After closing out the autumn season with our sold-out Yuletide Terror, The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies has returned for another semester of classes on horror topics both iconic and arcane and we have been lucky enough to talk to some of the speakers about their favorite horror films.
First up is Howard David Ingham whose POWERS OF ATTRACTION: FOLK HORROR IN ITS CULTURAL CONTEXT sold out recently. Giving a broad overview of British folk horror in its time and space, and how popular interest in the occult creates the conditions for it to become a force in our collective imagination Secret Powers of Attraction looked at the central filmic texts of the Folk Horror movement including Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man and explored folk horror in the British TV play.
It also examined how folk horror tropes invaded popular TV, from Doctor Who to Robin of Sherwood and discussed the subject all the way up to the recent folk horror renaissance, including the films of Ben Wheatley and Peter Strickland and the rise of independent folk horror and the unexpected places it appears in popular culture right now.
Howard’s ghost story collection this is not a picture: eight stories is currently available Here https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1545131872/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_UzkzAb9J67ME3 while his upcoming guide to folk horror on film and TV, We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror, is out in the Spring.
Below Howard tells us all about his favorite horror film.
“My favourite horror film changes regularly. I had to think hard about it, and I’ve only just realised that it’s Andrzej Zulawski’s 1981 shocker Possession.
I saw it for the first time a couple of years ago and since then I must have watched it through maybe six times, even ahead of things in my watching queue. It’s an awkward, spiky sort of a film, a hybrid of a grim, gory exploitation horror and an old school European art movie. Everything is beautifully framed. Characters talk like their dialogue was written by someone for whom English was not a first language (because it wasn’t) but that only adds to this feverish, perverse quality it’s got. Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani give these absolutely committed performances as Mark and Anna, a couple living in Cold War Berlin whose marriage inexplicably disintegrates before us – the first half hour of the film is this escalating series of fights that descends into domestic violence, self harm, and finally a literal road traffic accident.
I heard that Zulawski had been through a painful divorce not long before making the film and it came as no surprise to me whatsoever – Possession feels like a trauma response, the way that if you’ve got PTSD and something sets it off, it’s literally impossible to function and all you can handle is fight or flight, and then your mind is a tangled bloody mess for days or weeks afterwards.
When you get to the second part of the film and the whole narrative begins to disintegrate around the equally disintegrating leads, and the world of the film gets invaded by an incestuous unborn thing, I find it impossible to look away. And that’s mainly down to Isabelle Adjani, who stares down the camera at you, red-eyed, as if drowning or gasping for air. It’s one of the rawest performances I’ve ever seen.
The scene where Anna miscarries a Thing in a Berlin subway is almost legendary, and I find the way in which she loses control of body and self terrifying and weirdly cathartic, but the scene that I find most chilling is one of the films-within-the-film, the one where she tortures a girl in her ballet class and then justifies it to camera, and everything about her is so very wrong.
There are no normal people in the film. Everyone looks normal, but they’re all twisted somehow. You can’t trust anyone in Possession – everyone is somehow broken, somehow incomplete, or one moment away from screaming delirium.
The idea of possession pervades the whole film: the idea of possessing your spouse, or your lover, is just as central to it as the concept of being possessed by something demonic and evil.
Eventually the evil causes the structure of the film itself to collapse, time fractures, Mark and Anna’s döppelgangers appear, and eventually the apocalypse itself looms. It’s as if their inability to cope is an infectious disease that can even be caught by the urban landscape.
I put Possession on when I want to scream. That’s what it’s for, I suppose — a delirious howl of frustration and pain.”
Howard David Ingham spent several years writing horror role-playing games for White Wolf Games Studio. Now he’s engaged on a Halloween movie marathon that’s so far taken him a year and a half, which you can follow at Room207press.com.
Find out more about the The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies and its classes Here – www.miskatonic-london.com