Ubisoft presents...

Spirit Of Evil
star New 35mm Print Hosted by Russian film historian/preservationist Alla Verlotsky

1967 | 78 min | 35mm
Russian language, English subtitles

Screening Times

July 18th, 2006
9:55 pm
J.A. De Seve

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School’s out at the Kiev Seminary, and friends Khaliava, Gorobetz and Khoma get lost in the dark woods while heading homeward. They come across a farm run by an old lady, who grants them a night’s rest. Khoma receives the first of many tests of his priestly mettle in a nocturnal visit from the old hag, revealed to be a seductive witch who uncannily rides the semi-dazed Khoma skyward like a proverbial broom. Upon crashing to the ground, Khoma beats the witch with a stick, stopping after she magically transforms into a beautiful young woman. He runs off in fear. The next day he receives news from his high priest that a rich landowner’s young daughter, Pannochka, the witch/women he just encountered, gave a dying wish to her father: that he, Khoma Brutus, perform last rites for her salvation. ("And let him pray for three nights for the salvation of my soul. He knows.") The balance of the film consists of the reluctant young Khoma’s three torturous nights locked in a church with the witch-possessed corpse of the young woman.

Viy, based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story, is one of two seminal pre-The Exorcist "possession" films, The Dybbuck (1938) being the other. Viy is striking in the way it blends fantasy with early Soviet film history, most notably the aesthetics of post-Revolution Soviet cinema. The touchstone is Alexander Dovzhenko’s Earth (1930), through Viy’s marvelous attention to the Ukraine (Gogol’s birthplace) and Kolkhosian way of life (animals, song, dance, costume, hardy farmers, nature, etc.), filmed in striking low angles and top-heavy compositions. One of the key actors from Earth, Stepan Shkurat, even appears as a secondary character in Viy; while Khoma was the name of a key character in Earth. However, what will strike audiences today are the three increasingly horrific nights that Khoma spends in the church doing battle with the evil spirit possessing the young woman’s body. The first two set pieces are exercises in effective use of camera movement to reflect the supernatural (just compare it to the overuse of the same technique in the recent An American Haunting), while the third is an overload of expressive shadow-play, stop-motion animation, creative set design and special effects, as the witch summons all forms of creature - demon, ogre, skeleton, imp, harpie, gargoyle and the titular (alas, underwhelming) "Viy" - in an attempt to overwhelm Khoma in a literal "all hell breaks loose" climactic, not-to-be-forgotten set piece.

—Donato Totaro

"[Alexander] Pushko’s work on VIY is remarkable for the three church sequences, culminating in a scary parade of evil creatures –flying coffins and harpies, ratting skeletons and midget gargoyles" - Christina Stojanova, MISE-EN-SCČNES OF THE IMPOSSIBLE: SOVIET AND RUSSIAN HORROR FILMS

"Most Russian movies based on folk tales or fairy tales tend to be theatrical, but in VIY, directors Georgy Kropachyov and Konstantin Yershov use the camera in startling ways that even manage to foretell the hyper-kinetic camerawork of Hong Kong cinema" - James Newman, IMAGES JOURNAL


New 35mm Print Hosted by Russian film historian/preservationist Alla Verlotsky




Director: Konstantin Ershov, Giorgi Kropachyov, Aleksandr Ptushko
Screenplay: Georgi Kropachyov, Aleksandr Ptushko, Konstantin Yershov (from Nikolai Gogol)
Cast: Leonid Kuravlyov, Natalya Varley, Aleksei Glazyrin, Vadim Zakharchenko, Nikolai Kutuzov, Pyotr Vesklyarov, Dmitri Kapka, Stepan Shkurat
Producers: Mosfilm
Distributor: Seagull Films

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