My notes on The Field Guide to Evil
This folklore-themed international omnibus breaks a few of the rules for multi-director horror anthologies, but in an interesting way. One much-noted cavil about things like the ABCs of Death films is the relative lack of gender balance, but this dares to have more than one token woman director in the line-up. Another unwritten convention is to avoid multiple episodes covering similar ground, but the Austrian entry — ‘The Sinful Woman of Holfall’, from the Goodnight Mommy team of Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz — and the German episode — Katrin (Tore Tantz) Gebbe’s ‘A Nocturnal Breath’ – are versions of the same myth, as entities known as a trud or a drude pester isolated farming folk, and bring out unexpected depths in relationships.
As always, there are weaker and stronger episodes, but the thinnest piece here – Ashim (Miss Lovely) Ahluwalia’s black and white Indian ‘Palace of Horrors’ – is sketchy rather than an outright dud. Calvin (The Rambler) Reeder’s US ‘Beware the Melon Heads’, about swollen-headed children who lurk in the woods, has a different, almost horror comic tone – but that’s because American folklore is less ancient than the traditions explored in the other stories, which tend to go with rustic settings and nebulous time periods. Can (Baskin) Evrenol’s Turkish possession drama ‘Haunted Al Karisi’ has a contemporary setting, with an establishing shot of a huge power station dominating the landscape, but tells an old, old story with gruesome brio. Demonic intrusions into everyday hardscrabble peasant lives are a recurrent theme – as is violence towards goats and other unfortunate livestock – and many of the episodes have an unfinished, anecdote-like feel typical of often-told stories handed down with contradictions and ellipses.
Agnieszka (The Lure) Smoczynska’s Polish ‘The Kindler and the Virgin’ and Yannis (Nima) Veslemes’ ‘What Ever Happened to Panagos the Pagan?’ are hallucinatory, infernal tales, featuring a harpy-like devil woman and a stump-headed goblin (weird heads are another recurring theme) – both have curtailed, yet effective punchlines, and very distinctive looks. The short, sharp envoi is Peter Strickland’s Hungarian ‘The Cobblers Lot’, a silent movie – complete with hilariously deadpan intertitles – on a fairytale theme about shoe-fetishist cobblers, a princess and a distant lake stocked with nymphs.
Here’s the FrightFest listing.
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