The macabre and grotesque fiction of Russian author Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852) has long been a source for some classic (and not-so-classic) cinematic adaptations – and two of the best are now available in a two-disc Blu-ray edition from Eureka, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series: Aleksandr Ptushko’s Viy (1967), the first Soviet-era horror film, and Serbian director Đorđe Kadijević’s 1990 Yugoslavian adaptation Sveto Mesto (AKA A Holy Place).
Based on Gogol’s influential 1835 horror novella, Viy follows a seminary student in 19th-century Russia who, while on a break from his studies, is asked by a wealthy merchant to pray over the body of his deceased daughter. Rising from her coffin each night, she evokes vampires, werewolves and even the dreaded Viy in a bid to stop him from completing his ritual.
Featuring striking visuals from Aleksandr Ptushko, this is a masterpiece of Soviet and fantasy cinema that requires multiple viewings to understand just how influential it has become on generations of film-makers – including Mario Bava (the I Wurdalak segment in Black Sabbath), Guillermo Del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone & Pan’s Labyrinth) and even Michael Winner (The Sentinel).
Eureka’s 1080p transfer (from an HD restoration of the original film elements) is simply stunning and the extras include a new commentary from Michael Brooke, a video essay on Gogol, an archival documentary on the film, and three Russian silent film fragments – The Portrait [1915, 8 mins], The Queen of Spades [1916, 16 mins], and Satan Exultant [1917, 20 mins].
The second disc features Sveto Mesto (AKA A Holy Place) as a bonus extra – and what bonus it is. I had never heard of Djordje Kadijevic before, and having watched his perversely erotic take on Gogol’s classic tale, I need to see more of his fantasy films which he made for Serbian TV in the 1970s.
Again, it involves a student priest tormented by a young witch (called Catherine here) – but he also expands on the story with three flashback stories that reveal her to be the embodiment of the femme fatale.
Artfully shot, with evocative lighting, it has a 1970s Euro-horror and a rather catchy synth theme tune. Eureka’s set also includes a booklet containing a fascinating essay about Kadijevic by Serbian critic Dejan Ognjanovic, and one on Ptushko by Tim Lucas.