Viy (Russia 1967)

Rating: **
Alternate Title: Spirit Of Evil (US release)
Review Date: 12/27/15
Cast: Leonid Kuravlyov, Natalya Varley

Unlike the 2014 remake of Nikolai Gogol's classic folktale, the 1967 version of the film focuses entirely on a young monk (Leonid Kuravlyov) who is locked inside a church and forced to recite prayers over a dead girl (Natalya Varley) for three nights. His name was the last thing the girl whispered before dying, and her wealthy father sees to it that the monk fulfills his obligation. What follows is three nights of terror as the girl rises from her coffin and haunts the monk with intent to avenge her death. Viewed from the monk's perspective, the girl is a witch who is in league with Satan, but from the girl's point of view, she was raped and beaten to death by the monk during a fit of drunken debauchery and seeks to punish his sins. The monk eventually loses his battle of faith when the demi-god Viy peers into his heart and passes judgement on his soul.

It's a fun and atmospheric horror tale, and even in death Natalya Varley looks quite lovely. What's most interesting to me is how Christian monks are portrayed as lying, cheating, lecherous, thieving troublemakers, with no sense of morals or decency. Even the Church acknowledges this. An unfortunate side effect of this is that the main character comes across as a bit of a cad, and you feel no sympathy for him whatsoever. The makeup and visual effects do an adequate job of setting the tone, but things only begin to get interesting on the third night, when monsters literally start crawling out of the woodwork. As with many foreign films, I found "Viy" to be more interesting from a cultural perspective than a cinematic one.