The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies, the world’s longest-running educational organization devoted to the study of horror history, theory and production, will kick off its fourth school year at the London branch with Sarah Crowther’s class on drag and transvestism in horror, followed by GHOSTWATCH scribe Stephen Volk in conversation with filmmaker Sean Hogan (THE DEVIL’S BUSINESS) in October. In November, former programmer Jane Giles will present a guided tour of the notorious Scala Cinema through a cache of rare archival documents, architects’ plans, drawings, photographs and other ephemera, in conjunction with her new book on the history of the Scala from FAB Press. And in December they close with a strangely seasonal class on American Highway Horror by scholar and author Bernice M. Murphy, bookended by studies of unlikely Christmas movies PSYCHO and DEAD END.

Here’s what the Institute had to say:

“In addition to our monthly London classes, two of our London instructors – Stephen Thrower and Jon Towlson – have been invited to Lisbon for the Motel X International Horror Film Festival to moderate artist talks on national horror cinema with filmmakers Andy Dyson (GHOST STORIES) and Pascal Laugier (MARTYRS) and Xavier Gens (FRONTIERE(S)), respectively.

Miskatonic is also proud to announce a new Los Angeles branch to complement those in London and New York. The Los Angeles branch will be hosted at the Los Feliz headquarters of the Philosophical Research Society, founded by famed occultist Manly P. Hall in 1934.

LONDON CLASS DETAILS:

September 13: Drag Me to Hell: Representations of Drag and Transvestism in Horror Film and Television
Instructor: Sarah Crowther

From Ed Wood’s Glen Or Glenda (1953) to the Boulet Brothers’ Dragula (2017-), drag and transvestism have appeared as a recurring theme in genre cinema and television. This history of representation could be argued to have been broadly delineated into two categories: the ‘deviants’ and the divas. Appropriately, perhaps, the double-Ds. A recurrent representation of cross-dressing/gender subversion in horror has been that of the opposite gender embodying the protagonist’s murderous or ‘deviant’ impulses.

Simultaneously, however, some of genre cinema’s greatest anti-heroes have simply just been transvestite (get over it), or played by iconic drag queens. This lecture will explore key cinematic and televisual genre representations, identifying shared symbolic themes and imagery. Progression of representation will be considered in the context of societal change and increased visibility.

The lecture will explore scenes from films which may include A Blade in the Dark (1983), Sleepaway Camp (1983), Homicidal (1961), Der Samurai (2014), Psycho (1960), Switchblade Romance (2004), Dolly Deadly (2016) and Dressed to Kill (1983), alongside the televisual delights of RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009-) and Dragula (2017-). There may also be a Divine sprinkling of John Waters and the chance to chew over O’Brien/Curry’s Frank’n’Furter.

We will explore the two key categories of representation, while also considering those who fall in between, and what that difference signifies. Angela, Linda, Bobbi, Warren… Male to female and female to male transvestism will be explored. Are there thematic links between drag and horror and what are the recurrent elements? The culture of subversion? Of extremity? The ‘fear of the other’ which is a recurrent narrative driver in genre cinema? In contemporary society where representations of drag are crossing into the mainstream (RuPaul’s Drag Race, 2009-) and cross-dressing represents less of an extreme counter-cultural revolt, what has been the impact on that relationship? And did some of the more progressive filmmakers representing drag reflect this in earlier representations?

October 11: Live From Miskatonic: Stephen Volk in Conversation
Moderator: Sean Hogan

Screenwriter and author Stephen Volk is perhaps best known for writing the notorious BBC Halloween hoax Ghostwatch, which spooked the nation, hit newspaper headlines and prompted questions to be asked in Parliament. However, his many other notable screenplays include those for the films Gothic (directed by Ken Russell), The Guardian (directed by William Friedkin), the BAFTA award-winning The Deadness of Dad, and The Awakening, while his other TV credits range from Afterlife to the recent Midwinter of the Spirit. In addition, he is also a renowned prose author of novellas and short fiction, winning British Fantasy Awards for his collection Monsters in the Heartand his novella “Newspaper Heart”. Arguably his most acclaimed work of fiction so far has been the 2013 novella Whitstable, a story featuring legendary horror icon Peter Cushing. He followed this in 2015 with another novella, Leytonstone, about the early life of Alfred Hitchcock, and will be completing his Dark Masters Trilogy this year with the publication of Netherwood, a fictional account of an encounter between famed black magic author Dennis Wheatley and notorious mystic Aleister Crowley.

During this exclusive event, Stephen Volk will discuss his career and work with screenwriter and filmmaker Sean Hogan.  Covering both his film and TV credits as well as his prose fiction, the pair will look at the differences between writing for film and television; his contrasting screenwriting experiences in the UK and the US; the process behind writing fictionalised biographical works such as Gothic and the Dark Masters Trilogy; discuss the stories behind the creation of some of his most famous/infamous credits; examine why and how he built a successful prose career away from screenwriting; and talk more broadly about the methodology of representing the supernatural onscreen and what horror is actually ‘for’. The evening will end with a Q&A session with the audience, and should provide an invaluable insight into writing for page and screen by an acknowledged master of the forms; no aspiring writer should miss the chance to learn from Stephen Volk’s hard-earned experience across a wide range of writing disciplines.

November 8: Cabinet of Curiosities: The Strange Case of the Scala cinema
Instructor: Jane Giles

‘A country club for criminals and lunatics and people that were high… ’

This was how the Pope of Trash John Waters described London’s Scala cinema, a hallowed venue beloved of film freaks but forced to close in 1993. The Scala’s deep roots were in the site of an old brewery in 18thcentury Fitzrovia, a concert hall which was rebuilt in 1905 as an ornate folly of a theatre. The Scala theatre housed both the birth of colour cinema and an exclusive year-long run of the racist epic Birth of a Nation, as well as onstage appearances by resident Bohemian Quentin Crisp, Kenneth Williams as a Lost Boy and Sean Connery, unplaced in the ‘Tall Men’ category of the Mr Universe competition, 1953. Fast-forward to 1976: the Fitzrovia site is occupied by a soon-to-be-bankrupt socialist film collective, but overtaken by a teenage punk who transformed it into the legendary and notorious Scala cinema.

Unique to the Miskatonic Institute, a cache of rare archival documents, architects’ plans, drawings, photographs and other ephemera will form the visual backdrop to a guided tour of the Scala, which moved from Fitzrovia to the defunct Primatarium in King’s Cross, 1981. Specialising in an alchemical mixture of horror, music and LGBT films, Psychotronic and Kung Fu, the Scala pushed back against censorship in all of its forms, culminating in a devastating law suit. The soundtrack to the lecture will feature the Scala’s jukebox and intermission music, 1978-1993.

December 13: Roads to Hell: The Highway Horror Film
Instructor: Bernice M. Murphy

This class will introduce students to the ‘Highway Horror Film,’ an overlooked sub-genre of the wider American horror tradition which articulates profound unease about the transitory nature of modern American life, as well as the wider impact of mass automobility. The post-1956 construction of the Interstate Highway System (IHS) represents one of the most dramatic innovations of post-war American society. This ground-breaking new network of federally constructed roads provided Americans with a freedom to move around the entire nation that had previously been denied to them. In addition, the car assumed the vitally important practical and symbolic function it holds to this day. As we shall see, both these innovations are questioned in Highway Horror. In these films, the American landscape is by dint of its very accessibility rendered terrifyingly hostile, and encounters with other travellers (and with those whose roadside businesses depend on highway traffic) invariably have sinister outcomes.

We will begin with a discussion of one of the foundational ‘Highway Horror’ movies, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), focusing on the relationship between the film and the emergence in the 1930s of the motel as a new kind of roadside business. We’ll also explore the reasons why these locations are so often associated in American popular culture with criminality and murder. Psycho-influenced films such as Vacancy (2007) will be mentioned, as will motel-based explorations of identity dissolution such as Bug (2006) and Identity (2003).

Then we’ll move on to the second major theme in the sub-genre: the ‘highway nemesis’ narrative, in which in which middle-class male road users are forced to engage in deadly cat-and-mouse battles with monstrously aggressive blue-collar adversaries, as in Duel (1971), Race With the Devil (1975), The Hitcher (1986), and Joy Ride (2001). Next, the idea that the freedom of movement and culture of anonymity associated with the highways makes them an ideal killing ground for the serial killer will be discussed, with a focus on the theme of compulsive mobility in films such as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Kalifornia (1993) Freeway (1996) and Death Proof (2007). Finally, the seminar will conclude with a consideration of the fourth and final ‘Highway Horror’ strand, which features films in which the protagonists are killed or seriously injured in car crashes, but find themselves trapped in a purgatorial space between life and death, as seen in Carnival of Souls (1962), Dead End (2003), Reeker (2005), Wind Chill (2007) and the recent anthology Southbound (2015).”

 

Further details can be found here: https://www.miskatonicinstitute.com/

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written three books - on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014), the history of the character Norman Bates (2015) and the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker (2017). He is currently working with director Richard Loncraine to explore all avenues in a bid to orchestrate the re-release of 1978 Mia Farrow chiller Full Circle