Creepy moments in Russian Christmas fairy-tale films
Everyone knows that Russian Christmas is ten times scarier than Halloween, but few people know that Russian fairy-tale films, traditionally watched during the festive season, are inhabited by witches, devils and werewolfs and contain some really unsettling plot turns. Today we want to take a look at two renown fairy-tale films by Aleksandr Rou – Morozko (1964) and Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka (1961) – and their creepy moments.
Morozko (released in USA as Jack Frost) is a fairy tale about a cocky young man Ivan and a complaisant young lady Nastya, who have to undergo a lot of magical trials and tribulations in order to be together.
Upon their first meeting, Ivan is showing off his skills in front of Nastya, and gets punished for that. A mushroom-headed wizard-midget, whose path Ivan has crossed earlier, appears and turns Ivan into an anthropomorphic bear, which of course scares the living daylights out of Nastya and the viewer:
Later in the film, when Nastya is bewitched and in a deadly sleep, Ivan, who has already recovered his pretty face, turns to Baba Yaga (a witch in Slavic folklore and the origin of John Wick’s nickname) and asks her for help in recovering Nastya.
The mise-en-scène of the Baba Yaga episode is in contrast with the rest of the film and Soviet fairy-tale films in general; the episode’s lighting and sumptuous colours make it look more like a Hammer horror film:
And of course Baba Yaga’s servants, animate trees, are a classic trope that has been employed in the horror genre throughout its history, making its most spectacular appearance in Poltergeist and The Evil Dead.
Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka is set on the eve of the Orthodox Christmas and its central character is a devil. He is no Mephistopheles, having little powers and being a party pooper, rather than an embodiment of utter evil; but his presence is unmotivated by the plot and therefore disturbing. The film is an adaptation of the short story by Nikolai Gogol – Edgar Allan Poe of Russian literature, which explains the variety of evil spirits inhabiting its diegesis.
But as for us, the most unsettling part of Evenings is the sequence in which the old man, who is of kin to the evil spirits, is using telekinesis to eat dumplings:
As we have already mentioned on the pages of this blog, in the Soviet Union, the narratives of supernatural were not quite favoured by the state ideological policy dictated by socialist realism, therefore horror could not develop as a genre, like it did within the majority of Western European national cinemas. But the repressed always returns, that is why horror elements are scattered around Soviet cinema, occasionally popping up in the most unexpected places.