I first heard about the 1967 Russian horror movie Viy on the podcast the Canon, which cited it as a possible inspiration to Sam Raimi's classic 1981 shocker The Evil Dead. A couple of months later, the Junk Food Dinner podcast reviewed Viy with raves for its bonkers finale. While The Evil Dead connection might be a stretch, Viy does have a wonderful eight minutes near the end that involve a man, alone in a church, besieged by all manner of bizarre ghouls. I wouldn't have minded a bit of that scene's crazy inspiration sprinkled throughout the earlier portions of the movie, which are well-done and sometimes amusing but quite dry in comparison.
Khoma (Leonid Kuravlev), an unserious seminary student looking forward to a break from school, runs afoul of a witch on his way home, and is consequently summoned to spend three hellish nights reluctantly praying over the body of a recently deceased young noblewoman (Natalya Varley). Kuravlev gives a terrific, funny performance as Khoma, who tries to fortify his courage with vodka as each night becomes more terrifying, and Varley is striking in her limited role.
Directed by Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov, and based on a story by Nikolai Gogol, Viy has 5 pretty neat sequences spread throughout the film, including an astoundingly energetic and creative finale — but that last sequence is so great, it makes the rest feel lackadaisical by contrast. While Viy has an alternately playful and spooky atmosphere throughout — aided by some neatly unconvincing matte backdrops and surprisingly good wirework — I couldn't help but feel at the end that it was overall too conservative considering the high calibre of its wild climax. As one of very few horror movies approved for production by the Soviet Union, Viy is, at least, an interesting artifact. Even without that context, that culminating 8 minutes are something to see.
Note: the version I watched was 71 minutes long. Most sources online state that its running time is 77-78 minutes, but I haven't yet found any explanation for the discrepancy.