From classic vampire tales through devil pacts up to sci-fi visions of the future – polish filmmakers made one of the most bizzare horrors in the history of the genre.
Polish filmmakers, although many of them have made a name for themselves in the world of cinema, have never been particularly known for producing horror films. However, there were those who, against all conventions, took up the challenge of creating a full-fledged horror film. This genre, although it draws on familiar motifs more than any other, does not lend itself easily to pigeonholing. With a few exceptions, it still remains niche, relative to the dominant entertainment cinema. It would seem that only the recent works of modern masters of the genre, like Ari Aster or Jordan Peele, brought it its well-deserved status.
However, the glory days of horror, which we are currently witnessing, could not have happened if it were not for the artists who laid the foundations of the genre. Polish filmmakers have also took part in this development, adding their own strange, sometimes twisted, but certainly original perspective. These are some of the most important pieces of the Polish horror cinema and although some of them were made half a century ago, they have certainly withstood the test of time.
The Devil – Andrzej Żuławski (1972)
The year is 1793 and the Prussian army enters the Polish territory. A Stranger arrives at a monastery turned into a prison. He deports Jakub, who is sentenced to death, and orders him to return to his family manor. There, the Stranger hands him a razor with a commandment to cleanse the world of evil and transgression. The Partitions of Poland are the background for this truly Shakespearean tragedy. Deepening more and more into madness, the hero, led by the Devil, begins to carry out the work of destruction.
Andrzej Żuławski is considered to be one of the most controversial Polish filmmakers. His works are often compared to those of Alejandro Jodorowsky. They are both masters of portraying madness on the screen, although Żuławski’s works seem to be rather raw, and deeply rooted in Polish culture. You can see it most vividly in The Devil, which is filled with iconoclastic parody of Christianity, romanticism and even patriotism, values particularly emphasized in Polish literature or cinema.
Lokis: A Manuscript of Professor Wittembach – Janusz Majewski (1970)
This classic polish horror movie is based on the gothic novel by Prosper Mérimée. Professor Wittembach, a Lutheran pastor and scholar, comes to the Lithuanian countryside to conduct his ethnographic research. He ends up in the palace of Count Michael Szemiot, where he learns the family’s dark secrets. Majewski is a true expert of vibe-creation. His storytelling lets us engage into the world of mystery, cruelty and pagan believes. The film is also a clever portrayal of the relationship between Europe and Poland, as it is also a story of human cruelty and intolerance.
She-wolf – Marek Piestrak (1982)
Another classic horror drawing motifs from folklore is Marek Piestrak’s She-wolf, with the action set in Polish realities of the 19th century. It is the grim story of Maryna, a woman who, because of being spurned by her husband, sold her soul to the devil and began to dabble in magic. After her death she was reincarnated as Countess Julia and into a murderous she-wolf. Maryna resented her spouse for once spurning her, avoiding being in the house, calling her a bitch. Piestrak’s classic horror film with eerie atmosphere and moments of horror is filled with tombs, aspen stakes devil pacts and other attributes of the genre.
I Like Bats – Grzegorz Warchoł (1986)
In a small town somewhere in Europe lives a vampire called Iza, who uses her beauty to seduce her victims. In the store where she works, she meets a well-known psychiatrist, Rudolf Jung. She asks him for help in curing her of vampirism. Skeptical at first, Jung starts to develop feelings for Iza, in the same time realizing that she is more than a mortal woman.
Golem – Piotr Szulkin (1979)
In a world devastated by nuclear war, the Doctors try to improve humanity. Degenerate individuals are being remade into full-fledged members of society. Such a renewed individual is Pernat, who after some time rebels against his guardians. He tries to escape and persuades others to do so, but being implicated in the murder of Holtrum, an agent of the Doctors, he ends up in prison, from which he won’t leave the same men. Szulkin’s masterpiece will make you fill somewhat like Pernat – trying to decipher the complex reality in which we are thrown into with the first minutes of the movie.