Phantasmagoria in Yershov and Kropachyov’s “VIY”

After three seminary students get lost and wander into the countryside, they spot a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. They foolishly demand to spend the night there not knowing that it is home to a wicked witch. The old lady agrees to let them in under one condition, they all must sleep at separate places within the farm. Late into the night, our protagonist, Khoma Brutus, is visited by the old lady as she tries to seduce him. “Not for all the gold in the world would I let you tempt me.”

The witch casts a diabolic spell on him and starts to ride him like a horse before they take off into flight. When he realizes the disturbing nature of their behavior, he attempts to beat her to death before she turns into a young woman, and he flees in fright. Years later, the young man is summoned to spend three nights with the deceased witch who he met years ago. He is asked to pray for her, and if he manages to survive three long nights alone with her body, he’ll be gifted the one thing he said he would never accept from her- gold.

Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov’s “Viy” is the first horror film made in the Soviet Union. The surreal Ukrainian folk horror was based on a short story by the famous Nikolai Gogol. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed watching this mischievous piece of cinema. Much credit should be given to the great Aleksandr Ptushko whose playful special effects take center stage. The last thirty minutes in particular is a sight to behold. The filmmakers use every trick in the book to flood the screen with ghoulishly grotesque imagery. I couldn’t help but smile all the way through. “Viy” is disturbing, absurd, bizarre, and outlandish at the same time. A real treat for anyone who wants to take a deep dive into a world of phantasmagoria.

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