If not my #1 favorite subgenre, Folk Horror is absolutely in the Top 3. Like many horror nerds, I cut my Folk Horror teeth on the original version of The Wicker Man. I’d never seen anything like it and never saw where it was going until, just like Edward Woodward at the end, it was too late. What a mind trip, and what an ending.
The drawback I suppose is that Folk Horror can be relatively hard to find once you move beyond the “big” titles like Blood On Satan’s Claw, The VVitch, Kill List, and most recently Midsommar. There’s just not a whole hell of a lot of it out there. And if I’m honest, I’ve yet to see a single Folk Horror flick that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. For those of you rolling your eyes and saying “You can’t possibly be including the Nicolas Cage Wicker Man remake,” I am and I did. Yeah I said what I said.
If you’ve got an interest, there are some helpful tomes out there, one of which is Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful And Things Strange, and that’s what led me to an old British series called Play For Today. It’s a little less mainstream and often pretty dark, like Roald Dahl Tales Of The Unexpected dark. You know, “Man From The South,” “Lamb To The Slaughter,” that kinda stuff. Well scattered throughout Play For Today’s 1970-1984 run, one can find a few creepy little Folk Horror efforts as well, and that’s how I came across Robin Redbreast.
The focus is Norah, a young professional woman who flees London after a bad breakup. She takes up residence in a cabin off in the southern English countryside where she almost immediately receives the invasive attentions of some strange locals. What I really like about this play is how one feels very quickly that things aren’t quite right around these parts, and the locals are definitely up to something.
It’s tough to pin down why that is. I mean, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of my favorite movies. I’ve also read and seen Deliverance and read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and “The Summer People” numerous times, so my suspicious regard of rural locals is nothing new. My question I guess is whether I would have felt this way about Robin Redbreast without having read Shirley Jackson or seen Deliverance or The Wicker Man beforehand. Based on my natural paranoia and less than trusting outlook on humanity, I’m guessing probably.
Of course, like any Folk Horror, there’s the looming spectre of human sacrifice somehow interwoven with Norah’s unexpected pregnancy. And like “The Lottery,” it’s well worth pointing out a few names. Norah’s last name is Palmer, a palmer being a term for pilgrim, especially one who’s been to The Holy Land.
Norah’s housekeeper for the cabin is Mrs. Vigo. Vigo, it turns out, is derived from a Latin phrase, vicus spacorum, meaning “little village.” There’s also Mr. Wellbeloved, the historian, the name possibly suggesting the locals’ attachment to ancient pagan ritual. Finally there’s Mr. Fisher who walks with a cane which links him to the wounded Fisher King and a big ol’ heapin’ heppin’ of Arthurian mythos.
I won’t go into any more detail other than to say the closing scene is as chilling as it is simple. Also of note is the fact that Robin Redbreast predates The Wicker Man by 3 years. Surely there’s some influence there. So, if you haven’t seen Robin Redbreast, you really should, especially if you’re a Folk Horror devotee. It’s on the YouTubes, and I’ve linked it for your amusement and bemusement any time you’ve got a spare 75 minutes. You won’t regret it.