Beg, borrow or steal to see this amazing 1967 Russian mind
blower. Based on a story by
Nikolai Gogol, it's
an astounding achievement in pure, old-fashioned horror.
Turn of the century writer Nikolai Gogol was one of
Russia's most famous scribes, and was known to turn out quite a few
horror-themed stories (such as "The Overcoat"), but none more so than VIY (or,
as it's sometimes known, THE VIJ), which he claimed was taken from an old
peasant fairy tale and written "exactly as it was told to me."
This adaptation of Gogol's most horrific story (Mario
Bava's 1961 classic BLACK SUNDAY was also taken, albeit
very loosely, from the same piece) was co-directed by the veteran fantasy
filmmaker Alexander Ptushko (SADKO, RUSLAN AND LUDMILLA, THE TALE OF THE TSAR
SULTAN), whose genius with special effects was never more evident. VIY was
at the time the only horror made in Russia, which seems somehow
appropriate, as it would be extremely hard to top.
Like many films based on short stories, this one
suffers from a certain amount of visible padding to stretch it out to feature
length (and it's only 73 minutes long!). Otherwise, though, it's a near
word-for-word adaptation of Gogol's fiction, being the bizarre story of a young
monk-in-training who, lost in the woods one night, comes upon a withered old
woman. It soon becomes clear that she's a witch, and transforms herself into a
gorgeous young woman who forces out bumbling hero to take a broomstick flight on
her back. Upon setting down, he beats her to death, thus setting off an
ultimately deadly chain reaction.
The relatives of the dead woman, apparently unaware
she's a witch, mourn her loss and start a search for the killer. Somehow, the
protagonist is picked to stand guard over her corpse each night inside a
cavernous, nightmarish church, apparently to keep evil spirits away. As it
turns out, though, keeping evil spirits out is not his problem--quite the
opposite, in fact!
The directors Georgi Kropachyov and Aleksandr Ptushko
prove with this film that audacity and imagination are the real special
effects. While the FX work in the wall-to-wall finale (done by Ptushko himself)
seems mighty primitive by today's standards, it remains an astonishing
spectacle, with flying coffins, giant hands reaching up from the ground and
monsters of every conceivable variety swarming the area.
The production design and photography are also a
marvel. The church where much of the action takes place could be the very
definition of Gothic, and the gorgeously evocative use of color rivals the
stunning work of Mario Bava. It all adds up to a true lost classic that
simply MUST be rediscovered!
Although this film is currently unavailable in
North America, interested parties are urged to track down the import DVD from
Ruscico. Gorgeously remastered and featuring a wealth of extras, this is truly
(outside the rare theatrical screening) the only way to experience this
VIY [a.k.a. THE VIJ]
Directors: Georgi Kropachyov, Aleksandr Ptushko
Screenplay: Georgi Kropachyov, Akeksandr Ptushko, Konstantin Yershov
Cinematography: Viktor Pishalnikov, Fyodor Provorov
Editors: R. Pesetskaya, Tamara Zubova
Cast: Leonid Kuravlyov, Natalya Varley, Aleksei Glazyrin, Vadim Zakharchenko,