Tree hugging peaceful pagan hippies, you say? Perhaps, perhaps...but the horror genre hasn't always seen it that way. Given their association with the Celtic S'amhain, our Halloween, it's only natural that the ancient Celtic priest class would find their way into our tawdry terror tales without any sort of critical eye.
But before the D-List production machines of Hollywood, Druids were first cast as horror villains by none other than Julius Ceasar's and his PR machine! In his memoirs of The Gallic Wars (as well as accounts from Cicero, Suetonius and Lucan) we read that they engaged in frightening human sacrifice and sinister rule:
The whole nation of the Gauls is greatly devoted to ritual observances, and for that reason those who are smitten with the more grievous maladies and who are engaged in the perils of battle either sacrifice human victims or vow to do so, employing the druids as ministers for such sacrifices. They believe, in effect, that, unless for a man's life a man's life be paid, the majesty of the immortal gods may not be appeased; and in public, as in private, life they observe an ordinance of sacrifices of the same kind. Others use figures of immense size, whose limbs, woven out of twigs, they fill with living men and set on fire, and the men perish in a sheet of flame. They believe that the execution of those who have been caught in the act of theft or robbery or some crime is more pleasing to the immortal gods; but when the supply of such fails they resort to the execution even of the innocent.Some scholars dispute this, and suspect a political agenda/construction-dehumanization of the "other" was at play in making Roman Imperial expansion favorable to the masses. In essence, a ... Cernunnic Panic? That may well be, but we won't really know, as Druids eschewed any sort of written tradition in favor of strict oral lore...way to shroud yourselves in mystery!
Kill poets on sight. They are pus-ridden with cowardice and duplicity.
Comics legend Warren Ellis revamped a chubby, bald Z-list character named Dr. Druid in an attempt at an ongoing series that sadly lasted only 4 issues. He wrote the line above, spoken bythe Celtic triple goddess as she burned away all of Dr. Druid's fat and covered him in rad, badass tattoos. Thus he was reborn as "DRUID!"
Druid was ostensibly an occult superhero, but those 4 issues by Warren Ellis and excellent Argentine penciller Leonardo Manco, are infused with sick, sinister, adult horror poetry and a pitch-black sense of humor. I wanted more, but 1994 wasn't ready for a dark Druid superhero killing his way through Manhattan.
Now back to Druids in horror cinema...
William Friedkin, he of the pea soup fame, made this rather silly psychotronic film, one that belongs on a Lifetime channel. A film that had stranger danger, child care panic and evil nannies (for sure its own genre). But that was not enough, oh no. He decided to throw in a Druid! An evil, baby sacrificing, naked blue rampage Druid!
Here are the words of Jenny Seagrove who plays "Camilla" the evil Druid nanny:
"It was about this druid nanny who became a tree. I begged Universal to make it about a real nanny who kidnaps babies. 'No, no, we can't do that,' they said, 'the thirty somethings in America won't come and see the film.' I said, 'I think you're completely wrong; this film is total fantasy, and it's just awful.' Two years later The Hand That Rocks the Cradle was released, so I rang up my friend at Universal and he said, 'Don't. Don't even talk about it, you were right.' "
Well, Ms. Seagrove, I am sorry your film didn't turn out to be the Hand That Rocks the Cradle. But you looked stunning in Pict blue paint and nothing but (and there, you pioneered the way for Rebecca Romijn). And your evil Druid nanny rampage was spectacular and violent and ass-kicking. #DRUIDRAGE!
You heard me mention the S'amhain ancient holiday above. This is where the Halloween franchise comes in.
Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) had this to say about his patient:
In order to appease the gods, the Druid priests held fire rituals. Prisoners of war, criminals, the insane, animals... were... burned alive in baskets. By observing the way they died, the Druids believed they could see omens of the future. Two thousand years later, we've come no further. Samhain isn't evil spirits. It isn't goblins, ghosts or witches. It's the unconscious mind. We're all afraid of the dark inside ourselves.
Okay, Dr. Loomis. Nice of you to parrot Julius Caesar's PR, but 1) your speech in Halloween (1978) was much more effective and chilling than bringing Druids into it and 2) I think there's no shortage of modern neopagans who would take issue with your thoughts on S'amhain.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch
My beloved, loony, terrible but original film, never mentioned the word Druid, yet somehow the horror fans recognize its main antagonist as a Druid (I'm too lazy to back it up: just google Halloween III and Druids and see how everyone says it). Its plot involved microchips made out of a menhir from Stonehenge, the Vatican of Druids, and S'amhain:
Hmm. Okay. I think he and Jenny Seagrove would make an awesome Druid supervillain team-up.
Oh, # 6. Usually the point in a horror franchise where you can deem it the unwatchable incestous triple chromosomed cousin-brother of the first film. So Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers has an actual Druid cult stalking all its protagonists, including Michael Myers. And also has a silly research plot involving the rune Thursiaz or Thorn.
The Cult of Thorn was a cult of druids. Although depending on which version seen of Halloween 6, There are some differences. In the Official verison, the Sanitarium crew have grown more interested in harvesting and exploitng the power of Thorn through DNA; becoming merely cult geneticists relating the rune of Thorn to modern science and using Michael's DNA during their own experiments. The Sanitarium has been using the women of the institution for their experiments by possibly performing in vitro fertilization on them with embryos artificially inheriting Michael's DNA.
In the "Producer's Cut" of Halloween 6 they are actually the "Cult of Thorn".
Uh huh, blablablabla. Why not build an original horror movie out of this idea instead of trying to bank on the Mask once more? Although I do want to see this Director's Cut.
What other Druid villain fiction is out there, readers? I know I've missed some. But it's not all bad PR. The wonderful classic Asterix the Gaul comics series has the wise old Getafix, brewing his magic potions to fight those Romans and their bad PR: