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Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies To Explore California Cults Impact on Cinema

by Cara

Roughly how interesting was your time at collage or university? Did you ever wish you were in an educational setting from the mythos of Lovecraft – studying horror and it’s impact on culture and society instead?

The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies is an international educational community that offers university-level history, theory and production-based masterclasses through which established horror writers, directors, scholars and programmers/curators celebrate horror history and culture with a unique blend of enthusiasm and critical perspective. The school is named after the fictional university in H.P. Lovecraft’s literary mythos.

They have just announced a new class coming to the institute, lead by Ian Cooper – ‘No Sense Makes Sense: Gurus, Cults, Murder and Movies‘.  The class will use the Manson family as a springboard to delve into the sub-genre of films inspired by cults and alternative religions in California from the 60s and 70s.  Cooper is an author and screenwriter; his books include Devil´s Advocates: Witchfinder General (Auteur 2011), Cultographies: Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Wallflower Press 2012) and Frightmares: A History of British Horror (2016).

This class will examine the rise of alternative religious movements/cults in California in the 1960s and 70s which spawned an ongoing sub-genre of the horror film. The focus will be on the Manson Family, not only the most notorious of these groups but also the one with the greatest cultural impact. This is due to a number of factors including the nightmarish, random violence, the involvement of a number of high-profile artists and celebrities, from Roman Polanski and Dennis Wilson through to Dennis Hopper and Angela Lansbury and the dark glamor of Manson himself, quotable, photogenic and always willing to play up for the cameras.

The Family story has been reworked in a dizzying variety of contexts, from true crime mini-series (Helter Skelter) to Claymation satire (Live Freaky, Die Freaky) and even as hardcore porn (Manson XXX) while Charlie himself has been variously cast as revolutionary, white supremacist, Satanist and vampire. The Manson story contains a number of highly-exploitable elements, from sexual and chemical excess through to horrific and inexplicable violence and it can also be slanted in a variety of ways, a warning against false prophets, an indictment of the counter-culture, a slice of anti-drug propaganda or simply gruesome spectacle.

As well as a focus on the first wave of ‘Mansonsploitation’, low-budget independents such as The Other Side of Madness (1971) and Sweet Savior (1971), there will be a consideration of the Family references in an eclectic collection of films including the work of John Waters (Multiple Maniacs) and Russ Meyer (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls), the British period gothic tradition (Blood on Satan´s Claw), no-budget labours of love such as Manson Family Movies (1984) and Jim Van Bebber´s The Manson Family (2003). This will lead on to an examination of other cults including The People´s Temple and the mass suicide at Jonestown, an event reworked as glossy TV mini-series (Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones), low-budget exploitation (Guyana: Crime of the Century) and found-footage horror (The Sacrament).

There will also be a consideration of the renewed fascination with cults in the 21st century. The events of 9/11, like the Tate/LaBianca murders served as a reminder that terrifying violence can strike without warning and internet-inspired ´lone wolf`terror attacks have ensured that fears of brainwashing and mind control are again part of the zeitgeist. This fascination is reflected in films such as The Strangers (2008) and The Invitation (2015) and TV shows such as Aquarius (2015 – 16) and American Horror Story: Cult (2017).

The class is set to take place on May 17th 2018. Find out more here.

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