For the next stop in our trip around the horror world, we explore some of the most memorable, starkly beautiful and chilling films of Eastern Europe.
Welcome back to Morbidly Beautiful’s Journey Around the World in 80 films! This month, we will be exploring eastern European films, all of which are equally as dark and bleak as a winter in Siberia. The selection of horror films in this part of the world is few and far between. Certainly there were many films that were filmed in this part of the world, especially in the early 2000s, but creativity and expression were often stifled due to the oppressive rule of the USSR.
Even with the heavy hand of a censorious government, a few classic horror films emerged and influenced many future generations.
One of the most renowned films of the area came out of the Soviet State of Czechia in 1969, Juraj Herz’s The Cremator.
It’s an extremely dark, morbid film about a guy who works at a crematorium who believes he’s not just processing the dead bodies, but instead ushering the souls of the dead bodies into the afterlife. It definitely has some dark subject matter as the titular cremator begins working with the Nazis on gas chambers.
But it’s well worth a watch to understand the soviet world post World War 2 and their relationship with their close neighbor, Nazi Germany. You can catch the film in full now on YouTube. However, there was a period in time where this film was banned by the Soviet government and locked in a vault for 30 years.
Another of the most important films to come out of Eastern Europe was made during the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Daddy, Father Frost is Dead.
Spiritually, this film is on the same wavelength as David Lynch’s Eraserhead. Although a modern era horror film, it was filmed in black and white and doesn’t contain a word of dialogue — just heavy breathing, grunting and macabre imagery. This one is another gem well worth a watch and can be also found in complete on YouTube.
Each of the five films featured in this article have a connection back to these two aforementioned films. They are each raw, visceral, and increasingly macabre — representing the essence of Eastern European horror.
Frankenstein’s Army (2013, Czechia)
This is the World War 2, found footage, body horror film you never knew you needed in your life until now. Frankenstein’s Army not only brings fresh ideas to the world of the classic Frankenstein’s monster, but it brings them to the world of found footage. Most found footage films are compiled from security footage from a house, centering on ghost hunters or a documentary filmmaking crew trying to capture activity at a haunted location.
But this film focuses on Russian soldiers in World War 2, with footage from one of those old-timey cameras you have to hand crank. Instead of the standard ghost haunt, these brave soldiers stumble upon a Nazi bunker where a descendent of Victor Frankenstein is making giant, half-man, half-machine murder bots.
A seriously underrated and underwatched film, Frankenstein’s Army has some of the best monster and creature effects in horror history.
There are so many different and unique monsters in this film, it will make your head spin. Honestly, I lost count at about 20. There’s a monster with giant crab pincers for arms, and one with a metal head like a bear trap that opens up and chomps its victims. One has claws, and another has circular saws for hands. My favorite monster was giant airplane propeller with legs.
All of these crazy monsters continually rush the first person camera view like a cut scene from a video game. This is an absolutely special film that will have you on the edge of your seat with a huge smile on your face in awe of the creativity and artistry of the special effects team.
Frankenstein’s Army is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
The Noonday Witch (2018, Czechia)
This unique film focuses on a young mother and daughter who move to the country, into a large house, where they await the arrival of their husband and father. As the film progresses, it becomes obvious that the girl’s father may not be coming — and that the evil noonday witch who strangles children may be coming instead.
A fantastic, modern, slow-burning psychological horror The Noonday Witch is surprisingly light on darkness and dead bodies; in fact, there are none to be found.
This is one of those unusual horror films where all the horror takes place in broad daylight, in the middle of a Summer heatwave. There are no shadows for creepy things to lurk in, and no moments of stereotypically shouting “Hello” into the darkness.
The Noonday Witch is currently streaming on Shudder.
Viy (1967, Russia)
Viy is a folk tale that follows a young seminary student who stumbles into the clutches of a witch late one night. The next morning he is called to a small town to pray for a dead young girl who turns out to be the witch he killed the night before. The remainder of the film follows the young priest as he spends three nights in a barn with the dead witch who comes back from the dead to torment him each night.
If Daddy, Father Frost is Dead is on the same spiritual wavelength as Eraserhead, then Viy is on the same spiritual wavelength as Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Less of a horror film and more of a long lost Russian Disney Film, Viy has the most aesthetic beauty of any film covered so far in our journey around the world.
Full of unique practical effects and classic camera tricks, Viy is an absolute classic.
Viy is currently streaming on Shudder.
Angst (1983, Austria)
Angst is basically the Austrian version of Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, and with that in mind, you have been warned. Based loosely on a real life mass murder, Angst is a slasher set from the POV of the killer as he stalks through a house, terrorizing a family after having just escaped from the insane asylum.
This one is not for the squeamish or sensitive, as the violence is very brutal and in your face. It contains strangulations, graphic abuse of women and children, and even the taboo act of child murder.
Angst is an insanely aggressive film that just happens to be extremely influential as one of the great, early home invasion films that truly captures the terror of a stranger invading a place of safety and sanctuary.
Angst is currently streaming on Shudder.
November (2017, Estonia)
A film like November is the reason why we do a column like this, as it is so unlike anything in the rest of the horror world; it is, in fact, uniquely Estonian.
An extremely bizarre film, November plays out more like a dark fantasy than a straight up horror movie. Brimming with supernatural stuff, like blood oaths with the devil and resurrected dead who, for some reason, turn into chickens when they enter the sauna. There are creatures called Kratts who are made out of sticks that roam around the wilderness, searching for work and souls.
There are werewolves, witches, sleepwalking baronesses, panty sniffers, talking snowmen. And somewhere in the midst of all this black and white weirdness, there is a love story.
Hans, who is betrothed to the sleepwalking baroness is in love with Liina, the werewolf woman whose father has sold her into marriage with a pig farmer. Words cannot explain in full what is going on in this film, but I urge you to see it for yourself.
November is currently streaming on Shudder.
If you are hungry for more Eastern European horror, there are plenty of films to choose from. From Hungary, there is the unique and artsy White God. Russia is the home to a film touted as the scariest of 2017, The Bride, which has more of a standard American/Conjuring Universe type vibe to it. The most interesting film from the area is extremely difficult to find, and that is the Czechia film from 1981 Ferat Vampire about a vampire rally car.
Make sure to follow Morbidly Beautiful (and me) on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or wherever you consume social media for the latest in the series as well. You can also check out this letterboxd list.
In the next entry of the series, we will be exploring horror from the Middle East and diving deep into Seytan, the Turkish scene-for-scene remake of The Exorcist.