VIY, based on Gogol’s short story of the same name, is the first horror movie ever to be produced in Russia. That makes it a pretty historically significant movie…but I never watched it until this year. That mostly has to do with the descriptions I’d read on the internetz and film stills that I viewed. They gave me the wrong impression. Thankfully that’s something I might be able to correct for other people.
Judging by the descriptions and images, my assumption was that VIY was more “fantasy” or “fanciful folk tale” than a true horror story. Yes, it’s based on a Russian folk tale, but it’s far from being “quaint” or toothless and it certainly doesn’t have an old-fashioned children’s storybook feel to it. In fact, VIY shows just how advanced Russian filmmakers were at the time…it still feels incredibly modern.
Part of my misperceptions came from descriptions and images I’d seen of special effects featured in the film. I thought it was going to look like an episode of “Land Of The Lost” filmed in the style of THE SEVEN VOYAGES OF SINBAD. While the effects in VIY are simple, they are extremely effective and remind me a bit of the effects in HAXAN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGHOUT THE AGES (except much more intense). There are some misfires here and there, but even the strained effects have a surreal, inventive quality in context. This movie actually spooked me. At no point was there anything – image or effect – that might distract me from the creepy atmosphere and building tension
All in all, VIY feels like a cross between Andrei Tarkovsky, Mario Bava (who also made a short film based on Gogol’s story), and a young Steven Spielberg. I have no idea why it does not yet have a Criterion release. It absolutely deserves the Criterion treatment…