Towards a theory of Folk Horror: Scovell’s Chain
And so, clutching its new found label proudly, the re-emergent genre of ‘folk horror’ dragged its undulating form out of the leaf mould and the dark forest shadows. But no sooner had it done so, than fans began to clamour for more. What else could be defined as ‘folk horror’, what could be limping out of lonely highways and byways of imagination? Could we apply the same sensibilities Gatiss had identified in those films to other films? And, surely not just films – tv series, novels, short stories. And, given at least one of those films (ie The Wicker Man) had a famous soundtrack, surely the definition of the genre could be expanded to music?
Before long – as witnessed by the rapid expansion of the Folk Horror Revival group on Facebook (which now boasts over 21k members), and various articles in print and online media that began to appear, not to mention academic conferences – the genre had indeed established itself as one of the most exciting and, ironically given its obsession with the past, innovative of modern subgenres. Just about every aspect of creative endeavour – film, tv, art, music, literature – came to have its folk horror component. And of course, it wasn’t enough to just exhume and identify the commonality in old horror material – no genre can survive as a museum piece. Alongside rediscovery of the past, a host of talented individuals had poured their energy into new examples, publishing books, films, cds, art, even websites. It absolutely looked like a genre whose time had come, as if a number of different strains drawn from the overlapping worlds of horror, folklore, hauntology, psychogeography had combined to birth some new hybrid that was as much part of the past as it was future.
This in itself brought something of a problem, however. Like most emergent genres, it struggled for self-definition, and the idea of folk horror became more broad, more encompassing as it did, perhaps drawing away from what was originally intended. Future articles will look at specific (favourite) examples of the genre across the many media it has traversed, but the point of this article is rather to discuss the process by which it arrived at its current incarnation. Perhaps the most cogent attempt to pin down what might constitute ‘folk horror’ appeared as part of a paper delivered by Adam Scovell at the first Folk Horror Conference, held at Queen’s University Belfast in 2014. This was called ‘The Folk Horror Chain’ and laid out three important criteria in order for a film to be considered ‘folk horror’ (note, the article discusses films, but if successful it should be possible to apply the same to other narrative media). The article is available on his excellent Celluloid Wicker Man blog (linked below), so I won’t rehash all the arguments here. Suffice to say there are three founding principles:-