Viy is officially noted as the first horror film released in the USSR, and it is the debut film from two filmmakers who would never direct together again. But where these two factors could easily lead to something derivative, stealing from decades of genre work done in the U.S., Italy, and Germany, Viy (pronounced simply “vee”) is entirely its own beast. Adapted from an 1835 story by Nikolai Gogol, it deals with a priest who, after accidentally killing a witch, is forced to say prayers over her for three nights before she is buried. There are a lot of mechanics to get there, but that’s the gist. Naturally, the witch is not about to let him get away unscathed, and those three nights are anything but pleasant. Directors Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov realize this story with astounding special effects – utilizing rear projections, rotating sets, and false surfaces at all sides of the room, ensuring no piece of the small environment in which the priest is shut away can keep him safe. The priest himself is something of a fool, easily taken advantage of and boundlessly prideful as he tries to wriggle out. This lends an element of comedy to the film, as though the priest is using every distancing technique the audience might try themselves in the face of the clearly-artificial effects work and sometimes-silly character designs – make all the jokes you want, they’re still going to steal your soul.