The concept of folk horror has been used for decades, but it has proven difficult to unanimously define what the term exactly represents.
As you might have already known, folk movies are based on old folklore stories, myths, and legends. The term itself first appeared in 2003, when it was used by Piers Haggard in an interview with the Fangoria magazine. There, he was referring to his film The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971).
The concept of folk horror movies rests on this (un)holy trinity of folk horror cinema: Witchfinder General (1968), The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), and The Wicker Man (1973).
Using these films as a blueprint, the term ‘folk horror’ then came to be defined as the British films of the late 1960s and ’70 that are associated with rural, ancient, and European pagan tales, myths, and legends.
Although generally considered a sub-genre of horror films, some film directors question this categorization of folk horror and claim all horror movies are folk horror movies, since nearly all of them emerged from old tales.
However, it is much more accurate to just accept them as (sub)genres, instead of classifying all horror films into one category.
We can categorize and differ movies based on these four elements that help set the genre; story, character, setting, and plot. A sub-genre would then be a specific style that falls within a broad genre category.
Don’t be fooled; just because a movie is put into a particular genre, that doesn’t imply that the movie will be less original or of diminished quality.
Keep on reading to find out the 15 best folk horror movies of all time!
15. Häxan (1922)
Although it hasn’t strictly been classified as a folk horror movie, this silent horror essay film has been nothing short of it.
Written and directed by a Danish director Benjamin Christensen, and shot in Denmark, it is consisting of documentary-style storytelling sequences that chart the historical roots and superstitions surrounding witchcraft.
It focuses on the period from the beginning of the Middle Ages throughout the 20th century, and it is based partly on Christensen’s own study of the Malleus Maleficarum.
Malleus Maleficarum is Latin for “Hammer of Witches” and it is a detailed legal and theological document, regarded as a standard book of witchcraft. It has been used to identify and hunt witches in the 15th century.
So, why should you watch this movie?
Well, because it is one of the first movies ever made about witchcraft, and because it is simply great.
Beware though – it contains graphic depictions of nudity and torture.
14. The Wailing (2016)
Also known as Gokseong, this Korean folk horror film has been nothing short of amazing.
It was written and directed by Na Hong-jin.
The plot revolves around a policeman which is forced to solve the case of a mysterious sickness spreading to save his daughter.
The opening scenes start with an excerpt from the Bible. It comes from Luke, where Jesus, after His resurrection, asks his followers to trust his material presence in the world. Even though they’ve seen him be crucified, he claims not to be a ghost or apparition.
Although the opening scenes are usually forgotten by the middle of the movie, they should be kept in mind as they are important for the whole plot – you’ll figure out why.
If you’re a fan of Korean horror movies, definitely watch this one!
13. You Won’t Be Alone (2022)
This movie is another folk horror hit staring Noomi Rapace.
It was written and directed by Goran Stolevski, an Australian-Macedonian film director and screenwriter.
The plot is also set in Macedonia. Precisely, it is set in an isolated village during the 19th century.
The story follows a young, mute girl Nevena that is kidnapped and then transformed into a witch by another shape-shifting witch. Curious about life as a human, she takes on the form of a peasant she accidentally killed and proceeds to learn about love and loss.
Just like The Lamb (2021), this folktale-horror movie is redefining the genre by offering a whole new horror movie experience.
So, why should you watch this movie?
Well, because it’s simply enthralling. It also questions notions of human identity and dismantles preexisting structures of gender binarity, establishing its own language and universe.
12. The Lamb (2021)
Directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson, this folk horror movie focuses on a seemingly unhappy couple that lives on an isolated mountain.
These rural farmers seem to be stuck in time, spending their time working – until they finally get the chance to have a child.
Except the child is not human.
The tranquil scenery is then juxtaposed with raw folkloric psychodrama. The movie itself questions notions of happiness, the selfishness and selflessness of parenthood, and even the concept of identity. It also leads us to question ourselves and our moral compass.
After premiering at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, this film has been selected as the Icelandic entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards.
If you’re looking for a movie that falls somewhere between Eggers’ The Witch (2015) and Aster’s Midsommar (2019), then you should watch The Lamb (2021).
11. Antlers (2021)
Antlers is a supernatural folk horror film directed by Scott Cooper and produced by a well-known film director, screenwriter and producer –Guillermo del Toro.
It is based on a short story, The Quiet Boy, written by Nick Antosca. (pro tip: you can find this story online, in Guernica magazine!)
Combining visions of Cooper and del Toro, Antlers is a film about darkness: both human and supernatural darkness. It also carries a substantial amount of emotional weight as it is saturated with trauma, grief, and abuse.
Even though the movie can feel a bit monotonous at times, it is definitely worth watching as it is portraying both broken people and places.
10. The Witch (2015)
Stylized as The VVitch, this supernatural folk horror film was written and directed by Robert Eggers.
The plot is set in the 1630s, and it follows the life of an ostracized Puritan family that is forced to relocate to a New England farm. Like a sheep being separated from its herd, they are vulnerable to the mysterious forces of evil. Slowly but surely, the family is being torn apart by black magic, witchcraft, and possession.
It has been said that Eggers spent four years researching so he could make The Witch as historically accurate as possible.
As it can be seen in the mise-en-scène, the movie is faithfully following a 17th-century environment. Shot only in natural light, the color palette is extremely muted. The actors also only use the old British vernacular and live in solitude.
In this movie, Eggers meshed historical facts of witchcraft and life in the 17th century with the everlasting fear of the female body.
If you’re interested in folk horror movies, definitely watch this one. The Witch is, in many ways, a tribute to the original British folk horror cinema of the 1960s and ’70s. It is also of great importance for the feminist theories because it portrays archaic stereotypes and hegemonic power relations between men and women.
9. Midsommar (2019)
Written and directed by Ari Aster, this folk horror film follows a group of graduate students who are lured to a remote summer festival in Sweden. The film revolves around anthropology and its elements (the organization of society, culture, nature, and rituals).
The plot is focused on a dysfunctional couple (Dani and Christian), but we do not know much about them, as the film’s central dynamic is filled with assumptions that need to be filled by the viewers.
The story is slowly unfolding, but there is a feeling of a consistent void because of information dosing. By the minute, the film is becoming scarier. We soon find out the visitors have become victims of horrific, ritually mandated killings.
So, why should you watch this movie?
Well, because the cinematography is simply great. The emphasis on costume and décor, the architecture and buildings, murals, and floral arrangements is breathtaking. At the same time, this idyll is juxtaposed with images of violence and gore scenes accompanied by hallucinogenic states.
8. Hagazussa (2017)
Also known as Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse, this 2017 folk horror film was written and directed by Lukas Feigelfield.
The plot follows a young, abused woman who’s shunned as a witch, and it sets place in a remote village in the 15th-century Alps. Its main focus is paranoia and superstition surrounding witchcraft in Europe.
The film itself is divided into four acts; “Shadows“, “Horn“, “Blood” and “Fire” spelled in the rune alphabet of the Elder Futhark and the modern Latin alphabet.
This slow-paced movie is portraying an unsettling vision of 15th-century superstition.
If you’re looking for a movie that’s picturesque, poetic, moody, and dark with elements of perversion – then look no further.
7. Errementari (2017)
Also known as Errementari: The Devil and the Blacksmith is a 2017 Basque dark comedy horror film. It was directed by Paul Urkijo Alijo.
The plot sets place around the year 1843, and it is telling a story of a bitter Blacksmith, an orphan he took in, and a demon he captured. There is a clear juxtaposition of good and evil.
Even though it can’t quite compete with its complexity, this movie can be compared with Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.
If you enjoy movies that are strongly based on concepts of good and evil, then you should watch this one.
6. Apostle (2018)
This folk/period horror film was written, directed and edited by Gareth Evans.
The story is set in 1905, and it follows a British man in his attempt to rescue his kidnapped sister. On his journey, he encounters a religious cult on an isolated island.
This slow-paced but unsettling film is focused on the main character’s journey into an exceptionally dark corner of the world.
If you’re a fan of desperation-saturated films that aren’t completely straightforward and contain religious, societal, and carnal elements – then you should watch this movie.
5. The Ritual (2017)
The Ritual is a British folk horror film written by Joe Barton and directed by David Bruckner. It is based on the novel of the same name by Adam Nevill.
The story follows a close group of male friends that go for a hike in the wilderness of the Swedish forests, but encounter a presence that’s stalking them.
Although the characters are a group of stereotypical tough guys that make irrational decisions, the movie makes it up by juxtaposing inner, existential problems with “real” external danger in form of a giant monster – which is exactly why you should watch it.
4. Noroi: The Curse (2005)
This Japanese horror film was co-written and directed by Kōji Shiraishi.
This documentary/footage style of filmmaking might have begun with The Blair Witch Project (1999), but this Japanese film just brings this sub-genre to a whole new level.
The plot follows a paranormal investigator (Masafumi Kobayashi) and his investigation of small incidents. It soon becomes apparent that the incidents are a part of a larger curse. After finishing the documentary, Kobayashi’s house burns down, declaring him missing.
If you’re a fan of found-footage movies with elements of folklore, you’re going to like this one.
What makes this movie stand out is that the movie isn’t consisting of just raw, amateur footage – instead, it is shown as a complete documentary filmed by a professional cameraman.
3. Impetigore (2019)
Also known as Perempuan Tanah Jahanam (translated as woman of the damned land), this Indonesian horror movie was written and directed by Joko Anwar.
The plot revolves around Maya and her best friend, Dini, that try to survive without a family. After realizing she might inherit a property, she returns to the village – only to discover shocking information about herself and her family.
Because of its outstanding cinematography and the use of Indonesian folklore, this film received a record-breaking 17 nominations (and won 6!). Which is exactly why you should watch it.
2. The Wicker Man (1973)
This well-regarded British folk horror film was directed by Robin Hardy. The screenplay was inspired by David Pinner’s 1967 novel Ritual.
The plot centers on the visit of Police Sergeant Neil Howie to the isolated Scottish island in search of a missing girl. As a devoted Christian, he is horrified by the fact that the inhabitants of the island have abandoned Christianity and, instead, practice a form of Celtic paganism.
This movie is a staple for anyone interested in the folk horror sub-genre, along with the Witchfinder General (1968) and The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971).
1. The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)
This British supernatural/folk horror film was directed by Pier Haggard.
The story is set in early 18th-century England. It is focused on a village’s youth who falls under the influence of a demonic presence.
Originally written by Robert Wynne-Simmons as an anthology of horror stories (Satan’s Skin), it was later reworked by both Wynne-Simmons and Haggard, making a singular cohesive narrative.
The film has been cited by several film scholars as a blueprint for the folk horror (sub)genre.
Bonus – Witchfinder General (1968)
This movie is the final movie belonging to the (un)holy trinity; along with The Wicker Man (1973) and The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), this movie has been used as a blueprint for defining the whole concept of folk horror (sub)genre.
It is a British-made historical/folk horror film directed by Michael Reeves. It was based on Ronald Bassett’s novel of the same name.
The story is focused on Matthew Hopkins, who tours the land offering his services of persecuting the witches. Accompanied by John Stearne, together they travel and obtain confessions from witches to make money and gain sexual favors.
You should watch this movie if you’re interested in the origins of folk horror movies.