Early silent Russian cinema has had a huge influence on today’s modern movies. Innovative filmmakers like Eisenstein, Dovzhenko and Vertov changed the way movies were edited and their theories changed how films should be made. In the silent days before the Soviet Union there were a couple of horror films made but sadly these films are lost. After the Soviets came into power one of the things they made certain was that the standard decadent Hollywood film wasn’t the kind of films that were going to be made for the Soviet people.
In 1928 foreign films were banned in Soviet Russia and the Soviet film industry focused making films for the Soviet people which were filled with the Soviet propaganda that the government felt the people needed to see. Genre films were allowed but they were mostly dramas and historical fiction. Once the 1960’s came around things had lightened up a little and suddenly science-fiction films were allowed. It was during this period that the first Soviet horror film managed to get made.
In 1967 Konstantin Ershov and Georgi Kropachyov managed to make a creepy little horror movie based on a story by Nikolai Gogol. Because the story was considered a folk tale the Soviet censors let it get made.
Viy follows a young priest who is on his way home and runs across an old witch. After struggling with her, he beats her (she was trying to ride him and not in the good way) and she turns into a young woman. He returns home but is ordered to watch over the wake of recently deceased witch in a village. Once there he discovers it’s the same witch that he encountered. He has to spend three nights with her corpse reading prayers over her. She comes to life while he’s doing this and tries to kill him. Fortunately he has a circle of chalk to protect him.
The film is quite brilliant. The ending is pretty shocking. The effects aren’t great but considering the time and the lack of effects in most Soviet films of that era it’s pretty impressive. After this film the gate had been opened but there was only a couple of horror / thrillers made throughout the 1970’s and ’80s. After the fall of the Soviet Union things started picking up for the horror genre. Over the last 10 years there have been several horror and horror-themed films. The 2004 film Night Watch brought in the first supernatural blockbuster to Russian screens and it was a huge hit internationally too. There’s even a modern remake of Viy although it went into production in 2005 and was finally completed in 2011 with it apparently getting a theatrical release this month, October 2013! Hopefully it doesn’t suck but it has a big shoes to fill if it’s trying to top the original.