AFM Hidden Gem: 'Pagan War' Summons Krampus for Festive Viking Horror

'Pagan Warrior' Still — Publicity — H 2019
ITN Distribution

Director Louisa Warren says she appreciates that the movie "might be a little different to other Christmas films coming out."

As far as festive holiday movies go, it’s fair to say that Pagan Warrior isn’t quite Home Alone. And despite the period setting, it’s a few leaps from A Christmas Carol as well.

Set amid the lush greenery of the English countryside, the historic horror title sees a savage gang of Vikings invade a Saxon castle, murdering all in sight. However, a sole survivor, with the aid of some witches, summons a demonic spirit to exact revenge.

Director Louisa Warren says she appreciates that the movie "might be a little different to other Christmas films coming out." And while the yuletide references don’t exactly come thick and fast (Pagan Warrior also looks as if it were shot in summer), the spirit in question is the Krampus, European folklore’s half-goat, half-demon monster that is the satanic, child-punishing yin to Santa Claus’ jolly, present-giving yang.

In fairness, the film was originally titled Krampus Vs. Vikings, but ITN Distribution — the genre label that is selling the film at AFM — made the switch. "The thing is, if that’s what they want, that’s what they want, and all the marketing is done by them," says Warren. "We just make the film, and they can do what they want with it."

Made for what Warren describes as a "micro budget," Pagan Warrior tries its best to hide limited financial resources (though there are never more than five Vikings battling, at most, six Saxons).

Much of the film was shot over 10 days in and around the real 14th century moated Bodiam Castle in the south of England. With funds not quite stretching to renting out the entire area, Warren and her team had to utilize the hour or two each morning before tourists arrived. "And then we’d go next door and shoot in their woods," she says. "There’s actually scaffolding on the castle, but we VFX’d that out."

History buffs might want to ensure they’re sitting down or have a stiff drink in their hand before watching Pagan Warrior, with the onscreen date at the start — at least on the screener that THR watched — put as 1812, almost a thousand years after Vikings and Saxons last waged war on English shores. "The thing is with these films, you’ve got to use your imagination," she says with a laugh.

Something of a prolific filmmaking force in the low-budget arena, Warren is behind a raft of AFM-friendly features, including fellow period genre title The Viking War and horrors such as Curse of Scarecrow, Bride of Scarecrow, Scarecrow’s Revenge and Tooth Fairy.

She’s also a rare female director in this space, though she says it’s not something she’s really noticed. "But when I do see female directors, the films are always about women," she says.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Nov. 9 daily issue at the American Film Market.