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Nick Lewis

CULTAVIST

cultavist

A series of mixed media designs that were inspired by my interest in UK made horror films of the 60’s and 70’s and the Folk Horror genre. I full explanation of my interest can be found below.

What is Folk Horror?

Growing up in the city I was seldom exposed to nature beyond the tree lined streets or local parkland you’ll find in any city but one summer, instead of our usual holiday to the nearest Butlins holiday park, myself and my siblings were carted off on a 2 hour drive to stay in a rustic farmhouse in Beulah, mid-Wales. This was no chalet or holiday cottage but a small dwelling situated on a working farm deep in the Welsh countryside. Here I was exposed to the sights and smells of the countryside that to my young eyes seemed strange and sometimes slightly threatening.

The farmer was a benign friendly man who used few words but I was struck with how casually he would wring a chickens neck with barely a thought for his young audience that looked on. I would be allowed free reign and wander about the nearby fields and lanes looking for the makings of a den or possible adventure. It was not uncommon to find a perfectly picked-clean cow skull sitting in the undergrowth or a dead fox, tied by its tale, dangling from a gate to dissuade other foxes from venturing too near the chicken house. The week long holiday to this farmhouse became an annual occurrence for my family, despite the absence of central heating or warm running water but our visits eventually came to an abrupt end when the farmer drowned a litter of puppies in a barrel within feet of our backdoor despite my mother’s protests.

Back at home my father would let us sit up late with him to watch BBC2’s Horror Double Bill screened every Saturday night throughout the summer holidays. Toward the end of the 70’s the series would screen many Hammer Horror and Amicus Productions movies with ‘Night of the Demon’ (Sabre 1970), ‘The Devil Rides Out’ (Hammer 1968) and ‘Quatermass and the Pit’ (Hammer 1967) amongst my favourites.What many of these films had in common is that the UK countryside served as the setting or, more often than not, was re-purposed to stand in as the backdrop for more distant locations. This further compounded my notion that beyond the city and off the beaten path lay mysteries that had its roots in something primordial, things that were beyond the capacity of television sleuths or hard nosed detectives to solve or explain. These mysteries had nothing to do with religion either. Horror films were largely centred around the concepts of good and evil with a religious explanation at their core but the malignant forces that seemed to lay in the shadows of a dense pine forest or aimless pig track felt as though their origin stretched back to earlier, more primitive times.

There have been many attempts to define the ‘Folk Horror’ genre, which has now evolved into something of a movement, and there is much debate as to what defines it but ultimately I feel that it rests on individual interpretation. My definition is partly informed by my unique childhood experiences but still there is a commonality at the heart of Folk Horror which most would agree on and that is the sense of a primordial mystery that is pre-historic and certainly pre-Christian. 

This mysterious, intangible force can also be found at the heart of folk lore and superstition. In the UK we are now a largely secular society but many still make room for superstition and ‘old wives tales’, so rooted is it in our culture. As far back as the 4th Century AD the Roman Empire confounded by their attempts to ‘civilise’ the early Britons and replace Pagan practices with Christianity could only partially succeed by settling for a hybrid of both belief systems, that was created through gradually integrating Christian concepts into the Pagan rituals of these early Britons. Though the remnants of these early pagan traditions and folklore are now largely unrecognisable, Folk Horror seeks to re-ignite their relevance in a modern world.

In times of societal upheaval conspiracy theories proliferate (flourishing now more than ever due in part to the echo chambers of social media) where the frightened and confused try to find some, albeit negative, order in the world rather than accept chaos and uncertainty. In rural Irish culture religion is at the centre of society but so too is the concept of ‘luck’ which is at odds with Christianity, and yet many still believe that luck is a very real force at play in ones day to day existence. Folk horror acknowledges this uncertainty and instead of attempting to offer reason it celebrates the mystery and accepts that this is indeed uncomfortable and sometimes frightening, providing the horror element to the genre.

I was brought up in the Christian faith and while I respect people who continue to practice Christinaity or any faith, it’s no longer for me. Perhaps if I was inclined to adopt a religion or belief system I may be drawn to something sympathetic to the themes of Folk Horror such as the modern Pagan movement, Wicca or even Druidism but for now I remain a soft Agnostic beguiled by the intangible air of mystery that can be felt in an ancient woodland, bathed in the soft gloam of a winter’s evening.

Nick Lewis