The first horror movie produced in the Soviet Union, Viy is based on a novella by Nikolai Gogol. You may recognize the story, as Mario Bava previously adapted it as one of the yarns in Black Sunday. Some of the witch scenes and end appearance of Viy were toned down due to worries of censorship, but the film was able to avoid most restrictions as it was seen as a folk tale.
Seminary student Khoma stays in a farmhouse on his way home for vacation and is nearly seduced by an old woman who puts him under a spell and rides him like a horse. She then gets him to fly and he demands that they land, at which point he beats her into oblivion. In fact, he does the exact opposite of hitting her with the ugly stick. When his attack is finished, she’s now a young woman, but on the broke of death.
After she expires, her rich father demands that Khorma — he has no idea that the young priest killed her — pray for her soul for the next three nights. Soon, he learns that he’s not the only man that she’s bewitched.
That night, when Khorma enters the church, the girl rises from her coffin and tries to find him. He protects himself with a circle of chalk, but must spend the entire night vigilant that she doesn’t attack him.
The second night, the girl’s coffin flies all over the church as birds appear all over the room. Khorma attempts to leave but the father tells him that he will get 1,000 lashes if he fails and 1,000 pieces of gold if he succeeds. He runs, as the witch has already tried to rob him of his sight and has turned his hair white.
The final night a drunk Khorma contends with the girl one more time, but her demons cannot get past the chalk. They can’t, that is, until the monstrous spirit of Viy is conjured. The demons attack him, leaving him motionless in the middle of the chapel as the woman’s corpse crashes through her coffin, revealing her as an old woman once more.
While this movie is more than fifty years old, it still looks and feels amazing, as if it came from an alien world and somehow found ours.
You can watch Viy on Tubi. For the best possible version, turn to Severin. Their blu ray comes with an interview with Richard Stanley on the film, a documentary on the history of Russian fantasy films and three short films, Satan Exultant, The Queen of Spades, and The Portrait.
Viy is also streaming on Shudder.