Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Folk Horror Podcast Episode 12: Viy (1967), pt. 1

Hello. We're back. And talking about the first and only Soviet horror movie, Viy, based on the short story by Gogol. This episode is an hour of background discussion, including biographical information about Gogol, of Eastern European mythology, and about Russian and Soviet cinema in general. We'll get to the actual scene-by-scene discussion in part 2.

Here's the audio:

Here are some things we discussed in the episode:

Excerpt from the 1915 movie "Portrait" based on a Gogol story:

A russian historian criticizes the most recent Viy remake:

Some good Russian biographical information about Gogol, including a little excerpt from the letter to his mother we mentioned (couldn't find more at the moment).

Great article in Brooklyn magazine, all about the movie Viy, including a discussion of "kotliarevshchyna."

Soviet documentary about Gogol:

Excerpt from Jim Henson's Storyteller, The Soldier and Death:

Trailer for Viy 2, starring Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger:


  1. Here are some random thoughts.
    The word "Cossack" is the name of an ethnic group (it might be more correct to say that a number of ethnic groups were collectively given the label "Cossacks".) The Cossacks originally lived on the borders of the Russian Empire. There were many conflicts between Russians and Cossacks, but eventually the Russians agreed to provide them with food and firearms so they would protect the borders. The long Cossack traditions of warfare led to them getting reputations as excellent soldiers, and Cossack units became important parts of the Russian army. There is some discussion about whether you have to have ethnically Cossack ancestors to call yourself a Cossack, or if it is possible to "become" a Cossack. Historically, most Cossack soldiers were light cavalry, as their home territory was mostly in the steppelands.
    I am pretty much taking the repeated use of the term "Cossack" in the movie Viy to be an ethnic distinction.
    There are still many people in Russia and in other countries who identify as Cossacks ethnically.
    The Danny Kaye film "The Inspector General" is only very loosely based on Nikolai Gogol's comedy play "Revizor" (a title which is also translated as "The Government Inspector)
    It is still highly disputed whether or not Gogol was gay. I really don't think we know enough about Gogol's personal life to decide one way or another.
    "The Day the Earth Froze" is the American title of the movie "Sampo" which was a Soviet and Finnish co-production, with a plot based on the Finnish epic "The Kalevala". The American version was released by Roger Corman, who cut some scenes, and (since this was during the Cold War) tried to hide the fact that the movie was partly Soviet. He renamed all the Russians in the credits, so for example Director Aleksandr Ptushko became "Gregg Sebelious". Corman suggested that American theatres decorate their popcorn machines as Sampos, and give away free bags of popcorn. There is a MST3K episode of "The Day the Earth Froze".
    Viy's eyelids made me think of the Welsh story "Culhwch and Olwen" (a very old King Arthur story) which features Chief Giant Ysbaddaden, who has to order his servants to open his eyes for him, and keep his eyelids in place with forks.
    I am looking forward to the rest of your discussion of Viy.

    1. Thanks for these great comments, always enlightening and which add great detail to the story/film.
      I was mainly aware of the Cossacks from the writings of Isaac Babel and so I mainly considered them a zealously anti-Semitic, nomadic group of hinterland warriors in South Russia and Ukraine. I'd often heard that they were descended from the Khazars and knew they were a fairly homogeneous Slavic people but hadn't really considered them as a separate ethnic group. They crop up in a lot of Gogol's early writings but are never as threatening as they appear in Babel (although they are certainly fearsome).
      You are correct to note that we cannot say definitely that Gogol was gay. In fact, his troubling conceptions of femininity point to something more complicated than simply repressed homosexuality. Regardless, we probably shouldn't speculate about people sexuality when so little is known (I think we made the same error about Roddy McDowall on the Tam Lin episode).
      Finally, I've heard of Sampo, but didn't realize that it's the same film as "The Day the Earth Froze". I believe that re-cutting and editing the film was actually Francis Ford Coppola's first job under Roger Corman. Clearly nobody was happy with the results but I might just check out that MST3K version!
      I'll also have to check out that Welsh story.
      Thanks and keep the comments coming!