Horror Favourites – Ian Cooper

Our Horror Favourites series continues with another of the expert instructors from the marvelous Miskatonic Institute, Ian Cooper, whose fascinating NO SENSE MAKES SENSE: GURUS, CULTS, MURDER AND MOVIES talk takes place on May 17th in London

Ian’s class will examine the rise of alternative religious movements and 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.

As well as a focus on the first wave of Mansonsploitation movies there will be a consideration of the Family references in an eclectic collection of films including the work of John Waters and Russ Meyer, the British period gothic tradition as well as a consideration of the renewed fascination with cults in the 21st century 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).

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 screenplays in various stages of development in the UK and US. He lives in Germany and he tells us about his favorite horror movie below;

“To be honest, most of my favourite horror films tend to be everybody else´s favourite too – Psycho, Rosemary´s Baby, Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Shining. I´m also very fond of a number of less celebrated films including Corruption (1967), Count Yorga Vampire (1970), The Baby (1973), Messiah of Evil (1973) and Torso (1973) as well as directors such as Jeff Lieberman, S.F. Brownrigg, Michele Soavi and Pete Walker. Walker´s films are one of my long-standing obsessions which I can trace back to the precise moment I saw the poster for his Frightmare (1974) on the underground on a visit to London in the mid-70s. Walker was a stand-up comic from Brighton who made a number of sexploitation films then moved over into horror for what he´s always claimed were purely mercenary reasons.

Unlike the British costume gothics which were traditionally period films set in a non-specific Mittel Europa, Walker´s films take place in very familiar settings, the grim yet groovy 70s London. They were made on very low budgets and the use of real locations – flats, shopping centres and gloomy old houses – lends them a very specific atmosphere, an unholy marriage between social realism and gothic horror. Indeed, there´s something about this blend of real places, be it sleepy Haselmere or the BBC studios in Shepherd´s Bush and excessively gruesome goings-on which I find really appealing. The Flesh and Blood Show (1972), Schizo (1976) and The Comeback (1978) are all great but Walker´s reputation really rests on the three films he made with the critic-turned-screenwriter David McGillivray, House of Whipcord (1974), Frightmare and House of Mortal Sin (1976).

All three films give an anarchic, satirical edge to the plentiful gore and nudity and their vision of Britain as a crumbling authoritarian hellhole where hideous geriatric fascists prey on the young anticipates both the youthful anger and ´No Future` stylings of punk (Walker was at one point in the frame to direct A Star is Dead, a vehicle for the Sex Pistols). Frightmare is the stand-out, a strange and seedy take on the fairy tale with Dorothy (Sheila Keith), a fortune-telling elderly cannibal eating brains in an isolated country cottage. The story combines familiar 70s horror elements – a dysfunctional family, rebellious youth, cannibalism, power tools – with contemporary incidents such as the Moors murders and the Andes plane crash where the survivors ate corpses to survive.

Frightmare is frightening, blackly funny and very bleak right from the black and white opening scene where we see a man (played by Fawlty Towers´ Andrew Sachs) having his head drilled open in a caravan in a deserted funfair. The ending is a downer even by the downer-friendly standards of the period with the resourceful heroine about to be slaughtered, the old literally eating their young and that final image – of a door slamming shut – allowing no possibility of escape. I love it.”

Find out more about the The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies and its classes Here – www.miskatonic-london.com

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