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Folk Horror

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"It's the horror of rural England. It's certain kinds of churches, certain kinds of forest -– the shadows within dark green."
Alex Garland regarding Men

Horror based on old folklore.

This subgenre of Religious Horror is less concerned with organized faiths and divine beings as much as it's concerned with the old folkloric rituals in isolated rural areas. Thus, while it can still focus on a modern religion, it is more likely to focus on the pagan faiths of yore. Demons, cults and goblins haunt the woods while regular people try to survive. Organized religion is most likely corrupt and/or useless, though sadistic clergymen can be the true danger. If you're lucky, you'll have one heroic Badass Preacher among the whole lot, but it might not do any good against beings much older than any god we know.

The phrase was popularized in 2010 by the BBC documentary A History of Horror; in an interview with Mark Gatiss, director Piers Haggard uses "folk horror" in describing the intent of his 1971 film The Blood on Satan's Claw. Haggard's film is one of three (dubbed "the unholy trinity") widely regarded as the Trope Codifiers of the genre, the other two being Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man (1973).

While the genre was most common in Britain in The '60s and The '70s (around the same time British folk music was having a moment of its own), folk horror can be from any region or any time, and there has been a "Folk Horror Revival" in the 2010s and '20s as these tropes come back into prominence along with the rise of Neo-Paganism.

Regardless of when it's made, folk horror is always deeply rooted in the concept of the past. Therefore, when it's not an outright Period Piece, a lot of folk horror will feature a modern City Mouse protagonist suddenly confronted with a forgotten and violent past — usually by traveling to a more rural, tradition-bound locale like a Town with a Dark Secret. Sometimes it's the other way around, with cozy modernity itself being invaded by some ancient danger.

Belief, fear, and culture are key themes, and often a greater threat than the thing people are scared of — therefore, Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane and Humans Are the Real Monsters are common tropes here as well. Things are dangerous enough even without overtly supernatural happenings. In fact, some academic work points to the "monstrous tribe" (a social group bound by shared beliefs and values seen as monstrous to visitors/viewers) as an even greater identifying feature of folk horror than the rural setting.

Compare with Witch Works, which has a lot of overlap, and Horror Hippies and Hillbilly Horrors, both of which have a similar rural horror feel. Watch out for The Fair Folk, take care with the Sleep Paralysis Creatures at night and Don't Go in the Woods. Often takes place in Lovecraft Country or Campbell Country. There may be overlap with Dark Fantasy or Supernatural Fiction, although some folk horror tales heavily tone down the supernatural elements, feature only mundane threats, or leave it ambiguous as to whether there is truly anything supernatural occurring. See also Gothic Horror and Southern Gothic, which have a lot of overlap with this subgenre in terms of settings, character types, themes and tone. In some ways, folk horror could even be seen as a modern take on gothic horror.

Folk horror works:

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    Comic Books 

    Film — Animation 
  • Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is a kid-friendly take on this genre, though still considerably Darker and Edgier than most entries in the franchise. The film is set in a Louisiana bayou haunted by ghosts and zombies and werecats (oh my!). It turns out the island was once home to a pagan cult who worshipped a cat deity and granted the villains their powers; voodoo magic also plays a role. Mystery Inc show up intending to capture footage of ghosts (or more likely disprove them, as they expect) and get more than they bargained for.

    Film — Live Action 


    Live-Action Television 
  • Children of the Stones (1976) - a Mini Series about a strange town surrounded by stones that move
  • Doctor Who - 'The Stones of Blood' and 'The Awakening', among others.
  • Play for Today - the episodes "Robin Redbreast" and "Penda's Fen"
  • Supernatural dabbles in this sometimes, especially in its first few seasons, which featured such monsters as Bloody Mary, La Llorona, and the crossroads demon.
  • The Terror: A fictional retelling of the lost Franklin expedition as a horror story, with inspiration from Inuit mythology.
    • The Terror: Infamy: An in-direct sequel series, this time based around Japanese ghost folklore.
  • The Third Day (2020) - across two separate time periods, two different people are spirited to a very secluded English island
  • The X-Files - some episodes are based around folktales and urban legends.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Don't Walk In Winter Wood is a tabletop RPG designed to evoke the gloomy and atmospheric presence of old ghost stories and tall tales told around the campfire in the days of old. Players take on the role of villagers haunted by a mysterious woods that is bringing supernatural phenomena into their isolated little town. Major themes include pagan traditions and rituals, witchcraft, folklore, isolation and a focus on escaping terrifying otherworldly threats without dying or going mad in the process.
  • The Crooked Moon, a fan-made Dungeons & Dragons supplement, set in a forest where it's always between midnight and the witching hour, where players face cults, witches, The Fair Folk, and Things That Go "Bump" in the Night.
  • Vaesen Nordic Horror Roleplaying: The titular Vaesen are all beings from legends and folklore, and said folklore often gives important clues as to their natures, motivations, strengths and weaknesses.

  • The Rite of Spring is folk horror in dance form. The ballet is intended to be set in the distant past (specifically prehistoric Russia) and focuses upon a tribe performing a pagan rite to usher in spring, that ends with a young girl being forced to dance herself to death as a sacrifice to the earth. In addition to the disturbing story, the music and choreography are highly unsettling and give off a sense of primal fear and foreboding throughout, even before we get to the sacrifice scene.

    Video Games 
  • Barrow Hill: Menaces from pre-Celtic times arise after being disturbed by archaeologists (first game) and teenagers (second game), and must be placated via folklore-inspired ritual offerings.
  • The Excavation of Hob's Barrow: A woman Adventurer Archaeologist journeys to a small town way out on the English moors to investigate a mysterious barrow, and has to content with the local population being both a bit sceptical towards the strange woman scholar from the city poking around in their village, as well as the stories about the strange goings-on the last time someone tried to disturb the barrow.
  • Fishing Vacation is set in a remote lakeside cabin in the mountains and features a book telling the story of Sedna, the Inuit ocean goddess which turns out to be highly relevant to the strange goings-on at the lake.
  • Mermaid Swamp: The story is inspired by Japanese mermaid folklore and set in a remote mountain village surrounded by woods and an allegedly cursed swamp.
  • The early portion of Resident Evil 4 plays up the tropes and imagery of an ominously insular, rural village with its own customs and religion that really hates outsiders, but you quickly discover that the villagers' violent behavior and single-minded devotion to the local religious figurehead are caused by a Puppeteer Parasite controlled by said figurehead, not any adherence to creepy old ways.
  • Scarlet Hollow: Dealing with hauntings in the rural South.
  • Unforgiving – A Northern Hymn: Set in the Swedish wilderness and based upon Scandinavian folklore and mythology.
  • Until Dawn: It's revealed the true threat of the game are wendigos which roam the mountain the characters are stuck on, with several references to traditional folklore about the subject.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Original 
  • Old Gods of Appalachia: The story depicts an alternate version of the real-life 19th and early 20th century Appalachia, but where the work of the mining companies and the industrial business unleashed Eldritch Abominations that had been trapped below the land. It follows the daily life of everyday Appalachians, and of folk-witches of the Appalachian countryside, who have to deal with the various monsters and supernatural threats this entails. The podcast relies heavily on the Appalachian folklore, taking inspiration from various urban legends, historical figures and ghosts stories.