The Enfield poltergeist was a claim of supernatural activity at 284 Green Street, a council house in Brimsdown, Enfield, London, England, between the years of 1977 and 1979.
The alleged poltergeist activity centered on sisters Janet and Margaret Hodgson Some members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), such as inventor Maurice Grosse and writer Guy Lyon Playfair, believed the haunting to be genuine, while others such as Anita Gregory and John Beloff were “unconvinced” and found evidence the girls had faked incidents for the benefit of journalists.
Members of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), including stage magicians such as Milbourne Christopher and Joe Nickell, criticized paranormal investigators for being credulous whilst also identifying elements of the case as being indicative of a hoax.
The story attracted press coverage in British newspapers, has been mentioned in books, featured in television and radio documentaries, and dramatised in the 2016 horror film The Conjuring 2.
On October 27 2023, Apple TV debuts “The Enfield Poltergrist” miniseries, filming a documentary in a recreated set of the allegedly haunted house at 284 Green Street, utilizing actors lipsyncing to original tape recordings, archival video footage, and modern-day interviews with living witnesses of the events.
Folk horror is one of the oldest and most popular horror subgenres, but defining it and capturing its aesthetic can be difficult.
By Jordan Maison
Folk horror is among the most popular — and oldest — subgenres of horror and has seen a resurgence in recent years. Between heavy thematic elements and more simplistic settings, it’s a prime genre for indie filmmakers to get into.
Defining and incorporating all the elements that make folk horror what it is, however, can be a tad difficult. If you’re delving into folk horror for an upcoming project, we’re here to help you sort it all out, ensuring you bring an authentic experience for audiences.
Where did folk horror originate?
Depending on who you ask, folk horror as a film genre originates in Britain during the early 70s. Meanwhile, other countries lay claim to folk horror films as early as 1922 — with the Swedish film “Häxan” (1922) — having all the hallmarks. In most of Asia, one could argue nearly all its horror films fall into the genre. There’s no specific set of rules/themes. Instead, it’s about garnering a specific atmosphere. It dabbles into many different genre elements while still being uniquely itself.
The origin of the “folk horror” term is easier to pin down. It originated in 1970, used by the British film magazine Kine Weekly. When talking about the film “The Blood on Satan’s Claw” (1971), originally titled “The Devil’s Touch,” reviewer Rod Cooper coined the term “folk horror” for the first time. Years later, in 2004, the director of “The Blood on Satan’s Claw,” Piers Haggard, would use the same phrase during a retrospective interview in Fangoria magazine:
“I grew up on a farm,” Haggard explains. “It’s natural for me to use the countryside as symbols or as imagery. As this was a story about people subject to superstitions about living in the woods, the dark poetry of that appealed to me. I was trying to make a folk-horror film, I suppose. Not a campy one.”
For many, the loose set of guidelines Haggard mentioned became the defining aspect of the subgenre. Folk horror, however, goes beyond that. At its simplest, folk horror can be any horror film that utilizes folklore elements to drive the story forward and bring the fear factor. No matter how you try to define it, what matters most when it comes to crafting a folk horror project, is capturing the intention of the subgenre.
Setting itself apart
Folk horror differentiates itself from the larger horror genre in several ways. While the ultimate goal is to leave you feeling unsettled and anxious, folk horror doesn’t lean into traditional jump scare tactics or gory imagery. Those aspects can still be used but aren’t the primary factor driving the scares. Instead, it pulls from local folklore, which changes depending on your location. We’re talking about standard urban legends or creepypastas that originated as modern online stories. Folk horror dives into the myths/legends specifically tied to a history and culture.
By and large, folk horror derives its chills in audiences by tapping into our most basic instincts about fear. Those childhood fears born of fables used to teach and protect, which eventually morphed into stories intrinsic to specific cultures. Folk horror takes elements of these stories and presents them in a fresh way that touches upon our innate fears.
WHILE THE ULTIMATE GOAL IS TO LEAVE YOU FEELING UNSETTLED AND ANXIOUS, FOLK HORROR DOESN’T LEAN INTO TRADITIONAL JUMP SCARE TACTICS OR GORY IMAGERY.
The story of Hansel and Gretel (and its many horror adaptations) is an excellent example of this at work. The story is a cautionary tale about strangers and trust, tapping into our fears of the unknown and being left alone. It’s perfectly suited for horror, despite its fairy tale origins.
What does folk horror include
We can debate the specifics of folk horror’s definition, but there are several tropes associated with the subgenre. If you’re looking to create your own folk horror video, these are some of the elements you’ll want to consider including:
Religion/The occult: If there’s one defining trope when it comes to folk horror, it’s this one. Every folk horror project includes an obvious connection to religion or the occult (witches, paganism, mystics, etc) as an integral role in its overall plot.
Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn” (1984) is a prime example of this. The film’s religious cult of children drives the ritualistic killing of adults while worshipping a deity known only as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” Similarly, TV shows such as “The Dark Secret of Harvest Home” (1978) or the more recent “The Third Day” (2020) also focus on outsiders and pitting them against fervent cultists.
Dealing with the unknown: Supernatural forces/elements often factor into folk horror stories — e.g. “The Witch” (2015) and “Apostle” (2018). Those supernatural elements, however, are not the primary source of fear in the story. Instead, the terror comes from how characters adapt to it or use it to further their own power.
Perhaps a community forms around the needs/benefits of a supernatural being. In order to maintain the status quo, the community finds themselves doing horrendous things. Such is the case with Gareth Evans’ “Apostle” (2018), where the creature at the heart of the story itself isn’t scary in and of itself. Rather, it’s the acts villagers commit in its name that bring the terror.
In other parts of the world, folk horror has far more direct connections to the supernatural. Most Asian folk horror put the focus on some manner of vengeful spirit — or demon — terrorizing unsuspecting mortals in period settings. “Kuroneko” (1968) and “Onibaba” (1964) are early examples of this, coming out in Japan in the 60s.
IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD, FOLK HORROR HAS FAR MORE DIRECT CONNECTIONS TO THE SUPERNATURAL.
Being isolated: Isolation is a crucial factor in folk horror movies. Isolation can have a number of meanings depending on the context of the story. Typically, isolation in folk horror is more about people finding themselves as outsiders coming into an established community.
In Ari Aster’s “Midsommar” (2019), Dani and Christian find themselves alone amid a sinister cult. Robin Hardy’s classic film, “The Wicker Man” (1973), features a similar situation. The film is about a police officer investigating a disappearance, only later finding himself as the prime target for an ancient pagan sacrifice.
The Indonesian horror film “Satan’s Slave” (1976) takes a different approach to the idea of isolation. Instead of putting the characters in new locations, it presents them instead as people who cut themselves off from their own faiths and religious backgrounds. In doing so, they unwittingly bring terror to themselves in the form of ancient demons.
Rural settings: Setting ties into the isolation factor as many folk horror projects take place in some sort of rural or older setting. The key factor, however, isn’t just about where things take place but the feelings connected to those locations.
Whether it’s a secluded farm, a retreat nestled away deep in the woods, an island or even a rundown town, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is there’s a sense of connection to the setting being of “the old world.” Audiences should feel they’re dealing with something ancient and powerful. In this, even modern movies can fit the folk horror mold (e.g. “Candyman” (1992), “The Blair Witch Project” (1999), etc).
Unsettling endings: Folk horror won’t leave audiences feeling warm and fuzzy. There are rarely — if ever — any surviving characters to cheer on as they escape their predicament. These projects will leave viewers completely unsettled.
Sometimes this takes the form of the protagonists failing or dying, but folk horror likes to subvert expectations. Frequently, we see protagonists end up joining in the horrors they’ve endured. Rather than overcoming the circumstances, they become willing participants.
We saw this in “The Witch” (2015) as Anya Taylor-Joy’s Thomasin joins the dark coven. Similarly, in 2011’s “Kill List” (2011), a hitman comes up against a brutal cult, ultimately ending with the cult crowing him as their new leader.
A lasting impact
While enthusiasts may dispute its overall history and origins, folk horror is proving to be an evergreen subgenre in horror. The concept of outsiders coming against old-world forces rarely gets old. Folk horror’s deep roots in folklore and culture provide a wealth of ideas that have yet to be tapped on the big — or small — screen.
Reappraising this undervalued slice of late-period Hammer horror, Mark Kermode examines the film’s position in the history of its fabled production company, Hammer Films, and offers an appreciation of Ingrid Pitt as a leading scream icon.
We’re somewhat obsessed with movies about scary kids here at Nerdist. Mostly because little kids are just terrifying.
Yes, they’re cute and precocious and everything, but that’s how they lull you into a false sense of security. I mean, kittens are adorable, but if a bunch of them decided to gang up and attack you, you’d be terrified. But children can be sinister in a way tiny animals can’t, especially British kids, and dear heavens, alien British kids with telepathic control over people might just be the scariest of all. Which is why, even 58 years later, Village of the Damned is a paranoid classic.
Village of the Damned is based on the 1957 John Wyndham novel The Midwich Cuckoos, is the rare major studio production of a British sci-fi/horror film, MGM in this case. Its inherent Britishness–the gloomy weather, the thatch-roofed little village, the droll speech–makes it all the creepier, and the premise all the more unsettling. Like the later Spanish horror film Who Can Kill a Child?, Village ponders what you’d do if your children were evil. Not just normal evil, either, but otherworldly, unstoppable evil.
The tiny village of Midwich, UK suddenly falls under a strange power, causing every inhabitant to fall asleep. Anyone who ventures inside the parameters of the village immediately fall asleep, including military people sent in to investigate. It’s a strange plague, but one that soon lifts, causing everyone to wake up. However, miraculously(?), each and every woman of maternal age suddenly becomes pregnant, and within five months, they all give birth, on the same day.
The children all have platinum blonde hair and seem to be preternaturally intelligent but lack any and all empathy or the ability to love their parents. They can communicate with each other over great distances and have some hold over people’s actions through their terrifying stare. So, obviously there’s some bad stuff going on. Professor Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders) is part of a council that is meant to determine what exactly these children are (his own “son” David being the children’s de-facto leader) and they learn Midwich is not the only village where this phenomenon occurred; in fact there are such towns all over the world.
Obviously there’s some alien shiz going on, but the movie does a tremendous job of only giving us the information we need. The story is not about aliens, it’s about children who are evil and seemingly unstoppable. The film’s director, German filmmaker Wolf Rilla, went to great lengths to make the children exceedingly scary, even when they aren’t doing anything particularly threatening. The blonde hair and cold faces is one thing, but the relatively simple trick of giving them camera-negative eyes when they use their powers is incredibly effective. He also had the child actor Martin Stephens, who plays David, post-dub his own performance, making David’s speech in the movie seem all the more unnatural.
Stephens has the distinction of being the creepiest kid in two of the best British horror films of the era. The year after Village, Stephens played Miles in Jack Clayton’s excellent Gothic ghost story, The Innocents. In that film, Stephens is one of two children living in a massive manor house under the care of a governess and who seem to be somehow controlled by the spirits of the former groundskeeper and previous governess. In both films, the young actor–who was around 11 when the movies were made–conveys an air of age beyond his years. Kids seeming wise can be used for cuteness, but can also, as in the case of these movies, give off the air of menace.
But menace is nothing without follow through. Several instances in Village of the Damned feature the children making bad things happen to people. Especially for 1960, this level of screen violence is shocking. One man is made to drive his car at full speed into a wall, causing it to explode. The man’s brother, suspecting the children were behind it (what was your first clue?!?!) approaches the group of them with a shotgun. However, they can read his thoughts, and they make the group of adults nearby freeze while forcing the man to shoot himself. It’s a harrowing moment, and the film’s centerpiece of true horror.
And we mustn’t discount the importance of a good score to create mood. Ron Goodwin’s compositions for Village of the Damned are somehow able to combine the typical ’50s electronic sound synonymous with science fiction with traditional sounds of Gothic horror and a bit of plinking noises traditionally used for childhood or nursery music. It’s pretty phenomenal how effective it is.
Village of the Damned is only 77 minutes long but it manages to pack in the unease and outright terror from the beginning. It’s an alien plot that feels very personal and crueler. These are people whose children turn out to not even really be theirs, but the machinations of some alien plot. It’s got a high concept but the homespun, rural realness of the fictional village of Midwich makes it feel all the more immediate. No ships hovering over massive cities, but a slow and creeping invasion, far more insidious. The closest analog I have would be the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but even that seems too grandiose.
Children are terrifying. Little British alien blonde-haired kids with weird eyes? The most terrifying.
Village of the Damned is out on Blu-ray now from Warner Archive.
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He is the writer of 200 reviews of weird or obscure films in Schlock & Awe.
Free love and folk-singing hides a dark secret on the Scottish island of Summerisle in a film that’s bracing, exciting and downright funny
By Shaad D’Souza
Have you seen the horror film about a gormless, well-intentioned westerner lured to a lush, sparsely populated isle in search of meaning, only to find paganism, unbridled sexual politics, folk dancing and abject violence?
I’m not talking about Midsommar, the 2019 folk-horror hit by auteur Ari Aster that freaked out audiences with its broad-daylight senicide and twee ritualism. I’m referring to a film that came out nearly 50 years earlier, and which often out-weirds and out-wilds its younger cousin despite containing none of the gore or violence. I’m talking about The Wicker Man, the 1973 British horror-musical that popularised the folk-horror genre, and endures to this day as a masterpiece of the form.
Directed by Robin Hardy, The Wicker Man is a strange but essential B-movie artefact, one which has, over the past 20 years, been reclaimed as a masterpiece of British cinema and now has a home on prestige streaming platform Mubi. Starring Edward Woodward and iconic 60s actress and sex symbol Britt Ekland, the film follows police sergeant Neil Howie who receives an anonymous tip that a young girl has gone missing on the far-off Scottish island of Summerisle.
When he arrives, he finds that he’s bitten off far more than he can chew. Not only are the island’s residents cheerily working together to obfuscate the details of what happened to the girl, they also seem to have given up on Christianity entirely – worshipping pagan gods and conducting a sinister masked procession on May day.
The devoutly Christian sergeant is appalled – villagers roaming naked and having sex in the lush fields, churchyards overrun with wildlife and entirely devoid of Christian symbology, school lessons on the phallic origins of the maypole, and a suave, smartly dressed lord, played by Christopher Lee, who rules in place of an elected official. Most sinister of all is that despite their wide grins and penchant for song and dance, Howie is pretty certain the missing girl has been given up as a human sacrifice in exchange for an abundant harvest.Devoid of any “traditional” horror devices – jump scares, gore and the like – The Wicker Man instead asks viewers to draw their own conclusions about the traditions of Summerisle. (As with Midsommar, I found the supposedly barbaric villagers to be sympathetic and perversely reasonable, but the film allows for any number of interpretations while still being straightforward and accessible, one of its greatest formal triumphs.) What transpires over the course of the film is unsettling and often bizarre, but also poses salient questions about tradition, judgment and moral relativism. And it does it all in a breezy, evenly paced 88 minutes. Although sometimes arcane in its references, I cannot express how bracing, exciting and downright funny a first watch of The Wicker Man is.