this isn't the most visually stunning of the films in this collection, but when MacTaggart takes the story on location to the small country village, the movie benefits from some great atmosphere. The story itself is weird enough and, at times, creepy enough, to easily hold our attention even if the visuals aren't so flashy.

    Performances are pretty strong here. Anna Cropper is a good choice for the lead, bringing her character to pretty vivid life and portraying all of Norah's confusion and complexities with a realistic bent. Freda Bamford and Bernard Hepton are interesting in their supporting roles and Andy Bradford is hard to forget less for his acting than for his character's weird habits - but he makes it work!

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

    A Field In England is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 taken from an HD digital master and using up 23.7GBs of space on the 50GB disc it shares with Anchoress. Shot in digital HD in 2013, Wheatley and company used a myriad of different lenses during the shooting of the film to create some of the strange effects that are shown on screen in the film, particularly in the last half hour. It works pretty well, and these effects translate nicely to the Blu-ray transfer on this disc. Most of the films looks nice and crisp, showing strong detail and good depth and texture. The more psychedelic scenes in the second half of the film don't always share these qualities, but again, that's intention on the part of the filmmakers. Overall, however, the presentation here is quite strong.

    The transfer for Anchoress is an AVC encoded 1080p presentation framed at 1.66.1 widescreen, 'mastered in HD by the British Film Institute' and using 19GBs of space. The elements used here were seemingly in nice shape, as the film looks very good and shows only very mild print damage here and there. The black and white image shows good contrast and strong black levels, and close up shots in particular look excellent. Detail is pretty strong overall, though some shots do look a bit softer than others (much of this seems to have to do with the lighting) but as a whole, the picture quality is really nice.

    The transfer for Penda's Fen is an AVC encoded 1080p presentation framed at 1.33.1 fullframe, 'mastered in HD by the British Film Institute' and using 22.7GBs of space on the 50GB disc that it shares with Robin Redbreast. This transfer looks pretty solid, the film's earth tone-heavy color scheme is reproduced quite realistically and skin tones look lifelike and natural. The image is always film-like, showing no problematic noise reduction or edge enhancement, and while grain is certainly noticeable actual print damage is rare.

    Robin Redbreast is also presented in an AVC encoded 1080p presentation framed at 1.33.1 fullframe, 'mastered from BBC protection tape master, the only surviving element' and using up 19.3GBs of space. Clearly taken from a less than perfect analogue source, the black and white picture is watchable but not great. Still, best to have it included here even if it isn't in the best presentation you'll ever see than to not have it preserved at all. Detail wavers a bit and there's some trailing noticeable throughout. The image is soft, but it's watchable. Just keep your expectations in check.

    A Field In England overs 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio tracks in both 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 options with removable subtitles provided in English only. If you've got the hardware to properly handle it, the 5.1 mix is the way to go, as it spreads the score and effects through the mix really effectively and hits the subwoofer with some pretty intense low end when the movie needs it. The track is clean, clear and balanced, just as you'd hope a recent feature would be.

    Anchoress gets only one audio option, and that's a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track in the film's native English, again with removable subtitles provided in English only. While understandably limited in range, the track on the disc sounds clean and offers up dialogue that is easy to understand and follow. The score sounds solid and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note.

    Audio for Penda's Fen is handled by an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. Removable subtitles are available in English only. Audio quality is fine, the track is properly balanced and quite clean. There are a few spots where things sound a just a tad flat but that's likely due to the original recording more than anything else. Overall, the sound is quite good here.

    Robin Redbreast also gets the English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono treatment with optional English subtitles. This one suffers a bit from the available elements, it's a little muffled in spots, but overall it's serviceable enough, just don't expect crystal clear fidelity.


    Extras for A Field In England kick off with an audio commentary from director Ben Wheatley, producer Andy Starke and sound editor Martin Pavey that is carried over from the Drafthouse Films Blu-ray release. It's an interesting track, at times very technical as it goes over a lot of Pavey's work on the production as well as the specifics of some of the camerawork. Don't expect them go get into the nitty gritty of what the film is actually about or the writing process, they don't go there, but if you want the cold, hard facts about what went into getting this film made from a technical stand point, this is a good way to do just that.

    The forty-five minute Letterboxd Magic Hour Episode One: Kier-La Janisse X Ben Wheatley featurette finds the director talking about folk horror with Janisse via video conferencing software. After a bit of small talk, they cover Andy Starke's involvement with the production, Wheatley's thoughts on the script and Amy Jump's work both on the writing of the film and the editing of the film, his feelings on the folk horror 'genre' and how some of his work is 'an investigation into general Britishness' than anything related to typical folk horror movies, how he feels his movies do link to folk horror, some of the theories that are out there regarding the meaning of A Field In England, his 2021 feature In The Earth and quite a bit more.

    Please Hear Me — The Music of A Field In England is a six minute interview with composer Jim Williams and Ben Wheatley that goes over what went into creating the score for the film, what some of the influences on the score where, and why the music in the movie turned out the way that it did.

    Ben Wheatley In Conversation With Pete Tombs is a twenty-three minute archival featurette where the Mondo Macabro main man/author/film historian conducts an interesting discussion with Wheatley that goes over where some of the ideas for the film came from, some of the influences that worked their way into Wheatley's work, the script and a few of the themes and ideas that are evident in the picture.

    The disc also includes just over ten minutes of camera tests that were shot over a surprisingly long period of time as well as the original trailer for the feature. Note that the Master Class Featurettes and the Making Of A Field In England featurettes from the Drafthouse Blu-ray haven't been ported over to this disc.

    Extra features for Anchoress begin with the fourteen minute Lockdown 1329, a new video essay by Anchoress director Chris Newby that examines some interesting similarities between the Covid-19 lockdown in the UK and the experiences that Christine Carpenter's character goes through in the film. It provides some food for thought, with Newby's narration explaining some of his own experiences in London when this took place - both positive and negative - and explaining some of the outtake material included here and putting it into context.

    In the three minute A Short Trip To Shere, Newby documents the location of the real Christine Carpenter's anchoress cell from 1329 at St. James' Church in Shere, England. It starts with a train ride but quickly captures the exterior of the church before then going inside and showing us the cell itself.


    The supplements for Penda's Fen start with an audio commentary by James Machin and Matthew Hale, the editors of the book “Of Mud & Flame: The Penda's Fen Sourcebook.” This track covers quite a bit of ground, including how and why they wrote a book on Penda's Fen before then going over the poem that the film was based on and the man who wrote it, interviewing different participants from the production for their book and what they took away from those interviews, details on the cast and crew that worked on the production and plenty of biographical details on their lives and careers, details in the script that are glossed over in the finished version of the film, whether or not anyone was singed during the scene with the fire and quite a bit more. These guys definitely know their stuff.

    A sixteen minute featurette called The Landscape of Feelings: The Road To Penda's Fen serves as a look at the making of the movie and is made up of interviews with the film's writer David Rudkin and producer David Rose as well as insight from some of Alan Clarke's collaborators like writer David Yallop, actor Sean Chapman and playwright David Leland. Lots of insight here into Clarke's relationship with the BBC and the freedom that they allowed him when working with him, how some of the more questionable elements in some of his productions were let out by the BBC for different reasons, the working class perspective that the film is presented with, what Clarke was like to work with, some of the themes that the picture explores and some of the traditions that the feature works into its narrative.

    Also included here is a twenty-two minute color short from 1982 called The Pledge, which was directed by Digby Rumsey (and co-edited by an uncredited Peter Greenaway). Presented fullframe in AVC encoded 1080p high DTS-HD 2.0 Mono audio, this period piece begins with a peasant man walking the remote English countryside, passing a hanged corpse along the way. The body belongs to a former highwayman, and his surviving cohorts, still very much causing plenty of trouble in the area, decide to rescue his corpse so that they can bring it to a cemetery for a proper burial, assuming that by doing so his soul will go to heaven. Based on a short story by writer Lord Dunsany, it's a strange short that deals with the importance of religion in what was then current English society as well as the superstitions and beliefs that came along with that. It's quite dark and gritty and very macabre in spots!

    Robin Redbreast gets an audio commentary from William Fowler and Vic Pratt, the curators and authors of “The Bodies Beneath: The Flipside of British Film & Television.” They note that their book includes a chapter on the film and then go over the context in which the production was first seen in 1970. There's lots of good information in here about what the BBC was up to during this era in terms of adapting stage plays and short stories into content, the built-in audience that the lack of channels in the UK guaranteed, John Bowen's career as a writer and details on his life and times, details on the cast and crew that worked on the picture, plenty of thoughts on the different characters that populate the story and what makes them interesting, the mythic elements that work their way into the narrative, comparisons to the Wicker Man and other folk horror pictures and lots more. This is quite detailed and clearly very well-researched.

    The disc also includes a twelve minute interview with John Bowen where the writer goes over the origins of Robin Redbreast and how he came to write the story, where some of the inspiration and ideas came from, autobiographical details that are in the movie such as buying up an older house where some unusual occurrences took place, how the story was received when it was released, how he feels like is a mix of the horrifying and the ordinary, working with the BBC on the production, the first broadcast of the movie and his thoughts on the adaptation.

    Lastly, there's another bonus short film here in the form of the twelve minute The Sermon, directed by Dean Puckett in 2018. Presented in 1.33.1 fullframe in AVC encoded 1080p with DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo audio, the story revolves around a small church in the English countryside where a preacher readies his latest sermon for his congregation. His daughter, who doesn't approve of the homophobia he frequently spews in the name of 'protecting the children,' decides to do something about it. This one isn't too hard to predict in terms of how it finishes but it's very dark, nicely shot and quite well-made.

    Aside from the twelve Blu-ray discs in the set, however, there are a few bonus CDs that are absolutely worth exploring, the first of these is the soundtrack for Jim Williams' score for Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched. There are thirty-nine tracks here in total and even listening to the music without the context of the documentary accompanying the compositions, the disc is a nice addition to the set as some of the music on its own is quite eerie.

    Also included here, spread across two CDs, is a reading of writer Arthur Machen's The White People courtesy of Linda Hayden with music supplied by Timothy Fife and Missionary Work. This is essentially an audio book on compact disc, and it's very well done. Hayden reads the material very dramatically without ever overdoing it, which probably would have been pretty easy to do. The story itself, originally published in 1904, is essentially a discussion between two characters that results in a strange book being found that turns out to be a diary written by a girl who was brought in to a world of magic and ancient secrets. The score that this is set to is also excellent, it does a great job of accentuating the drama and adding to the creepy spots quite nicely.

    Accompanying the discs in the set is a full color booklet that is a hundred and fifty-four pages in length which contains new writing on folk horror and the sets contents by Andy Paciorek, Stephen Volk, Mitch Horowitz, Dawn Keetley, Sarah Chavez, Stephen R. Bissette and Dejan Ognjanović along with some written and illustrated archival material and helpful information on each and every one of the films included in the collection. There's a lot of material in here and it's definitely worth digging into if you haven't quite had your fill of folk horror by this point!

    All of this is wrapped up in some very nice packaging. The twelve Blu-ray discs and three compact discs each fit inside a cardboard sleeve built into a page of what is basically a hardcover book that houses all of the material. Nicely illustrated artwork alerts us to the contents of each disc. This hardcover book, as well as the accompanying full color booklet, both fit inside a rigid box with ornate gold embossment on it, a hole cut in the front over allowing the bird on the back of the hardcover book to peek through - it's a small thing, but it's a nice touch!

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

    Ultimately, Severin's All The Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium Of Folk Horror is an embarrassment of riches for those with an interest in less traditional horror pictures. It offers up an extremely wide variety of material, more often than not in great shape, and a load of supplements that document the history of many of these pictures along with some short films that are sometimes just as impressive as the features themselves. This is easily on of the best Blu-ray boxed sets to come along in the last year and comes highly recommended.

    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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