Billed as a “folk horror documentary”, Sideworld: Damnation Village is the third in a series of hour-long paranormal documentaries from director George Popov and writer Jonathan Russell who are probably better known for their features Hex, and The Droving.
Despite the title, Sideworld: Damnation Village isn’t an in depth look at one haunted village but short profiles of what are claimed to be the three most haunted villages in England, Pluckley, Prestbury and Eyam. Each one gets an overview of its hauntings, some of the histories behind them and possible reasons why spirits would still be lingering there. However as this was filmed on a very low budget don’t expect any fancy reenactments of sightings or historical events.
Instead, there is lots of footage of the towns themselves mixed with historical illustrations and the occasional newspaper headline. As we see this, we hear director George Popov’s matter-of-fact narration on the soundtrack. The overall effect is something you might have seen in history class or a local interest special on TV. Which isn’t neccesarily a bad thing, just don’t expect the kinds of effects you’d get from one of Seth Breedlove’s supernatural documenteries.
The stories George tells us about are, for the most part, fairly interesting if somewhat familiar. A highwayman who met a violent end at the hands of other criminals, a man who hung himself in the woods, and ghosts of victims of the Black Death. The one-time Sideworld: Damnation Village tries to get creepy and sensational it runs into problems.
While talking about the town of Pluckleyand the nearby Dering Woods the film refers to the mysterious death of twenty people, mostly children, whose bodies were found on November 1st, 1948. Referred to as The Dering Woods Massacre, it’s a creepy little story but it comes from a Creepypasta posted in 2015 not regional history. Come on guys, you should know a story that interesting and recent would have people running to Google for details.
There’s some interesting discussion during the segment on Prestbury on the spectre known as The Black Abbot which served as the inspiration for Edgar Wallace’s novel of the same name. And of the theory of Place Memory and the British TV movie The Stone Tape. Conversely, the segment on Eyam concentrates more on the town’s actual history, isolating itself to prevent an outbreak of the Black Death from spreading to the surrounding villages than it does on the ghosts of the disease’s victims.
Overall, Sideworld: Damnation Village is the kind of low-key documentary that’s good to put on when you have an hour to kill and want something undemanding. With its lack of compelling visuals, it would be perfect to have playing in the background like an audiobook. Those well versed in English ghost lore, or looking for a deep dive into the phenomena will probably be disappointed due to it’s basic presentation. Those looking for places to start reading about the subject will find it a good starting point.
Sideworld: Damnation Village is available on Digital platforms from Indie Rights. The previous two films in the series are available on Tubi, and I’m sure this will join them eventually. And if the spirit moves you to watch more films like this, FilmTagger can suggest some titles.