Anthology horror films are risky endeavours. Sure, on paper they always sound great – what’s not to love about getting a host of genre titans together and letting them do whatever the fuck they want? – but in execution, they almost always turn out to be mixed bags. Some sections work, some don’t, and the wraparound theme for the shorts has a tendency to feel tired and ham-fisted.
Consider The Field Guide To Evil a genuine accomplishment then. Made up of eight alternately chilling, bizarre, and bloody shorts each inspired by a folktale, the film is an unusually cohesive piece of work. Each director involved has their own distinct visual style, of course – some shorts, like Calvin Reeder’s ‘The Melon Heads’ are amusingly absurd, while Can Evrenol’s entry ‘Al Karisi’ is genuinely rather terrifying – but all those disparate pieces come together to form one helluva whole.
Watch an interview with some of the directors of The Field Guide To Evil here:
Some of the praise for the project’s success surely deserves to be sent Ant Timpson’s way. After all, he’s the producer and all-round mastermind behind The Field Guide To Evil, and an old hand when it comes to anthology flicks (his The ABCs Of Death series is an all-time high point in the sub-genre.) And though each of the directors involved does excellent work, it’s Peter Strickland, whose short rounds out the film, that comes out as another of the true MVPs of The Field Guide To Evil.
That’s probably unsurprising. Over some 14 years and two astounding feature films, Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke Of Burgundy, Strickland has proved himself one of the most exciting directors working; an endlessly inventive auteur whose work combines the feverish with the tactile. ‘The Cobbler’s Lot’, Strickland’s short in The Field Guide To Evil, is a distillation of the themes he’s been obsessed with his entire career: shot in the style of a silent movie, it’s a transcendent, frequently grotesque, look at obsession and fashion.
“The Hungarian producer [of The Field Guide To Evil], Dora Nedeczky introduced me to a folktake expert called Csenge Zalka,” Strickland explains. “She had a whole collection of tales that she sourced, but I had to forego some of the more flamboyant ones if we were going to make anything on budget. One of the remits was to work with existing folklore connected to the country we made the film in, but there was some freedom to change things.
Watch the trailer for Peter Strickland’s debut Berberian Sound Studio here:
“The original story that Csenge sourced for us centres on rival brothers vying for the attention of a princess resulting in their death at her hands, but it’s a much longer tale, what with the introduction of another suitor who can bring the princess’s vengeful corpse back to life and happiness. I kept it short with only the brothers and added the shoe and sex elements, which were not in the rather chaste original.”
Filled with hallucinogenic imagery, striking lighting cues and what Strickland calls “one or two visual nods to [Kenneth] Anger”, ‘The Cobbler’s Lot’ was influenced by a range of the director’s favourite filmmakers. “The biggest influences were [Sergei] Paradjanov, Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes and The Tales Of Hoffmann along with ‘O Is For Orgasm’ by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, which was also for a related series of short films [The ABCs Of Death]. They’re my favourite contemporary filmmakers along with Lucile Hadzihalilovic.”
Ultimately, it’s not hard to see why Strickland’s short was chosen to finish off the anthology. It is a perfect distillation of what makes The Field Guide To Evil special; a searing oddity, as strange and as sensual as a velvet glove cast in iron.