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DIRECTED BY: Andrew Rakich
FEATURING: Benton Guinness,, Josh Popa, Matthew Van Gessell, Kendra Unique
PLOT: In 1678, 2 years after King Philip’s War, two Puritan witch hunters from Boston, John Fletcher (Guinness) and Josiah Cutting (Popa), are sent to a town in the Massachusetts sticks to investigate allegations of witchcraft and deviltry in the nearby woods by Isaac Goodenow (Van Guessel), where they encounter Patience Gavett (Gregg) and her companion Flora (Unique).
COMMENTS: American folk horror is an established genre in literature, but it hasn’t quite made the jump to movies or television to the extent that its British cousins have. Outside of adaptations of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works (“The House of the Seven Gables”, “Young Goodman Brown” to name a couple), Eyes of Fire is probably the film people would point to, along with Ravenous and The Witch.1‘s
The Sudbury Devil is a good addition to that slim lineup, and even more impressive for accomplishing what it does on its budget; of the films mentioned, it’s certainly the one that qualifies as microbudgeted, and it makes the most of its available resources.
If you mashed up A Field in England with Ravenous and The Witch, you’d get The Sudbury Devil. It’s more than apparent that director/writer Rakich is a hardcore fan of the aforementioned films, and it’s to his and his cast and crew’s credit to have produced a film which goes further than its predecessors, as proper Hellspawn should.
Director/writer/actor Andrew Rakich is known for his Atun-Shei YouTube page, where he utilizes his knowledge and interest in history—he was a ‘living historian’ at Gettysburg National Military Park and a New Orleans tour guide—to produce work that amuses and informs. Starting from highlighting sites and events in New Orleans, he progressed to a Civil War series, “Checkmate, Lincolnites!”, which takes on the mythology of the South’s “Lost Cause” propaganda in entertaining fashion. Entertaining here means comedic, which makes sense; hard and unflattering truths tend to be accepted easier if there’s a laugh or joke involved, and once hooked, thinking can begin (ask filmmaker .) The same effect can be obtained by replacing laughs and jokes with dread and horror in Sudbury (although there is a touch of black humor in what the filmmakers describe as a “mischievous indictment of America’s foundational rot”).
As Sudbury lays it out, hypocrisy is at the heart of that rot. The justification of King Phillip’s War, which eradicated much of the indigenous population of New England, still weighs heavily on Fletcher in his nightmares. The “piety” of Cutting and Reverend Russell allows their disdain of women (specifically Patience). Russell supports Mosley’s Company and the war, despite actively avoiding any involvement in it. Cutting dsiplays racism towards the original inhabitants of the land and towards Flora, despite his attraction.
While sex has always been a part of folk horror, it’s usually presented obliquely rather than directly. Sudbury puts it upfront: polyamory, homoeroticism, masturbation, gender-shifting, and even a climatic double penetration (although not in the way that you might expect.) Sex and sexual freedom is usually presented as aligned with devilry in folk horror, though Sudbury subverts that expectation.
In that sense, Sudbury is not only folk horror, but also a subset of what could be termed ‘Woke Horror’ (Get Out, Us, Harvest Lake, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster). This vein of film includes the works of, ‘s The People Under the Stairs (1991), and others; a long established tradition, so ‘Woke Horror’ isn’t such a new thing after all.
The Sudbury Devil will be available on VOD today, December 21—in time for Xmas!— on Rakich’s website, Atun-Shei Films. Other related work that may help in understanding the nuances of the film (King Phillip’ War, Sudbury area history, and specifics in the film) can be viewed there and on YouTube, as well as the webseries Checkmate, Lincolnites and The Witchfinder General, a lighter look at Puritanism. A physical media release may also happen sometime in 2024.
A note of interest for those literary horror aficionados who notice the name Tabitha King as an executive producer: yes, it is that Tabitha King (novelist and wife of an obscure writer named Stephen King). As Rakich explained in the Pod 366 interview, she is also a noted genealogist and had heard about the production and contributed to it.
- I’m certain there will be “That Guy” who pops in with some titles not named. That’s a protracted discussion for another time, after Vol. 2 of “All the Haunts Be Ours” is released… ↩︎