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Return of the British repressed

The term 'folk horror' has a become pervasive way of describing a wide array of films. The famous trilogy of Witchfinder General (1968), The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971) and The Wicker Man (1973) associates folk horror with the cultural margins of 1960s and 70s Britain, and elicits a fear and fascination with its curiosu rural inhabitants. But although the term is now ubiquitous, few can specify any further what ‘folk horror’ actually is. This collection undertakes an extended discussion of folk horror by considering the special importance of British cinema to it. It defines folk horror as a cultural landscape which brings to the surface what British modernity has repressed. Understanding folk horror this way helps delineate its common stylistic features, its development in British cinema and its place within the wider field of horror. In studies of topics as diverse as folklore, nature, the countryside, drums, English and Celtic history this collection widens the corpus of folk horror, incorporating lesser-known works like the sci-fi Doomwatch (1972), the documentary Requiem for a Village (1975), women’s folk horror and films by more recent filmmakers such as Ben Wheatley. Considering also the cult critical status that continues to make it a living, changing organism, this collection argues for folk horror as a cultural phenomenon, thereby providing an expanded understanding of the genre’s characteristics through which to explore the tensions and contradictions it stages.

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What makes the folk horrific?
Louis Bayman
K. J. Donnelly

This introduction places folk horror in the specific context of British cultural history and applies a framework offered by genre studies. This framework suggests the importance of defining folk horror through its central fear: that of the folk themselves. Defining the genre this way allows us to analyse the wider cultural tensions replayed by folk horror’s recurrent themes and stylistic features. In so doing the introduction positions folk horror in relation to scholarship on horror and on British cinema, as well as to traditions of representation of the folk and their cultural landscape. In particular, the introduction considers folk horror to be the expression of a tension surrounding the unearthing of what is usually repressed from more mainstream, official representations of Britain. This unearthing is seen to have a historical and an anthropological, as well as a geographical and an archaeological sense. This final point acts as a springboard to then explain the rationale of the book’s different parts and the summaries of its individual chapters.

in Folk horror on film