• Viy (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: December 10th, 2019.
    Director: Konstantin Ershov, Georgiy Kropachyov
    Cast: Leonid Kuralev, Natalya Varley, Aleksei Glazyrin
    Year: 1967
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    Viy – Movie Review:

    Khoma Brut (Leonid Kuralev) and his two friends are, along with the rest of their class, given a break for their work at the seminary but told by the headmaster not to get into too much trouble on their break. They head out into the surrounding area and wind up taking solace for the night at a remote country home inhabited only by a single old woman. She agrees to let them in but states that they must each go to sleep in separate places. As she sends Khoma’s two friends off for the night, she decides to keep him for herself. He pushes back against her advances but soon she grabs him and her besom and whisks him off into the night sky. Clearly, she’s a witch. He pleads with her to put him down and when she eventually obliges, he beats her within an inch of her life, at which point she transforms from an aged hag into a gorgeous young woman (Natalya Varley).

    A short time later, Khoma is back at the seminary when the headmaster tells him he’s needed elsewhere. It seems that a young woman named Pannochka who recently passed away asked her father as her dying request to have Khoma deliver her last rites. As such, he travels to a nearby village where he meets with the father of the deceased, unsure why he’s been called here – until he sees the body of the girl that he beat just a few days prior. Khoma is then coerced into spending three nights in the local church with her body, praying over her, until she can finally be laid to rest.

    It doesn’t play out like he’d hoped it would.

    Based on the story ‘The Vij’ by Nikolai Gogol (the same source material used by Mario Bava for Black Sunday), Viy starts off as a fantasy picture with elements of comedy thrown into but takes a sharp right turn into twisted gothic horror just past the half way mark of its seventy-seven-minute running time. We won’t spoil the story for those who haven’t seen it (though be forewarned that some of the screen caps posted below will), but it’s in this last half of the movie where the impressive effects work from Aleksandr Ptushko really shines. There’s a lot of creativity on display and the results as are unique as they are unsettling.

    The movie’s Russian heritage also gives it a unique cultural slant not just in the language spoken but in the wardrobe, the set design and the costumes on display. The interior of the church features some fantastic and odd little details you wouldn’t see in a North American or Western European church, pay attention to the paintings here, they help add to the film’s bizarre atmosphere. The film deals in some interesting Russian customs as well, and not just the consumption of vodka (although that does occur!), but the way which people grieve for the loss of a loved one and in the way that Christian orthodoxy is portrayed.

    Leonid Kuralev is good as the male lead in the picture. He starts off full of bravado and machismo, but his attitude quickly changes as the events that transpire around him warp his psyche. He plays tortured and distressed very well! Natalya Varley is also very good here in a completely silent part. She’s made up in such a way to look beautiful but also to look frightening and she uses her eyes wonderfully to really make a strong impression.

    Viy – Blu-ray Review:

    Severin Films brings Viy to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.33.1 fullframe on a 50GB disc. Aside from a noticeable blue tint (not having seen this film before I can’t say if it should look that way or not), the image quality here is really strong. Detail is quite nice, especially in close up shots, and there’s good texture too. There are some white specks here and there but no serious print damage to take you out of the viewing experience. The image is free of noise reduction, edge enhancement and compression issues and retains the expected amount of natural film grain throughout.

    DTS-HD Mono tracks are provided in the original Russian and dubbed English options, with optional subtitles available in English only. While it’s nice to have the English track here, the Russian track fights with the film better. It’s limited in range, as you’d probably expect, but it sounds pretty clean and clear. It’s properly balanced and free of any hiss or distortion.

    The first extra on the disc is Viy The Vampire: An Interview With Richard Stanley wherein the director/writer/mystic sits quite intensely in front of a camera for twenty-five minutes with a ‘cigarette’ of some kind in his hand, talking quite passionately about the film’s literary background, how it differs from other cinematic and literary vampires, the look of the film, the effects work and more. Stanley is

    In the thirty-four-minute Soviet Cinema: John Leman Riley On The History Of Soviet Fantasy And Sci-Fi Film we sit down with the writer who cover some of the same ground as Stanley to start – the literary origins of the material – before then going on to talk about Viy and quite a few other Russian genre pictures. There are some great clips contained in this piece that will no doubt make you want to seek out some of the material discussed. The man knows his stuff and gives us an interesting and concise ‘crash courses’ in what is definitely an underexplored territory in terms of horror and sci-fi pictures.

    On top of that, the disc also includes three vintage Russian silent horror films. The first of these is The Portrait, a strange little ten-minute piece from 1915 about a man who quite literally sees the subject of a portrait on his wall come to life. The film might be primitive in terms of its technique but it’s pretty effective!

    The second short is The Queen Of Spades, from 1916, a sixteen-minute clip (presumably from a longer feature) that lets us know that the countess suffers from insomnia. Her aides lay her down and leave her be, at which point she fades away and we see a younger woman and her escort arrive in the room. A man in a wig creeps about the home, the young woman fades back into the older countess, and we learn that she can foretell card games, the young man pleading with her to tell him her secret. She refuses until he pulls out a gun, at which point she passes away from fear. The young man, Hermann, tells her beloved what happened. He’s distressed by the events, even more so when, the next night, the countess returns to pay him a visit. It’s a neat short, again, quite atmospheric and nicely shot.

    1917’s Satan Exultant, which clocks in at roughly twenty-minutes, tells the story of a minister named Talnoks and his brother Pavel as they hunker down for a night of bad weather. Soon enough, Satan himself appears, pretending to be a traveler in need of shelter for the night, and then does what Satan does best – tries to get the inhabitants of the home to give into temptation. Note that this is just a portion of the film, not a complete version, but what’s here is very interesting and quite atmospheric.

    Rounding things out, we get a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options.

    Viy – The Final Word:

    Viy is a seriously weird film but it’s also a very effective one. It’s unique, creative and at times, quite eerie. Severin has done a nice job bringing this one to Blu-ray with a fine presentation and a nice array of extra features as well. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Viy Blu-ray screen caps!