Sunday, December 27, 2009

Interesting Shorts: Viy

Viy, by Nikolai Gogol, was published in 1835 and on first glance is a story of witchcraft. However we must remember that the traditional vampire the strigoï vii was a living vampiric witch who became a strigoï mort – or undead vampire – on death.

The story has been adapted several times. At the time of writing this article, a Russian adaptation to mark 200 years since Gogol’s birth and a more Vernian adventure adaptation are due for release (I understand the earlier has been released in Russian cinemas). Recently there was a version named Vedma. Two of the adaptations are two of my favourite all time films. The first of these is Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, from 1960, is only very loosely based on Viy and is definitely vampiric in nature, this was poorly remade (and lost the vampirism aspects) by Bava’s son and named Demons 5.

The 1967 film Viy is also one of my favourite films and the film actually follows the Gogol story rather closely. The seminarian Khoma, and two of his fellows, are travelling home from Kiev when they become lost and then come across a homestead. They ask for shelter and the reluctant old woman separates them. She comes in the night and hag-rides Khoma, which is itself a form of psychic vampirism. Khoma, eventually, is able to regain control of his body by saying the prayers and exorcisms he remembers. He gets the upper hand and then beats the woman, but she turns into a young girl.

He returns to Kiev, but a Cossack has summoned him. His daughter was beaten and died but she asked, before she died, that Khoma come and say the three nights of prayers over her body. Reluctant he may be, but the seminarian has no real choice and the girl – of course – is the witch. One area that the tale does diverge from the film is in one of the tales the locals tell Khoma about the girl’s evil ways. In one tale we hear that she attacked a baby. “She grabbed the baby, bit its throat, and began drinking its blood.” Following this she bit the mother all over and killed her too. This is much more evident as vampirism than is often shown in the adaptations – though the book itself never actually mentions the V word.

Of course each night, whilst he says the prayers, the girl comes back to life and tries to get to him. It is interesting that like Clara Crofton in the later Varney the Vampire and Lucy Westenra in Dracula the girl looks absolutely beautiful in death and repose. “…there was in her features nothing dull, lustreless, dead. The face was alive, and it seemed to the philosopher that she was looking at him through closed eyes.” Even more interestingly the paragraph goes on “It even seemed to him that a tear rolled from under her right eyelash, and when it stopped on her cheek, he made out clearly that it was a drop of blood.” Surely this is one of the earliest examples of the undead crying a blood tear.

On the third night the girl; summons up a host of monsters and then Viy. Viy is the chief of the gnomes, Gogol claims in a footnote, also claiming this to be a traditional legend he has not altered. However Richard Pevear’s preface in “The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol” clearly states that the creature Viy, “has no source in folklore, he is Gogol’s creature and appears literally out of nowhere.” Viy kills Khoma, but what happens to the girl we never discover… we do know that many of the monsters she summoned were trapped in the doors and windows of the church and therefore the priest, who attended after the events, refused to perform the traditional rites of the dead and the church itself was abandoned.

Viy is a perfect example of what I would deem an interesting short and has led to two of the best movies the genre has to offer.


Jenn said...

Great info - I love the cinematic version on VIY - it almost has a Disney like feel to it in some areas. It's good stuff. Did not know there was a literary inspiration - I will have to check it out. Thanks!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

No Prob Jenn

Christine said...

I must read this. Too bad our village library has not it... yep, I live in smaaall village!
Totally useless but fun trivia: The Finnish translation is called Princess of the demons.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

can the library order it in perhaps?

I love trivia like that btw.

Christine said...

Yes, I really must suggest ordering this book!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Christine, once they get it for you, let us know what you think.