The Field Guide to Evil (2018) IMDB description: “A feature-length anthology film. They are known as myths, lore, and folktales. Created to give logic to mankind’s darkest fears, these stories laid the foundation for what we now know as the horror genre.”
Why I took it off the list: After recently reviewing Peter Strickland’s Flux Gourmet (2022), I was reminded how much I enjoy his films and decided to see if there was anything in his back catalog that I had missed.
As it turns out, he directed a section of this horror anthology film based on folktales from a range of (though mostly European) countries.
I was curious as to what form Strickland’s contribution would take, and also noted that I was a fan of some of the other directors involved in the project. So I decided to check it off my list. Plus, with Halloween approaching, I thought it was as good a time as any to sit down with some spooky tales!
Review of The Field Guide to Evil (2018)
The Field Guide to Evil begins with some charming cut-out animation of vintage illustrations, before introducing a flying CGI book that occasionally reappears throughout the film. Each time, it flips open to a different story, which we then see play out. There is some connective tissue in that all the stories are dark, fairytale-like cautionary tales that all start with a lead-in text explaining its origin and where it’s from.
The flying book is literally the only sort of framing device that the film has, and, as horror anthologies go, it’s a rather weak one. It’s a good thing, then, that most of these stories are pretty strong enough to stand on their own as decent horror shorts.
Saying that, the earlier segments are both generally shorter and not as effective in their storytelling as the later installments. The first story, The Sinful Woman of Höllfall, is a beautifully shot but empty-feeling tale of forbidden romance in medieval Austria. It’s a bit disappointing because it’s directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, who made the fantastic horror The Lodge.
Things pick up a bit in Haunted by Al Kirisi, The Childbirth Djinn, from Turkey. It’s a simple but effective story of a young mother haunted by a demon that likes to show up as an old lady or a goat (or sometimes a startling mix of the two). Director Can Evrenol had already proven his mastery over atmospheric, trippy horror in the ace horror Baskin (2015) and delivers an entertaining tale with something of a Drag me to Hell-esque vibe.
Things aren’t quite so satisfying in the 3rd installment, Polish entry The Kindler and the Virgin (pictured above) despite some striking imagery. Luckily, though, things pick up in the second half of the film.
More Hits than Misses
The real gems in the anthology begin with the 5th segment, Whatever Happened to Panagas the Pagan. This Greek short boasts an offbeat style, very cool visuals, and creative creature costumes. It also has a great synth score, definitely the most memorable music in the entire film.
The 6th installment, The Palace of Horrors, from India, is equally as impressive, if not more so. Based on a Bengali folk legend, it takes place over the summer of 1919 and follows a ‘recruiter’ for a big circus company as he travels to an ancient, crumbling palace in rural India to acquire ‘barely human curiosities collected by a deranged king’.
It expertly conveys a time and a (very unsettling) place, employs effective eerie music and sound design, and manages to conjure up an Island of Doctor Moreau-esque vibe (a total compliment!). The 7th story, A Noctural Breath (Germany) is also pretty creepy, an atmospheric, period-set possession story that has some weird incest subtext going on.
I had to wait till the last story, Cobbler’s Lot, to get my Peter Strickland fix, which wasn’t my favorite but still immensely enjoyable. He decided to go for a color take on a silent movie, complete with gorgeous intertitles and goes all-in on a German Expressionist style. It doesn’t feel as distinctive as, say, Flux Gourmet or In Fabric, but it does pleasingly feature a typically expressive performance from his frequent collaborator Fatma Mohamed.
Final Score: 7/10
The Field Guide to Evil (2018): Worth Watching?
If you’re a fan of anthology films and folk horror, then I’d say yes. The Field Guide to Evil has a greater hit rate than most movies like this, and even if some of its individual segments don’t land quite as strong as others, they are all atmospheric, full of interesting ideas, and gorgeously shot.
The Field Guide to Evil (2018)