Khoma Brutus (Leonid Kuravlyov) is a seminary student in Kiev.  The students are sent home for a holiday.  On the way home, Khoma and two other students, Khaliava (Vadim Zakharchenko) and Gorobetz (Vladimir Salnikov) get lost in the dark and end up at a farmhouse.  They ask the old woman who lives there if they can spend the night.  The old woman (Nikolai Kutuzov) agrees but tells them that they must sleep in different places.  Khoma is sent to sleep in the barn.  During the night the old woman comes to him and tries to seduce him.  When he tries to escape, she casts a spell on him.  She climbs on his back and rides him like a horse through the air.  Khoma realizes that the old woman is really a witch.  When she finally lets him touch ground, he picks up a stick and beats her.  Suddenly the old woman turns into a beautiful young woman.  In a panic, Khoma races back to the seminary.

At the seminary the Rector (Pyotr Vesklyarov) calls for Khoma to see him.  He tells Khoma that the daughter of a nearby wealthy merchant and Cossack (Aleksei Glazyrin) is dying and, as her last request, wants Khoma to says prayers over her.  Khoma tries to refuse but the Rector gives him no choice.  When Khoma gets to the home of the merchant he finds out that the man’s daughter, Pannochka (Natalya Varley), was the old witch that he beat.  The young monk understands that he is responsible for the girl’s death.  Khoma also realizes that the merchant and his servants are aware that Pannochka is bewitched, and their hope is that Khoma’s prayers will save her soul.  What they don’t know is that Khoma was the one that killed her.

Khoma tries to get out of keeping vigil, but the old Cossack’s servants keep a sharp eye on the monk.  Pannochka’s father promises Khoma that if he continues his nightly prayers for the three days, he will reward him with a thousand pieces of gold.  With that thought in mind, and with much trepidation and liquor, Khoma is locked into the chapel for the night.  The event will trigger three nights of horror and fear as Khoma tries to keep the evils that the witch conjures up at bay.

“Viy” was released in 1967 and was directed by Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov.  It is a Russian fantasy horror film.  The movie was based on an 1835 story by Nikolai Gogol.  It is reported to be the first Soviet era horror film officially released in the USSR.

The film has garnered a lot of great reviews.  Unfortunately, I’m going to have to buck the trend here.  Although there are a lot of really good things about the film, for example the cinematography is wonderful; I found it to be rather tedious.  At least until the last ten minutes or so of the film.  Before that the movie was mostly about a self-centered whining theologian who drinks a lot.  The ending, however, is full of unusual and creepy creatures and some serious atmosphere.  What it doesn’t have in horror or interesting story, it makes up for in special effects, once you do get to them.

In Slavic mythology, Viy was the king of the gnomes.  According to writer Gogol, Viy was a short, fat creature whose face was made of iron and who could not lift his eyelids without help.  Once they were lifted, he could see everything.  The only way to avoid his gaze was to stand in a magic chalk circle; however, Viy’s vision could penetrate the magic circle if you looked into the gnome’s eyes.  

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