Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Vamp or not? – Viy (1967)

dvd“Viy” was a movie produced in Russia in 1967. It is actually one of two films (so far) based on the Story “Viy” by Nicolai Gogol. The second film based on the story is “Le Masque Du Demon” (1960), staring Barbara Steele, which is definitely a vampire movie.

The Russian film is a visual treat, especially given when it was made. Three seminarians are travelling and ask for shelter in a farmhouse, their request is answered by an old woman. They are split up and, in the night, Khoma Brutus (Leonid Kuravlyov) has a yoke placed around his neck and is “hagridden” . He manages to kill the witch, who becomes a beautiful young girl, and returns to the monastery. He is then summoned to the abbot, as he has been requested by a prominent citizen to attend his dying daughter.

On, reluctantly, arriving at the citizen’s home Khoma discovers that the daughter has died and is told to sit vigil over her coffin for three nights praying. He, however, has recognised her as the witch become young.

Unable to leave he sits vigil. On the first night he begins to talk to the corpse when a tear comes from her eye, as it runs down her cheek it turns to blood. He begins to light candles but they are blown out, so he tries again successfully having blessed the candles. Then, as he prays, and takes snthe image of a gothic vampireuff, the corpse awakens. The girl herself is physically a pure gothic picture of the vampire, but her movements are jerky and she gropes blindly towards him. The seminarian draws a sacred circle around himself in chalk; she cannot cross the circle and traces its edge angrily. Day breaks and she is pulled back to her coffin and the lid slams shut.

The next night he draws the circle as soon as he enters the church. After a while the coffin begins to levitate and ram into the circle’s invisible wall. The lid flies off and the girl sits up, and then stands, as the coffin flies and she calls out his name. The cock crows and the coffin returns to its place of rest, as it does the girl curses Khoma and his hair turns white as per the curse.

Again, on the third night, he draws the circle. The girl awakens and begins to curse Khorma immediately. Hands of greying flesh appear, and a skeleton walks followed by many forms of monsters and demons. She summons forth vampires and werewolves and then she summons Viy, the king of the underworld. A cock crows and Khoma makes the mistake of looking Viy in the eyes, allowing Viy to see him and rendering his circle useless. The minions of Hell descend on the seminarian. As the second cock crow sounds they abandon him, dead upon the floor, as the girl is pulled back to her coffin and transforms back into the witch.

At first glance this does not look very vampiric, but – though I have not read it myself – I have it on good authority that the Gogol story is about a vampire witch and that, other than this, the film is fairly faithful to the story.

The film ties in with Romanian Mythology. The strigoï are the evil souls of the dead that rise to torment the living, and are one of the bases of the modern vampire myth. There are two forms, the strigoï mort is a dead, or should I say undead, vampire. However the strigoï vii is a living vampiric witch. The strigoï vii will invade the dreams of children and ride them through their nightmares, this is commonly known as being hagridden and is a form of psychic vampirism. On death, the strigoï vii will become the strigoï mort.

The film “Viy” does contain summoned vampires, but it is not clear that the girl/witch is this strigoï vii become strigoï mort. However it does contain many elements which are vampiric in nature. I have listed the DVD in my vampire collection (though it is not an obvious genre movie and many may disagree with its inclusion) and think it a beautiful and extraordinary piece of cinema.

The imdb page is here.


The Dirge Of Gabriel said...

I just read today's review of Viy, in your "Interesting Shorts" review, which lead me to the review of this movie.

I am keen to see this, as I have seen and own BLACK SUNDAY and would love to see another version, and this one looks fascinating.

Where did you order it from?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabe, I think it is out of print region 1 but still available region 2 - I have no idea re OZ, but Amazon UK would be a good place to start hunting.

Note - the black sunday story has little to do with the other versions, just had to throw that caveat in.

The Dirge Of Gabriel said...


Yes I read in your reviews that BLACK SUNDAY is just partially based on this story.

Will look for it on Amazon UK etc.

House of Karnstein said...

I'd like to recommend, if I may, to any fan out there of VIY or Gogol's original story, to seek out asap the Slavic '92 sleeper gem of a film SVETO MESTO. Much more of a serious disturbing take on the story and a bit of a lost gothic classic, imo. Don't get me wrong, I love VIY and VIY features better special effects and wonderful colours, but SVETO MESTO is more atmospheric, disturbing and creepy, strictly made for adults only, where VIY can be enjoyed by both adults and kids. I'd like to also add that while SVETO MESTO was made in '92, you'd never know it. One would think it from the latter 70's/early 80's. It has that type of excellent (personally prefered) ambience and is one of my fave discoveries (Vamp or not?)of the last several years. Have fun! : )

Taliesin_ttlg said...

HofK, yes, i have Sveto Mesto but no subtitles - hence it not appearing on the site (If I can't understand it I don't tend to put it up).

Beautiful looking film, however.

House of Karnstein said...

Taliesin- there is now a Sveto Mesto floating around out there with eng subs, and while we're in Slavic land for a moment let me also mention Leptirica ('73 tv)is out there with eng subs. If you haven't seen it yet, Leptirica is
a must-see and is by the same director as Sveto Mesto. Leptirica is most definitely a vampire movie with a touch of Lycanthropy thrown in. This rare tv-movie is nothing short of fascinating. For the last year I've been searching out a lot of these lost rare Slavic horror films and have been mightily impressed. My most recent Slavic viewing was the Polish film Wilczyca aka She-Wolf, which would fall into the "Vamp or Not" category but definitely has moments of vampiness.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I shall keep my eyes open for that. I did find the Leptricia subs but they were terribly out of sync for the edition I have.

talking of such things, one of my pending reviews is for the strigoi episode of Wiedźmin - the Polish TV series of The Witcher

Margaret said...

Thanks for another great review!

I had a hard time tracking this one down, but since you rated it so highly I decided it would be worth the extra effort. I finally tracked a copy down on amazon. Well worth it!

This was a great folktale of a film. I particularly found the raucous attitudes of the clergy and the Cossacks to be entertaining. It was a nice juxtaposition to the more fantastical horror elements of the film and really added to the folktale feel of the story.

I also really appreciate you including details about the strigoi and the mythology the story is based on in your review. I have to admit that not knowing anything about it before watching it, I was kind of surprised it was included as a vampire film as the film really doesn't draw a clear distinction on this, but understanding the mythology makes the justification much more clear.

Thanks for writing such an interesting review to this terrific film!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Margaret, if you look at the article I did re the original story you'll see that Gogol was a little more explicit and had a blood drinking scene (when she was still alive).

This is a mix and match as the actual mythology is Romanian but the story is Ukranian - but the similarities were striking.

On the actual film, I am so glad I have introduced someone to this marvelous film - as it is wonderful. I am also really glad you enjoyed it.

Margaret said...

Ok, you've convinced me. I am going to have to read the Gogol story now. It just sounds too interesting to pass up.

LoBo said...

Since i like Black Sunday, i will probably enjoy this film. I bought the Swedish DVD. I hope at least i like it as much as Black Sunday. We'll see.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

It is a very different film (actually quite story accurate to the original short, whereas Black Sunday bears little resemblance to it) but I do hope you enjoy it... one of my favourite films

LoBo said...

I just saw it. Sadly, i must say i was not very impressed. I don't think it was scary and not much Horror content.

I liked Black Sunday much better. At least i have now watched it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Lobo, each to their own... if we all liked the same thing it woyuld be boring.

To me this and Black Sunday are very different films - despite the same alleged source. This is recognosably Gogol's story, Black Sunday isn't (but is a fantastic film by one of the great directors).

stuthehistoryguy said...

Looking to give this a try. Thanks for the recommendation.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

No worries - it is magical