:: Article

Loudhe Sing Cuccoo: Folk Horror and Water Shall Refuse Them

By Oscar Mardell.

Lucie McKnight Hardy, Water Shall Refuse Them (Dead Ink Books, 2019)

You wanna go to the Devil but you don’t like the flames.
‘Blood on Satan’s Claw’ is my middle name.
– The Cramps, ‘Mean Machine’ (1994)

With Ari Aster’s ‘Midsommar’ currently in cinemas, and Robert Eggers’ ‘The Lighthouse’ about to hit them, Folk Horror seems suddenly en vogue. But what is it? And why, moreover, is it popular now?


Like all things tangential to the Gothic, Folk Horror is notoriously difficult to define, impervious to the usual ways of knowing. Its pre-history is typically murky: in a Guardian review of 1975, Caroline Tisdall employed the term to describe the paintings of Henri Fuseli; in a 1982 piece for Democrat and Chronicle, Laura Stewart used it in reference to the illustrator Beverly Brodsky. But as an indication of genre – as a means of categorisating a certain strain of literature and (particularly) film – its origins appear to lie in a 2003 Fangoria interview with Piers Haggard, director of the massively influential (yet shamefully under-watched) ‘The Blood on Satan’s Claw’ (1971). Explaining his intention for that film, Haggard told M. J. Simpson: “I was trying to make a folk-horror film, I suppose. Not a campy one.” Seven years later, Mark Gatiss’ BBC4 documentary ‘A History of Horror’ revived Haggard’s phrase as a way of grouping “a loose collection of films”, bookending the ‘The Blood’ with Michael Reeves’ ‘Witchfinder General’ (1968) and Robin Hardy’s ‘The Wickerman’ (1973): “They shared”, explained Gatiss, “a common obsession with the British landscape, its folklore and superstitions”. And ever since, the term Folk Horror seems to have been affixed to just about anything remotely connected to those concerns. As Adam Scovell put it in his seminal study Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange (2017), “the term has spun down several alleyways which only seem to touch marginally upon its descriptive character; where the reappropriation of past culture, even that which is still within living memory, now attains a folkloric guise and becomes ascribed as Folk Horror”.

Read the rest of this essay here.

Oscar Mardell

Oscar Mardell was born in London and raised in South Wales. He currently lives in an urban commune in Auckland, New Zealand where he brews beer and practices Aikido. He teaches in the English Department at St Mary’s College, and volunteers for English Language Partners NZ. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in War, Literature & the Arts, The Literary London Journal, and DIAGRAM.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, September 13th, 2019.