Plot: A priest-in-training kills a witch and then is forced to pray over her body for three nights. She messes with him. He defends himself with a piece of chalk.
Russian author Nikolai Gogol wrote one of my favorite short stories, "The Nose," about a guy who loses his nose and spends the story chasing after it. Gogol wrote the story this is based on, one filled with folklorish motifs like magic and the number three. I'm sure that Gogol's name is the only thing that kept Soviet censors from saying, "We don't know what is going on here, but it's too weird to show people!" and banning this son of a bitch. I can't think of a lot of Russian movies that I've seen, and I definitely don't remember any like this. First, it's funny. Early, the priests are like Stooges, the seminary student shenanigans way more humorous than you'd expect from something coming out of 1960's Russia. Narratively, this meanders a lot for a 72-minute movie, but that gives it an unpredictability that I really like. I enjoy the look of the movie, too. What seemed to be painted backdrops at the beginning aided in creating that fairy-tale quality, and the first shot of the church was so good, a setting that turns out to be creepy both inside and out. There's also a vivacity to the camera work and ingenuity with the special effects that are consistently surprising. Really, just great camera work during a scene where a creepy woman in a barn approaches, menacingly, while animals gaze on; a "flight" scene that is completely odd but strangely beautiful; a terrific scene where the main character is drunk, the room swimming followed by a nifty three doorway effect; an amazing dance scene; scenes where the camera circles the characters or the witch in her coffin or both. And don't even get me started on the facial hair in this movie. If I've seen a more impressive assortment of beard, I can't remember it. Of course, the most memorable parts of this are the three scenes in the church when the main character is left alone with the witch's corpse. I don't want to give much away because I think I had more fun with this going in completely blind. But you will see things that you've probably never seen before, especially in a wild final eight minutes which were simultaneously horrifying and humorous. I was reminded most, if forced to pick something, of some of the imagery in the Coffin Joe films or (and this probably explains my giddiness) the manic funk of Evil Dead II. And yes, you do get to see something called Viy (pronounced VEE-uh), the titular demon with drooping eyelids. In any other context, it'd have to be one of those see-it-to-believe it images. In Viy, he fits right in with midget demons, dancing skeletons, bunches of hands. One more thing--the music in this movie is terrific. There's vocal stuff that sounds a little like Danny Elfman, lively orchestral stuff, music that wouldn't be out of place in a Western, and this great funeral song with an ominous bell. You might expect a glorious assault of beards and mustaches from the Soviet Union in the 1960s, but a horror-comedy? Highly recommended.