Rusticated Fears

I don’t recommend sick days.  This one was weird with all the symptoms of illness but really having them just be the side-effects of a shingles vaccine.  I don’t recommend it, but I was able to use the day, between dozing off, by watching Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror.  This late 2021 documentary is over 3 hours long and I’d been wondering when I’d have the chance to view such a lengthy movie.  Besides, when you’re feeling utterly miserable, horror is a kind of elixir to make it all better.  Watching the film made me aware of just how many movies I haven’t seen.  Another way of putting it is that I still have my work cut out for me.

Folk horror, you see, has a natural appeal for those of us who grew up away from urban centers.  Much that we did in the small towns of my childhood was, frankly, weird.  As the interviewees make plain, cities are the centers of economic and cultural power.  The big educational institutions are there and those of us from the hinterlands might not obey the rules that city dwellers seem to absorb through their feet.  In reality, I suspect, urban culture largely derives from folk culture.  Those who venture away into the large cities take pieces of their home with them.  Cities tend to blend all this together and transform it into something different.  Those in rural areas, however, have their own way of doing things.

Perhaps it’s embarrassing to center this much, but it was clear to me in watching Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched that much of the fear showcased to city folks (for movies tend to be shown in urban settings) is the weird religion of the country cousins.  Both the words “pagan” and “heathen” are references to those who dwell outside urban areas.  “Pagan” comes from Latin for rustic, while “heathen” means those out in the heath.  Mainstream religion is that of the cities—the Vatican is located in Rome, and the large mosques, synagogues, and cathedrals are in population centers.  There’s no telling what the country dwellers might get up to if left to their own devices.  And religion taken seriously can be quite dangerous to outsiders, as we’ve seen time and time again.  Folk horror never really went away but it is undergoing a resurgence at the moment.  As the documentary suggests, this tends to happen in times of social instability.  At least we have something to look forward to as the world collapses around us.  Folk horror will help us cope, if my experience is anything to go by.

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