Kino Curio: Russian and Soviet Speculative Horror

The cabinet of curiosities provides an excellent allegory for the genre of horror. Itself a collection of spectacles – curios selected for their capacity to pull in and enthrall an audience – the cabinet promises revelations, both educational and illicit, and provides a place for an audience to indulge its fascination with the unknown, the fearful, and the grotesque. Horror films fulfill a similar function, allowing us as viewers access into the parts of our psyches which we may otherwise prefer to leave untouched, simultaneously stimulating and repelling us.

The film series is itself organized as a sort of cabinet of curiosities. In search of films which posed fascinating and uncomfortable existential questions, I drew on a range of time periods, spanning nine decades from 1916 to 2006. The selections represent a variety of genres as well, from supernatural horror (ViyThe Queen of Spades) to science fiction (SolarisThe Ugly SwansProfessor Dowell’s Testament) to mystical thrillers (AliveThe Savage Hunt of King Stach). These films are unified in their willingness to probe into the sometimes terrifying, sometimes scandalous, always fascinating dark reaches of the human imagination. I have grouped them together under the collective title of speculative horror. I am fascinated by this type of film, which delves and interrogates and relishes above all the dark moments of revelation

Horror lends itself beautifully to both elevated spectacle and popular art and is fearless in embracing its own artistic language. There is in these films no shortage of beautiful vampires or ominous castles, of experiments gone terribly awry, of ironic punishments, haunting fates, or haunted protagonists. I have attempted to represent the spectrum of low- to highbrow possibilities, from the beautifully crafted and richly artistic Master Designer to the explosive and entertaining blockbuster Night Watch to the unrepentantly schlocky The Power of Fear. My hope is that these films will do for their viewers what they have done for me – leave them partly satisfied, partly disturbed, and looking ahead to another visit to the cabinet.

- Lev Nikulin