Folk Horror – The Genre That Time Remembered

The Folk Horror Chain/b>

  1. Landscape / environment. This is used to isolate people – not necessarily as in the isolation of the setting, but rather from the protagonist’s familiar setting, their ‘home ground’. This quickly creates unease, paranoia and disorientation, in which is revealed:-
  2. Skewed belief systems. This is an interesting one. Often the community the person has stumbled into will evince a completely different ethos, morality or culture. This often manifests in an adherence to the ‘old ways’, to paganism or the occult. This isn’t necessarily apparent – the community may to all intents and appearances be the cultural norm of the person who has stumbled into their midst, and it is only as time progresses that the alien nature of their belief and practices become apparent. At length, however, this advances to:-
  3. Manifestation / summoning. The second part of the chain leads (with some inevitability) to the third. The protagonist / victim witnesses the natural outcome of the community’s belief. This may be a genuine occult manifestation, or it may be suggestion, or it may be an outburst of the paranoia and violence that the belief engenders.

The three above, according to Scovell, form a ‘domino effect’, with each leading naturally to the next. Take one of the links away, and the narrative may be pure horror, or it may represent folk practices, but it won’t be folk horror. It’s also worth noting that the skewed belief system may be that of the protagonist, as long as that belief propels the narrative to a (usually horrific) conclusion. This can be seen in the crazed Hopkins of Witchfinder General or the increasingly psychopathic behaviour of Chris and Tina in Ben Wheatley’s blackly comic Sightseers. Yet, even bearing the above in mind, the ‘Folk Horror Chain’ is still not entirely efficacious in keeping pretenders at bay, and candidates creep in that really apply to one or other noun – folk, or horror, but not both. As an example, we see Mackenzie Crook’s gentle rural comedy of character ‘Detectorists’ regularly cited in the FHR group as a prime example of the genre, and also horror films – such as Dog Soldiers and American Werewolf in London – that happen to have rural settings.

Scovell himself recognised this issue of identity, and returned to the subject six months later in an article entitled ‘Questioning Nostalgia in Folk Horror,’ where he opined in his opening sentence, ‘As the Folk Horror canon expands into more forms of media and territory, the Folk Horror Chain becomes less useful as a tool for looking at thematic material.  This is partly due to it being derived as an idea from one medium and one that is explicitly narrative based’ (Scovell, 2015). He goes on to argue, ‘Yet, some of its ideas can be loosely translated into the area of reception studies of Folk Horror and can, at least in general terms, account in part for the huge variety of materials that now seem to arise in discussions of the sub-genre.’ It’s a problem, but not an insurmountable one, and his original definitions manage to hold their own. Interestingly, even as he points to the very real problem of  imposing a narrative definition on art forms that are distinctly non-linear (art, photography, music, websites), we see that, somehow, the theme, even perhaps the mood, inherent in the chain does still seem to be clearly associated with specific types of art.

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