Viy (1967)

Genres - Horror  |   Sub-Genres - Gothic Film, Supernatural Horror  |   Run Time - 77 min.  |   MPAA Rating - PG
  • AllMovie Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

Share on

Review by Richard Gilliam

Though bereft of the suggestive violence of many European horror films of the 1960s, the Soviet-made Viy compares visually to sources as diverse as the silent-era black-and-white expressionistic motifs of F.W. Murnau and the primary color contrasts of the Hammer films of Terence Fisher. The sparse production design is effective in evoking the unreality of the story. Ironically, the weakest visual element is the titular monster, but he's confined to a brief appearance in the film's otherwise superb climactic scene. Given that the story avoids building up anticipation of his presence, he functions adequately without disappointment. The protagonist, Khoma (Leonid Kuravlev), treats his clerical duties as though they were a job rather than a calling. If he has much faith at all, it is faith in conformity. On the critical third night, instead of continuing to pray for the salvation of the dead, he curses the witch girl and calls for God to strike her. It is at this moment that his circle of protection fails him and he is killed. His job was to pray for her soul. His protection ended when he stopped doing his job. The film's epilogue scene reinforces the theme of conformity through work. In it, two friends bemoan Khoma's passing and speculate whether or not he is truly dead. Just as they start to question the official version of his fate, an authority figure approaches and asks them if they are working. Clearly frightened, they quickly make themselves look busy. The authority figure tells them to keep on working and the film ends. What scant hope the workers may have is found in their passive adherence to structure. Kuravlev's performance is essential to making the film work. Khoma is not particularly likeable, but the audience sympathizes with his situation. He's more overwhelmed by circumstance than the tragic victim of some greatly personal flaw. Though she has little dialogue, Natalya Varley is eerily radiant as the witch. Overall, this is a fine film with brisk pacing and vivid production design. In that there is no hero, and not much promise of a better future for the survivors, it is also a much more bleak film than Western audiences are accustomed to.