Wikipedia describes Folk Horror as a subgenre of horror film and horror fiction that uses elements of folklore to invoke fear and foreboding. Typical characteristics include a rural setting, isolation, and themes of superstition, folk religion, paganism, sacrifice and the dark aspects of nature. Although related to supernatural horror films, folk horror usually focuses on the beliefs and actions of people rather than the supernatural, and often deals with naïve outsiders coming up against these.
There have been a ton of films classified as Folk Horror, with some of the earliest coming from the 1960s or even earlier if you listen to some folks. Shudder did an amazing documentary about Folk Horror entitled Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror which I highly recommend to all of you horror junkies out there. It is an in-depth, comprehensive look at the history of Folk Horror and how it has evolved over the years.
With that said, today I bring to you my top 10 Folk Horror Films of all time. These films can come from any country around the world so be ready for a wide variety to come your way.
#10. The Blair Witch Project |1999
Three film students vanish after travelling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their footage behind.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of and watched the Blair Witch Project. Credited as one of the pioneers in the found footage genre, BWP is actually a popular folk horror piece telling the story of three students investigating the lore of the Blair Witch. Now, I am not the biggest fan of what became of this series as it devolved into a film about aliens in the third film, but at least the original is a solid film that still has a massive fan base. Not my cup of tea, personally, but you cannot deny the impact that this film has had on the horror genre and community.
#9. The Ritual |2017
A group of old college friends reunite for a trip to a forest in Sweden but encounter a menacing presence there stalking them.
One of my favourite horror films of the 2010s is none other than The Ritual. Set in the mountains of Sweden, this beautifully shot horror film takes us on a weird and twisted ride that is set up perfectly by the atmosphere of the film’s locale. You get the entire gambit here, hallucinations, flashbacks, betrayal, there is so much to this film that you never know what you are gonna get. Sure, the ending might feel anticlimactic to some, but for me, the film is masterful in the story it is trying to tell and should be viewed by all.
#8. Midsommar | 2019
A couple travels to Northern Europe to visit a rural hometown’s fabled Swedish mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.
If some of the other movies on this list didn’t blow me away, Midsommar would be near the top of this list. It is a twisted movie at its core with elements of psychological horror and cult horror that pushes the viewer to view this world with an open mind. With one of the most brutal scenes that I’ve seen in a folk horror film, the Blood Eagle scene, Midsommar is a must-watch for horror films and one film that should be on everyone’s radar.
#7. Kwaidan |1964
A collection of four Japanese folk tales with supernatural themes.
A man returns to his abandoned wife seeking forgiveness and pays for his cruelty. A snow demon and a young man make a pact. A blind priest is summoned by the ghosts of dead warriors to recite the heroic battle that cost them their lives. A samurai is taunted by ghosts in his cup of tea. The four films in this film are pure cinematic gold and create the perfect anthology folk film.
The Japanese do horror so well and this is one of their most perfect horror films period. Kwaidan is not entertaining: it is captivating, bewitching, and unique even by its author’s standards. For movie-goers, this is a unique experience. For amateurs of art, it is a feast.
#6. The Wicker Man | 1973
A Puritan Police Sergeant arrives in a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl, whom the Pagan locals claim never existed.
One of the Unholy Trinity of British Folk Horror, the original Wicker Man stands the test of time as one of the most innovative, brutal and fucked up pieces of horror fiction ever invented. There is a distinct air of menace flowing throughout The Wicker Man, a distinct feeling of unwelcome and unkindness put across in the most brilliant of manners because everyone acts so nicely.
Don’t go looking for this film and pick up the horrid remake with Nicolas Cage, watch the original and enjoy the true way this story was supposed to be told.
#5. Children of the Corn | 1984
A young couple is trapped in a remote town where a dangerous religious cult of children believes that everyone over age 18 must be killed.
The original film in a long-running series, Children of the Corn is one of the best horror films of all time. Set in rural Nebraska, the elements of folklore and cult-like children combine to make this film a truly unsettling watch. Most of the sequels are pure garbage compared to the original, but there are a few gems in the series as well. For my money, it doesn’t get much better than the original and everyone should watch it.
#4. The Lair of the White Worm | 1988
When an archaeologist uncovers a strange skull in a foreign land, the residents of a nearby town begin to disappear, leading to further inexplicable occurrences.
Leave it to director Ken Russell to find an obscure Bram Stoker novel and take its most exploitive elements and turn it into a bloodfest of snakes, vampires, virgin sacrifices, phallic symbols, Christian symbolism and more. He throws in some comic book slashings along with some sly humour to create a tacky Gothic horror masterpiece.
It’s weird stuff from start to finish, but try to look away! It’s typical Ken Russell overkill, or overbite since much of the action involves vampirism and some friendly suburbanites who suddenly grow fangs. Handsomely photographed in colour with attractive settings indoors and out, it provides a steady mix of laughter and fright while managing to be entertaining despite the overly weird material.
#3. Witchfinder General | 1968
A young soldier seeks to put an end to the evils caused by a vicious witch-hunter when the latter terrorizes his fiancée and kills her uncle.
A Vincent Price masterpiece graces us at number three. The Second Part of the Unholy Trinity of British Folk Horror, Witchfinder General is a brilliant account of the barbarous acts perpetrated against so-called witches during the 17th century, supposedly all in the name of God.
Benefitting from Reeves’ unflinching direction and a faultless performance by Price as a man who must surely qualify as one of cinema’s most loathsome villains, the film is not only a thoroughly effective piece of sickeningly violent horror entertainment, but is also at turns a chilling lesson on one of the darkest periods in British history, a devastating indictment of human nature, a heart-warming love story, and a satisfyingly brutal revenge drama.
#2. The VVitch: A New-England Folktale | 2015
A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
Easily one of the best horror movies of the 2010s, The Witch is an atmospheric masterpiece that brings in feelings of claustrophobia along with the dread of the unknown. This slow-burn film showcases an unsettling view of Puritan culture that will leave its mark on you.
The first film for Robert Eggers, this shot in natural light film is something to behold. It seems much more confident than a first film would suggest. There is also a lot of attention paid to supernatural detail, such as the Enochian language used throughout for the witches and the film is all the better for it.
#1. The Blood on Satan’s Claws | 1971
In 17th-century England, the children of a village slowly converted into a coven of devil worshipers.
The third and most messed up film of the Unholy Trinity is number one today. It’s a weird, episodic kind of film which summons up an air of disquiet and disturbance rather than full-blown horror, although it does have plenty of graphic and disturbing scenes including surgery and rape.
The attention to period detail is spot on, as is the social commentary of the era, while the plot itself is fragmented and hallucinatory, which works perfectly when combined with the film’s subject matter. A must-watch for horror fanatics and a film that truly stands the test of time, The Blood on Satan’s Claws is folk horror royalty and the best of the best.