For those who have never encountered the phrase, folk horror is a sub-genre of horror exemplified by the works of Arthur Machen, films such as The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General, and has been prominent in the dark comedy of The League of Gentlemen, and the Ben Wheatley films A Field in England and Kill List.
Other examples lie within Britain's beloved Ghost Stories For Christmas series; notably, Whistle and I'll Come To You, The Ash Tree, Lost Hearts and A Warning To The Curious. All of these play with the common threads of #folkhorror, where a looming sense of danger lurks within a remote, rural setting.
More recently, Robert Eggers’s film The Witch ignited interest within the folk horror genre with his depiction of an ousted family living in fear amidst the ancient, dark forests of 17th century New England. This setting, accompanied with talk of witchcraft and local superstition, perfectly invokes the spirit of folk horror as you're left wondering the true nature of the evil shown on screen.
It was later popularized by Mark Gatiss in the 2010 series History of Horror. Since then, folk horror has been nebulously defined by some as the aesthetic conjured by British horror films of the '60s and '70s that have a rural setting and particularly focus on themes of witchcraft, paganism, folklore, magick, nature, isolation and a summoning of the natural (or supernatural) forces that slumber in the setting, often by a transgression of the main character.
The actual term “Folk Horror” appears to have been coined by Piers Haggard in a 2003 interview in Fangoria Magazine in an interview regarding Haggard’s 1971 film 'The Blood on Satan’s Claw.'
'The Eyrie' Blends These Horrific Themes To Stunning Effect
Reminiscent of the opening stanza of American Werewolf in London — with pub settings revealing the details of the legends, of curiously grotesque' country bumpkins dishing out warnings to the ignorant main character — The Eyrie covers similar ground to tell a tale built around a real-life local legend of smugglers from Sussex.
In The Eyrie, we follow Rebecca, an American photographer as she is sent on a last-minute project in Sussex, along Britain’s south coast. At first, Rebecca begins to settle into the bucolic countryside, finding it quaint — if a little strange — but when she learns of a local legend of a group of smugglers known locally as “Owlers," Rebecca begins to investigate the legend. Soon, things start to go awry.
Thom Burgess is best known for his horror comic Malevolents, which gained some very glowing reviews a couple of years ago. The Eyrie is reminiscent of Malevolents; it has the same folk horror influences and wears them proudly on its sleeve. The art style is similarly atmospheric; a hazy black and white that lends the comic a dreamy/nightmarish quality.
Like Malevolents, the story focusses on a local legend, the history of Sussex being of importance to the plot, of the “Owlers” — a group of smugglers who met a horrible demise at the hands of the King’s Men — and their supernatural existence watching over their treasure and exacting terrible retribution on anyone who transgresses.
The writing in the comic is solid, slowly building over the comic's 40 pages, towards a satisfyingly nightmarish conclusion that feels natural and unforced. We get strong characterization in Rebecca, a sense of a woman who has her own personal demons, and who is trying to make up for past mistakes. As such, she feels three-dimensional as she struggles to hold it together.
The art in the book serves almost as a character itself. The style — black and white sketches and shading — lend the comic a dreamy air, serving the folk horror themes perfectly. Imagine The Wicker Man in black and white and you’ll get an idea of the work by Barney Bodoano, a talented artist in his own right.
At 40 pages, the story is perfectly paced — not too long, but not too short — and never feels rushed or drawn out. For fans of 22-page superhero action comics, it might feel like a slog, but this book is something more along the lines of From Hell, a slow-burn story with depth.
The Eyrie is a sombre and haunting ghost story and is well worth a read. Grab your copy of The Eyrie today.
What is your favorite folk horror story?