The Golden Horns (1972)

I've been wanting to review this movie for a few years now. I'd developed a slight obsession with the Swedish Pippi Longstocking films, and I believe I reviewed the first of the series on my old Myspace page. A reader commented that if I liked that one I should check out a Russian film called "Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors". I did, and I just fell in love with it. All the elements I looked for in a children's fantasy film were there. It was beautifully made, gorgeous cinematography and costumes, strange creatures, cartoonish villains and it starred two little twin girls that were so cute I could die. It made Pippi Logstocking look unimpressive by comparison. Now, this isn't a review for Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors (maybe it should be, although sadly I don't own a copy and it' been quite a few years since I saw it) but the film struck me in such a way that it became a spring board for a new obsession; Russian Fairy Tales. I did some research and discovered that the director Aleksander Rou (or sometimes Alexander Row) had an extensive career spanning decades focusing on folklore and fantasy films. As I would later find out, it didn't stop with Rou's impressive filmography. There was a whole gang of Russian filmmakers who dabbled in this exotic and dreamy sub-genre of fantasy. Amidst all of this information I was absorbing, I happened upon a copy of "Zolotye Roga"  aka "The Golden Horns".

As all of these films tend to be, it's based on a Russian Folklore tale. The story begins as two twin girls (the same two from Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors), Masha and Dasha, are picking mushrooms in the forest. They've been told not to enter a dark forbidden area, but they know they can find plenty of delicious boletus mushrooms so they go against their better judgement and enter the proverbial Forest of No Return. The area is home to many mystical things including a majestic deer with golden antlers. It's understood that this deer has the omnipotent power to protect all living creatures in the forest. Despite this guardian in the wilderness, the dark part of the forest is still an unpredictable and dangerous place. A wicked witch, Baba Yaga dwells and rules many of it's strange beasties, including your garden variety goblins and trolls. As the two girls explore the forest the creatures who dwell in it begin to stir. Under the control of the evil Baba Yaga, they kidnap the girls and bring them to her. Angered by their presence, Baba turns them into littles fawns. How precious!

Personally, I'd rather have fawn than children :-/

When their mother discovers that Masha and Dasha have been abducted she immediately sets out to rescue them. In her journey she encounters much enchantment which aid her in her conquest...

  • The elements; the Sun, the Moon and the Wind
  • a magical bun of bread
  • Talking animals. Dogs, cats, bears, et cetera.
  • mushroom sprites (yay!)
  • and of course the Deer with the Golden Horns who seems to have a psychic connection to all things organic

The enchanted loaf of bread.

As I attempt to get into specifics delving into the whole fantastic story I find myself going into endless ellipses in my admittedly inadequate analysis of the Golden Horns. "And then, there's this magical thing and then this magical thing happens, and omg, it was so magical". There are only so many synonyms for MAGICAL. Golden Horns combines a charming handmade quality with an unobtainable magnetism that you long to be apart of. As if you've stepped right into a book of Russian fables. Everything's perfectly in place as if it were written by yourself in some other lifetime. I can't speak for it's original Russian audience, but seeing it with a fresh pair of eyes in modern day it feels so foreign and otherworldly as a fairy tale should. As I continue to discover more Russian Fanstasy films I find this unnameable quality but never so saturated with a warm and innocent charisma as the Golden Horns. Even in the moments of slapstick and childish antics it remains completely self aware. With it's hand painted sets and dramatic lighting it's reminiscent of a stage play, with shades of Georges Melies and Mario Bava. More expressive than realistic, setting the perfect atmosphere for a whimsical fable. I might also add that Arkadi Filipenko's beautiful score accompanies the visuals with an aria of excitement and fancy befitting to a classic ballet.

The film even has life size Matryoshka dolls. Is there no end to the charm??

Baba Yaga is quite a character herself. A common villain in many Russian Folklore tales. A hag-like witch who hates (and in some version EATS) small children. She lives in a house that (no joke) walks around on chicken legs. In the Golden Horns, she's played by male actor Georgi Millyar. Millyar also played Baba Yaga in the first Soviet fantasy film "Vasilissa Prekrasnaya" ("Vasilissa the Beautiful" 1939), which was also Aleksandr Rou's first film. He would go on to appears in many of Rou's fantasy films as a colorful villain. Every time I hear the name "Baba Yaga" I help but think of my earliest frame of reference, the Italian horror movie by the same name aka "Kiss Me, Kill Me" or "Baby Yaga, Devil Witch". I saw a poorly dubbed heavily cut version many years ago, now that I've become more familiar with the character I should re-visit it properly to see where it fits in within the realm of folklore and witchery.

One thing I've noticed about Rou's films, Golden Horns in particular, is his abundant use of live animals. In between scenes we see an ample footage of furry creatures in their natural habitats. Birds, squirrels, rabbits, bears (dancing bears, no less), more birds, cute badger-like creatures. A proverbial woodland wonderland! The happy ending is even sealed with a kiss by offering it's audience a montage of all the animals in the film dancing and being cute set to cheerful music.

love that guy.

 Aleksandr Rou passed away in 1973, which according to IMDB was 10 months before the release of The Golden Horns. However I've noticed other websites referencing the film as having been released in 1972. Either way, the Golden Horns is his very own swan song. Lyrically capping off an extraordinary career and serving as a lovely grand finale. I can only imagine how many young minds his films expanded in the Soviet Union during those politically wrought decades. I wish I could live in this worlds that Aleksandr Rou created! I also that wish I had discovered these films when I was a kid wondering why there weren't more dark and whimsical movies like Labyrinth and Return to Oz. It would be years later that I realized the only option is to go backwards. It's a shame that these films don't have a larger output here in America, but like everything else, they're out there somewhere. And for every wild movie there's an equally wild audience waiting to discover it. I'm putting serious effort into working my way through his entire filmography. You can be sure that I'll reviewing as many as I can right here. In fact, I plan on reviewing more offbeat children's and fantasy films in general in the upcoming months. The weirder and less accessible, the better!

Until next time, watch out for those Mushroom Sprites!


  1. This looks amazing! I'll look out for this one. Your blog is great, the only sad thing is how difficult it is to get a hold of some of these... anyway keep it up


  2. Very interested to read your comments on these ‘obscure’ films. I’ve actually only just discovered this strand of Russian filmmaking and am enjoying tracking down dvds and finding out as much information as I can about them. Complete agree with your description of “foreign and otherworldly”. I love that sense of ‘otherness’ that you can find in foreign cinema - strange landscapes, unfamiliar actors, different cultural slants. I find it so stimulating.
    Although just a novice in watching theseparticular films, may I suggest something similar from East Germany? ‘The Singing Ringing Tree’, made in 1957. I first saw this as a child when it was broadcast on U.K. tv as a mini-serial. The Grimm-like story was engaging enough but it also had a dreamy strangeness about it that lodged it in my mind for ever more. If you don’t already know it, I would suggest you will find it appealing in a similar way to Alexsandr Rou’s films.

    1. I am interested in the similar efforts from East Germany and happened to catch the Singing Ringing Tree last year. I loved it of course. A lot of the same story book qualities that call to mind a feeling of something magical that's just out of reach - and subsequently a tad kitshy as well. I didn't have a chance to review it but it did make my top 50 first time views of 2014...