Masters of realist cinema, Russian directors are rarely considered as the first choice for international horror genre fans. Dominated by US, Japan and France, the horror film industry has not generally had many Russian contributions over the years, yet the few films which were made left a strong impression and often overshadowed their Western counterparts.
Following a success of Soviet era horrors, such as “Viy” and “Day of Wrath”, as well as international triumph of 21st century hits “Night Watch” and “Day Watch” by a horror veteran director Bekmambetov, horror genre is expanding in Russia and slowly but surely becoming one of the go to choices for filmmakers.
Dead Daughters (Мёртвые дочери) , 2007., Pavel Ruminov
Praised for its distorted camera views and slightly odd color choices, Dead Daughters is considered to be one of the internationally most successful Russian films in the horror genre. Taking place in present-day Moscow, the story takes a dramatic turn once a cheerful, slightly hipsterish group of friends starts to believe they’re being haunted by the ghosts of three girls who were murdered by their schizophrenic mother. Without much explanation on why certain characters were chosen in the first place, once they are, girls start to observe them during a 3 day trial period. Depending on how they act and what they do during this time, the ghosts either decide to kill them using telekinetic powers, or spare their lives and move on to the next potential victim. While some critics have pointed at the obvious influence of Japanese horror films on “Dead Daughters”, it still does involve a certain amount of sarcasm and black humor which is directly aimed at Russian mentality and society in general.
Daddy, Father Frost is Dead ( Папа, умер Дед Мороз), 1991., Yevgeny Yufit
An experimental black and white silent horror, “Daddy, Father Frost is Dead” is filled with scenes of violence, suicide, sadomasochism and various morbid occurrences. Compared to the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, its visuals are cinematically impeccable with a subtle, yet consistent sinister, dark vibe. Raw melancholy Russian cinematography is well known for prevails in this work as well, while a lack of any attempt at humor or anything similar to it gives this film a desolate, crawling horror quality. Focused on two brothers at first, Yufit emphasizes their differences from the start. While one brother is a scientist, another one is a family man who lives a simple life in the country side. Yet, once the scientist’s son commits suicide, things start to progressively get stranger and stranger, eventually reaching a final point of horror.
Visions of Suffering (Видения ужасов), 2006., Andrei Iskanov
A psychedelic, trippy gore film, just like “Nails” and “Philosophy of Knife”, previous works Iskanov is known for, “Visions of Suffering” is definitely a film that leaves a lasting impression. With minimal dialogue, Iskanov introduces the viewers to the protagonist who seems like an ordinary man with a somewhat unusual problem. Iskanov’s hero has terrifying, surreal nightmares when it rains, which eventually lead him to question his own mental state. After a late night visit to what might be the most surreal club ever seen on a big screen, the protagonist only known as The Man in Glasses takes a particular drug that enables his nightmares to come forward and blend with reality. Disturbing and incredibly uncomfortable to watch, Filmcritic.com described it as “a shortcut to losing consciousness”.
III: The Ritual, 2015., Pavel Khvaleev
Described as “Inception in a form of Russian folk tale”, III: The Ritual is undoubtedly an aesthetic masterpiece that can be rivaled by very few films inside and outside of the horror genre. Slow paced and deliberately melancholic, there are no quick or easy answers served to the viewer. At first, Khvaleev introduces two sisters Ayia and Mirra who depend only on each other after their mother passes away from a mysterious illness. However, the same illness that killed their mother spreads through the city, and among those who are infected is Mirra. With the help of Father Herman, a priest who dabbles into pagan rituals and shamanism, Ayia tries to save her sister by entering her mind in a exorcism-like ritual that blends Slavic paganism, Shamanism and Ortodox Christianity.
Viy (Вий), 1967., Konstantin Yershov
Based on a horror novella of the same name written by Gogol, Viy represents a unique mashup of Eastern European legends and horror film genre. Noted for its spectacular cinematography and artistic approach to film making, Viy has achieved a cult status among the fans of horror genre. What begins as an accidental meeting between a witch and a religious man named Khoma, turns into a fatal ending for both of them. After Khoma is forced to pray over the witch’s corpse for three days in the chapel, he is attacked by the witch and numerous evil spirits she summons. Khoma manages to fight off the sinister spirits with prayers and rituals, but is helpless once the witch summons the biggest and most terrifying of all demons, the mythological Viy.
The Bride (Невеста), 2017., Svyatoslav Podgayevskiy
Marketed as the “scariest film of 2017.”, The Bride is a treat for all fans of gothic horror subgenre. While the film got mixed reviews from critics, the audience has mostly had a positive response. Based on a somewhat archetypal horror figure of a dead murderous female ghost, this film plays out in rural Russia, perhaps the best location in the world for making a goth horror movie. The story takes off after a young woman called Nastya convinces her new husband Ivan to take her to meet his family. Eventually, they arrive in a remote, isolated village where Nastya senses she’s surrounded by sinister omens and people. Soon after their arrival, Ivan disappears, while his disturbing family members prepare Nastya for a so called traditional wedding ceremony, which is actually a ritual with which they want to revive a long deceased female family member by sacrificing Nastya. Yet, due to unpredictable circumstances, the ritual doesn’t go as planned, which further enrages the ghost who then goes on a killing spree.