The Russian film industry collapsed when the Soviet Union fell; in the 1990s, only about a dozen movies were made in the country each year. But, with the turn of the millennium, movies began to come back to Russia. In 2000, the Russian film industry brought in $25 million. By 2007, that was up to $200 million. Russia’s movie industry was back, making films for both Russian audiences and international ones. A number of American movie producers have come to the FSU, as well, to take advantage of the lower production costs available there. A brief tour of horror produced in the FSU:
A young priest must preside over the body of a young girl in a church for three days before burial. As he sits his vigil, witches and demons try to lure him out of his protected circle of chalk so they can steal his soul. Viy was the first horror movie released in Soviet era Russia. It’s based on a short story by acclaimed Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol. A remake, which has been in the works since 2005, should be out sometime in 2013.
Desyat Negrityat (1987)
This film falls more under the realm of thriller than horror, but it’s still worth watching. Based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, this is one of the most faithful adaptations of the haunting tale of retribution. Ten strangers are lured to an English mansion where, one by one, they are dispatched as punishment for their sins. All Hollywood adaptations tacked upbeat endings onto the story; Desyat Negrityat is the only film adaptation that preserves the novel’s grim conclusion.
Dark Waters (1994)
This was possibly the first western film shot in Ukraine after the fall of the USSR. After the death of her father, an English woman travels to the island convent where her mother died giving birth to her. There, she discovers that the sisters are engaged in dangerous rituals in the catacombs below the convent.
Night Watch (2005)
The first in a fantasy/horror trilogy about “Others,” humans who have special powers, and either align themselves with the forces of Dark or Light. The protagonist, Anton, discovers that he is one of the Others when he witnesses an attack on a witch. He joins the Night Watch in enforcing the uneasy truce between Dark and Light. Night Watch was the first big budget Russian film made after the fall of the Soviet Union. It was hugely successful, garnering higher Russian profits that year than Lord of the Rings.
Day Watch (2006)
Day Watch, the second film in the trilogy, picks up one year after the events of Night Watch. Anton protects his son, Yegor, from the Dark Watch after he discovers that Yegor is a Dark Other who has been preying on ordinary humans. To save Yegor and avoid a coming war between the Dark and Light sides, Anton seeks magic chalk which can rewrite history. Like the first in the series, this had a highly successful run in Russian theaters. A third film is awaiting production.
Visions of Suffering (2006)
Directed by Andrey Iskanov, who also made Philosophy of a Knife. This surreal Russian horror movie explores the demonic visions that plague a man who has dosed himself with a psychedelic drug. The intense visuals of his very bad trip contrast starkly with the grim and grey environment of his waking life. Gory, psychedelic, and disjointed, this film is not for everyone.
The Abandoned (2006)
An adopted woman is lured to Russia by an agent who says that she has inherited a farm from her birth parents. Once there, she travels to the isolated farm and meets a man who tells her that he is her twin brother. Together, they discover the terrible story of what happened to their parents, and try to escape their own brutal fate.
Shtolnya (which roughly translates as “The Pits”) is widely reputed to be the first completely Ukrainian horror film. A group of archeology students are brought to a tunnel system to assist in a dig at an ancient Pagan site. The scientists in charge tell the kids about a legendary system of tunnels that goes deep into the earth. In proper horror movie character fashion, when the kids discover the mystery tunnels, they decide to go exploring instead of telling the adults. Fans say this elusive Ukrainian horror film is worth tracking down; copies only seem to be available in Region 5 PAL DVDs, so, make sure you have a multi-format DVD player.
Dead Daughters (2007)
Three sisters murdered by their mother haunt Moscow, coming after anyone who hears their story. The girls watch for three days, and kill anyone they decide is evil and must be punished. This art house horror film from music video director Pavel Ruminov gives themes and imagery from Japanese horror a Russian twist. An American film company has purchased the English language rights, but, a remake is not yet in the works.
A film from the “torture porn” sub-genre, Captivity is the story of Jennifer (Elisha Cuthbert), a fashion model imprisoned by unseen assailants. During her captivity, she is put through psychological and physical torture, including watching videos of the torture and demise of previous prisoners. This claustrophobic horror movie was filmed almost entirely on a Mosfilm sound stage. The film is best-known for its controversial billboards, which depicted extreme torture, and were eventually removed. The distributors said that they inadvertently sent the wrong files to the printers.
What starts as a simple heist quickly goes awry. Three bank robbers escape into abandoned tunnels of the Moscow Metro, only to meet up with the Trackman. The Trackman is a pickaxe-wielding giant who lives beneath the city and slaughters anyone who wanders into his lair.
Philosophy of a Knife (2008)
Philosophy of a Knife, which is presented in two parts, details the horrific experiments of Unit 731. Unit 731 was a clandestine biological and chemical weapon research facility run by the Japanese Imperial Army from the 1930s to 1945. A blend of documentary footage, interviews and gory reenactments blend seamlessly into a truly unnerving film experience.
A Moscow teacher decides to pursue the simple life, and moves with his wife to the countryside. There, he begins teaching in an all-girl school. However, he soon learns that his adorable charges are not what they appear to be. His only hope appears to be a young girl, Yulia, who seems wise beyond her years.
This upcoming Ukrainian horror film gets its scares from Carpathian folklore. A group of students goes for a weekend at the Synevir Lake. They are aware of the area’s reputation, but choose to dismiss the rumors as superstition. The tourists realize their error when they come face to face with the dog-headed monster that lurks in the area, and must fight for their lives. This is the first Ukrainian horror movie made in 3D. It is expected to be released in the US in January 2013.