I was excited about coming across ROBIN REDBREAST on Youtube this year. It’s one of the less discussed or reviewed of the classic “folk horror” films even though it was very likely the inspiration for THE WICKER MAN and actually based on a real murder (lest you think these sort of things could never happen in “modern” Western society).
What I particularly like about it is that it is a sexual reversal of THE WICKER MAN in many ways. The main protagonist is a liberated, emotionally strong modern woman and she is surrounded by country folk who, in some ways, are much more grounded than herself and, in others, are somewhat repressive and rigid. Instead of a sexy pagan maiden seducing a Christian cop, ROBIN REDBREAST features a sexy woodsman who is initially rejected by the protagonist for being beneath her station. The horror of ROBIN REDBREAST is not the ignorance of the village folk (as in “rural horror” films like DELIVERANCE) or in the breaking down of class barriers, but in the attempt to chain the heroine to the cycles of nature as represented by the female body. The revolutionary changes brought about by the greater availability of birth control and abortion were still fresh (abortion had only been legal for three years) and it had made a dramatic difference in the personal freedoms available to women during the time ROBIN REDBREAST was made. ROBIN REDBREAST, in some ways, is about the overturning of those freedoms in the name of religion. In that sense, this film continues to be pertinent today.
I also only heard about TARRY-DAN, TARRY-DAN, SCAREY OLD SPOOKY MAN fairly recently. Obviously the title alone is enough to inspire curiosity, but I’d read that it was a nearly lost and truly excellent example of “folk horror” on British television and, according to the slight references to it that I’ve come across online, it has scarred the minds of quite a few little kiddies.
It isn’t a film that has come up much on lists of “folk horror” and the like. It’s not on the folk horror website I’ve previously linked to. It truly is “rare” and its availability at all is the result of a completely organic and devoted cult following. Its not even on IMDB. In-depth information about its background, locations and production is only available on a website dedicated to its lead actor Simon Gipps-Kent:
I was overjoyed to find a ratty old (but still beautiful) copy of TARRY-DAN… on Youtube and wasn’t the least bit disappointed. The characters and location are unusual for folk horror, but they are sensitively written and portrayed and the atmosphere is ideal. There is nothing like hanging in a warm shack during a cold, Cornish rain (no matter how boring it appears to be for the young juvenile delinquents depicted).
TARRY-DAN… is somewhat unusual among the folk horror films I’ve seen in that it has a very melancholic undertone that climaxes powerfully in a heart-wrenching revelation. It’s one of the few “folk horror” films that may bring a tear to the eye (though THE OWL SERVICE, posted earlier this month, might catch the heartstrings of viewers more sensitive to its subtexts…and then there’s the great PENDA’S FEN).
What TARRY-DAN… has to say about the state of young men in late 70s England is undoubtedly more meaningful than what it has to say about Cornish folk tales or magic. This is, oddly, punk “folk horror”…and a reminder of the social and psychological conditions out of which that brief movement was born. It is also about how young men can become lost and marginalized within society. In this sense, it is also as meaningful to a contemporary audience as ROBIN REDBREAST. Sad how so much and yet so little has actually changed over time…
ROBIN REDBREAST (1970)
TARRY-DAN, TARRY-DAN, SCAREY OLD SPOOKEY MAN (1978)