The world’s longest-running horror-centric educational organization – with branches in London, New York and Los Angeles – is pleased to announce its spring lineup of monthly classes in horror history, theory and production. Set against the mystical backdrop of Los Feliz’s storied Philosophical Research Society campus, Miskatonic talks are fun and casual illustrated excursions into horror’s dark corners led by some of the genre’s most renowned luminaries.
Coming back after the holidays, they will begin their new season on Monday, January 6th, with visiting instructor Caelum Vatnsdal (author of the book They Came From Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema) with his raucous illustrated lecture “Northern Scars” – which he described as “a snowstorm of malevolent miners, ravenous rats, killer sex-slugs and ZED (not ZEE)-grade zombies.”
Then on February 13, we’re joined by filmmaker Gillian Wallace Horvat (Sam Fuller doc A Fuller Life, SXSW short jury winner Kiss Kiss Fingerbang) who will offer a presentation on the power and pitfalls of expository monologue as bounty hunter Creighton Duke in Jason Goes to Hell Gillian rates as one of the best.
On March 12, comedy writer David Misch (Mork & Mindy, Police Squad!) joins us to give his dissection of how humor and horror writing and filmmaking techniques often mirror each other, in “Ha! Aaah! The Painful Relationship Between Humor and Horror.”
On April 9, Andy Milligan biographer Jimmy McDonough (The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan) visits LA to give a highly personal illustrated talk on the controversial low-budget director, in conjunction with a new edition of his acclaimed book.
And we close the season on May 14 with a giant of genre film criticism, Stephen Thrower (Nightmare USA) who has turned his two epic tomes on filmmaker Jess Franco into a visual deep dive into the prolific filmmaker’s “confrontational works of horror, sadism and erotic spectacle.”
FULL CLASS DESCRIPTIONS
Northern Scars: The Foundations of Canadian Horror Cinema
Monday January 6, 7:30pm – 10:00pm
Prepare yourself for a snowstorm of malevolent miners, ravenous rats, killer sex-slugs and ZED (not ZEE)-grade zombies: all this and much more can be found in the frosty annals of Canadian horror movie history. Oh, and there’s some Cronenberg in there too, of course.
Canada got into the horror game late, and even then started slowly, but by the beloved and despised tax-shelter years of the 70s and 80s the country more than made up for its initial delinquency. Movies by the dozens were being turned out: during the peak years of Canadian moviemaking, more films came out of Toronto than they did Hollywood, and a great percentage of these were horror pictures. Monsters and maniacs, scientists and shamans, Leslie Nielsen disco dancing and John Candy rolling around in his underwear: Canadian horror delivers more of what you want.
This lecture will bring the audience through the development of this genre in Canada, including behind-the-scenes peeks into the making of the movies; personal stories of the makers and stars; scandals and controversies associated with them; and the political gamesmanship behind the development of the Canadian commercial film industry. Never a dry recitation of facts, the talk describes a wild tapestry of high drama and crazy incident, with characters from David Cronenberg to Lawrence Zazelenchuk: a sort of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls with a much more specific focus and a lot more plaid flannel shirts.
This rollercoaster ride through history will be capped by a snapshot of the state of things today, and we may even take a guess as to where things will go next. A question and answer opportunity at the end ensures that any remaining bafflements will be addressed.
Accompanying the lecture will be mind-twisting clips from movies like The Mask (Canada’ first horror feature), The Corpse Eaters (its cheapest), Shivers, Black Christmas, Rituals, and Spasms.
How to Deliver a Terrifying Info Dump: Expository Monologues in Horror
with instructors and
Thursday February 13, 7:30pm – 10:00pm
Expository monologues – the long speeches delivered by a character to provide backstory or motivation – can be the downfall or the showstopper of a horror film, and there’s at least one in a vast majority. The purpose of all these soliloquies is an extended, intense effort to overcome the unusually high threshold of disbelief concomitant with the horror genre, generally in an attempt to answer questions for the audience like: How is this possible? Why did she do this – and in such a convoluted and oblique way? Why is this not a plot hole?
For actors and directors in the genre space expository monologues are an occupational hazard that have the potential to be a moment of cinematic glory… if you have the right tools. In this presentation for both performers and filmmakers, we will study the four types of expository monologues and review instructive examples of each. They comprise:
- Explaining an implausible/supernatural situation (Poltergeist) and possibly encouraging a risky solution
- Tenuous justification for a character’s actions up to this point (usually involves a reveal or twist)
- Providing a backstory from previous film(s) to catch up the franchise fan or fully inform a viewer who hasn’t seen the earlier installments
- Retrocontinuity – indispensable for franchises and reboots where the director maybe changing mythology (Scream 3, Jason Goes to Hell)
In analyzing clips we’ll explore the difference between a naturalistic approach and “excess” in performance, briefly digressing here into a discussion of the theories of genre scholars Linda Williams and Kristin Thompson.
Because a performance built around excess requires a lot of character work, in the second part of the class we will focus on more natural techniques when we study our text: Creighton Duke’s monologue from Jason Goes to Hell. Using detailed textual analysis – aided by Creighton Duke himself, Steven Williams, who will appear in person as a special guest – we’ll discover how to bring emotional authenticity to language dense with proper nouns and also examine patterns of inflection and breath in relating anecdotes in our own lives.
*Please note Steven Williams’ appearance is subject to change dependent on his professional schedule.
Ha! Aaah! The Painful Relationship Between Humor and Horror
Thursday March 12, 7:30pm – 10:00pm
From 1920’s Haunted Spooks to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the genre of horror-comedy has never really, you should excuse the expression, died. Yet humor and horror seem pretty different; one’s a pie in the face, the other’s an axe in the skull. It’s obvious why watching someone being torn asunder would be horrible but why is the endless suffering of the Three Stooges funny? Could there be any congruencies between funny and fear, snickers and screams, gore and gags, slapstick and slaughter?
This class proposes – carefully, while remaining alert and well-armed – that the two genres are not mortal enemies. For one thing, people in pain are a perennial part of every art; to be fascinated with human suffering is to be human. Both comedy and horror can show us how to live (and, of course, die); from Psycho we learn that Death can come to anyone at any time. Also, to always shower with a friend.
The class will examine horror’s relationship with philosophers’ explanations of comedy: Immanuel “Carrot Top” Kant’s Incongruity Theory (it’s funny when two things that don’t go together go together); Sigmund “Shecky” Freud’s Relief Theory (comedy is a rapid expulsion of tension); Thomas “Nutso” Hobbes’s Superiority Theory (“You’re in pain and I’m not – ha!”); Henri “Giggles” Bergson (comedy requires “a momentary anesthesia of the heart”); and Mel Brooks (“Tragedy is when I cut my finger; comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die”). We’ll explore the mechanics of both using video clips and examples ranging from Frankenstein and Dracula to Abbott & Costello, and try to figure out what makes us laugh and/or scream. We’ll see that both genres love loss of control, anarchy, the breakdown of rules and conventions – the beast within us set free. And both exploit our paradoxical feelings about helplessness: seeing someone out of control can be hilarious (a clumsy person falling) or horrifying (a clumsy person falling into a snake-pit suspended over a shark-pit next to a zombie zoo).
Both humor and horror also share a mordant view of our relationship to pain; an obsession with the human body and its multifarious fluids; and a subtext of death and transcendence underlying the eviscerated flesh and fart jokes. What could be more blood-curdlingly fun?
The Ghastly One: Andy Milligan
Thursday April 9, 7:30pm – 10:00pm
Andy Milligan is one of the most compelling, contentious lone wolfs in cinema history. A dressmaker, actor and puppeteer, Milligan cranked out titles like Bloodthirsty Butchers, The Body Beneath, and The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! on threadbare budgets. He made sexploitation movies, period horror films (elaborately costumed by Milligan himself) and even a landmark gay short. Unlike most exploitation filmmakers, he came out of a rarified NYC arts scene and started his directing career doing shocking productions at the legendary Caffe Cino. His films were deeply personal statements, despite limitations which made him the laughingstock of the 42nd street distributors who cashed in on his work. Ever the outsider, Milligan was homosexual, a sadist and an avowed misogynist, and all of this is quite present in his creations.
“Am I sadistic?” Milligan once said to me. “Not really. No more than anybody else, hee hee. Everybody’s a bit sadistic at times—and masochistic. Look at the sex act alone. The male part is sadistic, the female is masochistic. The whole act of sex is sadism and masochism, basically. Penetration—an act of violence.” This sort of attitude permeates every frame of Milligan’s work, and it sets him apart from most of his contemporaries. Andy had a lot to say, and none of it was pretty. “Life makes you bitter and cynical,” he maintained. “I’m an injustice collector, babe. I never get over it. You can’t stay nice in life.”
And yet I loved Andy. Hell, I even thought he was…nice. Not only was I his biographer, I worked on his last pictures (even briefly appearing in one) and took care of him as he died of AIDS. We had a rich –if complex – relationship, and I will share my personal experiences to hopefully illuminate why I think Milligan is a fabulous, if deeply flawed filmmaker. To further that understanding I’ll show some of my favorite clips from his movies and unlock the secrets that lie within. I’ll also answer any audience questions about my time with Andy and talk about why I feel biography is also kind of an illness. By the end of this lecture, I promise you will feel something, even if it’s just the desire to kill Andy Milligan. Or me.
JESÚS FRANCO: SHOOTING AT THE SPEED OF LIFE
Thursday May 14, 7:30pm-10:00pm
During a career spanning more than fifty years, Jesús (‘Jess’) Franco created a strange and unique style of commercial genre filmmaking, bordering at times on the avant-garde. Obsessed with ‘aberrant’ sex, erotic horror and the writings of the Marquis De Sade, he took a resolutely personal approach to movie-making, and after spending the 1960s honing his technique on slightly more conventional projects he embarked in the 1970s on a sustained period of intensive shooting, making as many as ten or twelve films in one year. Shooting with a small crew, exclusively on location, he worked at a speed that allowed little time for the honing of a perfect finished product, instead creating a cinema of spontaneity, improvisation and caprice. Franco valued freedom above all: by combining a rapid-fire series of small-scale commercial film projects, a ‘creative’ approach to finance, and a dedicated passion for the sensational, he was able to carve his own niche and digress into the most extraordinary experimental ellipses. In this evening’s discussion, Stephen Thrower will explore Franco’s ability to juggle the commercial and personal dimensions of filmmaking through his confrontational works of horror, sadism and erotic spectacle.