While horror is a word often associated with the many atrocities and abuses suffered in the Soviet Union, horror itself is not something that the nation wanted to promote, at least not in cinema.
When looking up horror films from Russia, it’s quite surprising to find that between the few silent pictures in the 1920’s and the slight boost in the 2000’s, there were virtually no horror films released during the Soviet era.
Many attribute this to horror not meshing with the Soviet government’s desire for film to be propaganda. But whatever the reason, it’s quite odd to see that an entire genre went unused for decades.
With one exception of course: 1967’s Viy (pronounced “V”). Its mere existence, as well as the film itself are strange in every sense of the word.
Dark Fairy Tale
The plot is simple enough, a young seminary student encounters an old woman who turns out to be a witch. She turns into a beautiful young woman, but ultimately ends up summoning the demon called Viy (from Ukrainian folklore) and all of his hellish minions in an absurd, but fun finale with lots of great makeup and practical effects (especially for the time).
Due to its demonic subject nature, it had to be surreal and framed as a dark fairy tale in order to get by the Soviet censors. It all makes for a really unique film that blends old school “monster/villager horror” of the 1930’s with psychedelic imagery of the 1960’s, all released in a regime known for its oppression of thought and ideas.
One of a Kind
And thus Viy stands alone, as a horror film challenging the norms and censors of the day. It very easily could have been just another propaganda piece, but the strange this is, Viy fits in very well among contemporary horror of the time, even feeling like a Hammer film here and there.
For that reason alone, along with its fun and surreal stylistic choices makes Viy worth watching. It was even featured in Steven Jay Schneider’s book, “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”.
Viy is currently streaming on Shudder and Tubi
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