Hammer’s Folk Horror ‘Wake Wood’ Makes Kids Scary
“Wake Wood” is a sensational and chilling slice of folk horror that deserves to be revisited as the spring season approaches.
Hammer Film Productions is legendary within the horror community. The studio behind the resurgence of classic, monstrous icons in the mid-1950s, including Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster, is integral to the genre itself. Their films were vivid hybrids of old and new, cementing the studio – and its logo – as a surefire sign of visceral fantasy horror. The studio declined in the late 1970s and by the early 2000s it was a relic of the past. Curiously, Hammer returned to the early years with a new slate of horror movies, with The woman in black and Let me enter (Matt Reeves’ remake of Leave the one on the right in) ranking among the best (and most lucrative). Still, there were several other titles that, while not having the budget or flair attached to Hammer tentpoles, made their mark. by David Keating wake wood is one of those outlets.
A folk horror riff on Stephen King’s lasting influence Pet sematary, wake wood is an austere “Monkey’s Paw” tale in the vein of Robin Hardy. Patrick and Louise Daley (Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle respectively) move to the rural town of Wakewood after the death of their daughter, Alice (Ella Connolly). Mutilated to death by a dog, Patrick and Louise hope to turn their grief into a new beginning. This desire is aggravated by Louise’s infertility. Their first night there, Louise witnesses a strange pagan ritual at Arthur’s (Timothy Spall) home. But she remains a mom, not wanting to scare Patrick more than necessary.
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After another death – by an animal in town – Keating leans heavily into the quest to reclaim the natural world. Patrick and Louise are about to leave, but Arthur catches up to them on the way out. Aware that Louise has seen his ritual, he makes her a deal. Stay, and he can bring their daughter back for three days. There are various caveats, including the three-day limit. Once brought back, Alice can only stay within the confines of Wakewood, she can’t be dead for more than a year, and all of this forces Patrick and Louise to live there for the rest of their lives. As bereaved parents are wont to do, they readily accept, eager to see Alice again.
The essential is considerably darker than the Pet sematary hints might suggest. Not only do Patrick and Louise need part of Alice’s corpse – and they get it by digging her grave and cutting off their finger – but they also need a fresh corpse. Arthur manages to procure one in town through unspoken threats. Over time, Alice is reborn. Horror fans will have no trouble guessing what happens next. After Alice gets scared of the city limits, she recovers, though Arthur and the other villagers…Wake Wood’s interpretation of the people of Summerisle – insist that she be fired immediately. They hear the three words no parent of a resurrected child wants to hear: something is wrong.
Alice embarks on her three-day murder spree, killing animals and other townspeople indiscriminately. Indeed, Patrick and Louise weren’t entirely honest about the duration of Alice’s death. This perverts the ritual and turns Alice into an out-of-control killing machine, literally a folkloric. Alice, sweet Alice. The ending is a whopper, but not entirely unexpected (it’s quite generously taken from King’s aforementioned work). But it works. As a symbol of Hammer’s revitalized horror, wake wood is exactly what fans would want.
Everything is gothic and precise. The folk horror elements are reminiscent of some of Hammer’s previous offerings, including Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1972) and the devil comes out (1968). The constrained ladder feels like an early model for future horror development, where budgets have shrunk but scares have risen dramatically. Best of all, it makes effective use of some lingering horror tropes, namely the loss of a child. It’s a common horror concept because it’s one of the most horrible things that has ever happened. Keating is not afraid of grim reality.
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Most curious, however, is the rebranding of the pagan townspeople. In the likes of “Harvest Home” and others, it is the pagans themselves, a horror demonym for terrifying rituals and violent iconography, responsible for the horror and bloodshed. Keating backtracks, framing outsiders, not Wakewood residents, as the party ultimately responsible for the violence. They violate sacred rules on sacred ground and spit in the face of centuries of folk tradition. These grieving parents have perverted a gift given to them and are therefore responsible to bear the consequences.
It is an interesting reversal, which permeates wake wood with far more intrigue than it otherwise could have had. Plus, in the genre’s folk horror wake, it’s a compelling ancestor perhaps a little too ahead of its time. Released in 2011, wake wood would undoubtedly dominate the horror zeitgeist, just like You Are Not my Mother or You Won’t Be Alone. With spring on the horizon, there’s never been a better time to dig up the corpse of a sensational and underrated popular horror movie and resurrect it for your viewing pleasure.