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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Spine-Tinglers

Along with westerns and light comedies, horror films were officially frowned upon in the Soviet Union as a bourgeois indulgence, although a few still managed to be made. The most notable Russian scary flicks are:

Bear's Wedding ("Medvezhya svadba"). This 1926 film was one of the few true crowd-pleasers to slip through the cracks of the rigid, instructional years of early Soviet filmmaking, and was one of the most popular movies of the entire decade. Directed by Konstantin Eggert from a script by Anatoly Lunacharsky, the film is a moral tale disguised as pure entertainment. A lush, gothic take on the classic werewolf story, the beast in this instance is a were-bear, the product of an ill-advised liaison between a beautiful young countess and a bear in the deep forests of Lithuania. The bloodthirsty young aristocrat eventually murders his young bride in their nuptial bed, and, in a "Frankenstein"-like finish, is slain by vengeful villagers.

Vy. This 1967 film, based on a story by Nikolai Gogol of one of Russian folklore's most formidable demon, is pretty tepid stuff, but once or twice manages to run a chill up your spine. A young Ukrainian seminary student (Leonid Kuravlev) is put to the spiritual test when he is offered a generous amount of money to keep a three-night vigil with the body of a young woman (Natalya Varley), whose death he is inadvertently responsible for. Easy enough, except for the fact that his ward is a witch, determined to see to his undoing before she herself is buried. "Afraid of a witch?" he scoffs to the villagers outside. "A Cossack isn't afraid of anything!" So every night he opens his Bible, draws himself a sacred circle, and the battle begins. At first the witch, who does a lot of fairly benign finger-wagging, seems the weaker of the two, but by the third night, the seminarian's nerves are worn thin and his tenuous grasp on God is slipping. And when the demon Vy -- rather bloblike in his first film appearance -- shows up, just moments before dawn on the final day, all Hell literally breaks loose.

Passion Fever ("Zhazhda strasti"). One of the first perestroika-era ventures into the forbidden genre, this 1991 film by Andrei Kharitonov delivers plenty of shock value: corpses whose eyes snap open at the funeral, shattering glass, chauffeurs with a penchant for hostile gestures, and even an accountant killed by his own ledgers. The film stars Anastasia Vertinskaya as a wealthy and extremely well-dressed woman who sinks into madness after a black-clad twin from the evil beyond arrives in pursuit of her soul. Despite the tireless attentions of a young and dewy-eyed psychiatrist (Viktor Rakov), it's clear this woman is fighting a losing battle. The film features what may be the first lesbian love scene in Russian film history. Very soft-core.