The Miskatonic Institute Horror Studies – London 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. Taught by author Ian Cooper, who frequently writes on horror and cults, there is no better way to end our Summer semester.
There had been mass murderers before, and there have been since, but Manson is an enduring symbol of unfathomable evil. He transformed seemingly peaceful hippies—sons and daughters of the middle class—into heartless killers. Then he set them loose in Los Angeles’s most privileged neighborhoods – LA Weekly (2009)
You honestly have to wonder – what would low-rent exploitation producers have done in the early 70s without Charles Manson? – Trash Film Guru (2013)
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 (Like 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 [1980), 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).
About the Instructor:
Ian 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). He has also written for edited collections on subjects including early 70s vampire films and the cult appeal of Klaus Kinski. His books, Devil´s Advocates: Frenzy (Auteur) and Family Values: The Manson Family on Film and TV (McFarland) will be published in 2018.
He also has a number of screenplays in various stages of development in the UK and US.
The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies – London – No Sense Makes Sense: Gurus, Cults, Murder and Movies
Date: May 17th 2018
Venue: The Horse Hospital
Address: Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1JD
Prices: £10 advance / £11 on the door / £8 concs (students/seniors with ID)
About the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies:
Named for the fictional university in H.P. Lovecraft’s literary mythos, the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies is an international organization that offers university-level history, theory and production-based masterclasses for people of all ages, founded by film writer and programmer Kier-La Janisse in March 2010, with regular branches in London and New York as well as presenting special events worldwide. The UK branch is co-run by Janisse and Josh Saco, of Cigarette Burns Cinema.