Inside the auditorium at the Philosophical Research Society’s creepy-cool Los Feliz Boulevard headquarters, director Don Coscarelli answers questions about his life’s work before a rapt audience. Coscarelli is probably most famous for directing 1979 flying-murder-orb horror movie Phantasm, which makes him a bigger deal in certain circles than others, but for fans of genre film, he’s a behemoth. His anecdotes from the sets of Bubba Ho-Tep, John Dies at the End, and especially 1982’s The Beastmaster are like nuggets of gold.
That three-hour Coscarelli crash course in September was the inaugural offering from the L.A. branch of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies. Named after a fictional university from H.P. Lovecraft’s literary universe, Miskatonic debuted in Canada in 2010 and subsequently expanded to New York. Setting up shop in Los Angeles, home not only to the film industry but a legit early 20th century occultist’s operational research facility where classes could be hosted, was a natural next step. Don’t be intimidated by the “institute” moniker—there’s no application process or mountain of homework, just a series of classes that can be attended independent of one another for 12 bucks a pop ($15 at the door).
Miskatonic was founded by Kier-La Janisse, who’s co-programming the L.A. classes along with USC cinematic arts professor Rebekah McKendry and Elric Kane of Blumhouse’s horrorcentric Shock Waves podcast. Kane, who also used to host horror trivia at a spot in the Valley, has devoted a decent amount of time to considering how people become horror fans in the first place. Usually, horror-related trauma figures in. For instance, when he was a kid, a guy his mom was dating invited he and his sister downstairs to watch a movie. It was Creepshow, the 1982 Stephen King-George Romero anthology. “It messed me up so bad,” he says. “Really, I had nightmares for years.”
A common thread among horror fans, he says, is that they were all scaredy-cats as kids, the ones who slept with the covers up to their chins and tucked over their feet so they wouldn’t get snatched by a creature in the middle of the night.
“You basically want to master and get closer to this thing you fear,” he says. “I have a lot of friends who try to indoctrinate their kids in horror, but we got into this because we weren’t meant to watch these things. That was a stronger bond, that they were forbidden fruit.”
Miskatonic is all about creating a community around horror, and it’s gearing up for a new year of programming that’ll make horror fans’ heads explode Scanners style. The lineup is below and tickets can be purchased at miskatonicinstitute.com/courses.
February 7: Big Scares on the Small Screen: A Brief History of the Made-for-TV Horror Film (with instructor Amanda Reyes)
March 14: In Your Face Till Your Face Comes Off: John Skipp on the History of Splatterpunk, and the Triumph of the Over (with instructor John Skipp)
April 11: Destructible Man: The Dummy-Death and Cinematic Storytelling Language (with instructor Howard S. Berger)
May 9: Live from Miskatonic: Pete Walker in Conversation (with special guest sexploitation director Pete Walker)