Acclaimed author, academic, critic, film programmer, podcaster, publisher and producer Kier-La Janisse is renowned in movie circles for championing lesser-known corners of the cinematic realm - for her first feature-length documentary, screening at this weekend's IFI Horrorthon festival, she offers a chilling cinematic testimony to the old saying that, well, there's nowt so queer as folk...

Woodlands Dark And Days Bewitched explores the history of 'folk' horror, from its beginnings in a trilogy of cult UK classics - Michael Reeves' The Witchfinder General (1968), Piers Haggard's Blood on Satan's Claw (1971) and Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man (1973) to its many global descendants and a revival over the last decade via a new generation of filmmaking visionaries.

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But what exactly constitutes a folk horror film? "It's a constantly evolving thing," says Kier-La, "but what they do tend to have in common is that they're almost all set in a rural environment, they have some sort of depiction on engagement with folk customs, practices or beliefs and many of them are dealing with isolated or small communities."

Recent examples include Ben Wheatley's A Field In England and In The Earth), Robert Eggers' The Witch and, perhaps most memorably, Ari Aster's Midsommar, featuring Ireland's very own Jack Reynor. "There's a lot of ambiguity in a lot of the best folk horror films," she says. "It's never exactly clear who the bad guy is. Or whose side the film is on."

Midsommar - a new folk horror classic?

"I don't even know if it can be described as a revival," Kier says "as it wasn't even called 'folk horror' back in the 70s - this is the first wave of films that are deliberately folk horror. A lot of the newer films were initially from the UK, but I think when Midsommar came out was when the concept of folk horror finally broke through to the mainstream, and audiences wanted to find more films that fit into that mold. It's been a thing for maybe a decade, but it's really catching on - to the point that people like my dad have heard of folk horror."

Ben Wheatley's In The Earth offered folk horror for the pandemic age

Featuring over 200 films and over 50 interviewees, what began as an assignment to create a half-hour featurette to accompany a new DVD and Blu-Ray of Blood On Satan's Claw expanded into a three-hour plus magnum opus. "My first rough cut was longer than the film itself, so my boss (she works with production and distribution company Severin Films, who produced Woodlands Dark And Days Bewitched) said go ahead. It wasn't as if I had a vocation to be a filmmaker - that was never my plan - or a mission to make a film about folk horror. I always think of myself as a writer, or a programmer, someone who's sharing other people's films. I guess making a documentary about films is just another way to do that."

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For its creator, the roots of the project go back decades, and to one folk horror classic in particular. "The Wicker Man was probably the first film I made a film pilgrimage to the locations for," she says, "which is something I like to do. It was the first time |I travelled across the world to see the locations for a film. It was an important film for me as a teenager, and one that was in my blood long before I pitched this project."

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It's not an accident that the folk horror movie is having a moment - Ben Wheatley's phantasmagorical In The Earth, released earlier this year, vividly brought the concept into the pandemic age.

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Watch: Kier-La Janisse interviews filmmaker Ben Wheatley

"I feel like there's a real interest in folk culture right now because of the pandemic, says Janisse, "people want to simplify and investigate life outside of the city and learn how to be more self-sufficient in some ways, and more community orientated in others - and that's got a lot to do with why these films have crossed over as much as they have. The state of the world right now has allowed people to really engage with them. It was already a growing thing, but in the last two years especially it really has been part of an overall reemergence of earth-based practices and personal daily rituals, the stuff people are doing to create alternate support systems for themselves, because the world is collapsing around us (laughs).

She's joking. Possibly. But there's definitely something in the woods...

Woodlands Dark And Days Bewitched screens at this year's IFI Horrorthon festival, which runs from October 22nd - 25th, and is also available is view on demand via IFI@Home - find out more here.