The Miskatonic Institute is all set for another semester, which will see notable experts from genre fields gather to give enlightening talks on subjects pertaining to the strange and the macabre. This year’s events will feature lectures on folk horror hosted by Sukhdev Sandhu (Jan 9) followed by Howard David Ingham (Jan 18), respectively. Once again, Diabolique will be hosting scholarships for students interested in attending, which you can find out more here.
Ahead of his talk at London’s Horse Hospital, we caught up with Ingham to discuss his career and what attendees expect from his upcoming presentation. If you’re in the city be sure to mark these dates in your diary and pick up tickets soon before they sell out.
Diabolique: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Ingham: That’s a really complex question! I’ve worked as a professional writer for 15 years now (a lot of my published work has been for the American games company White Wolf). But I’ve also had a lifelong fascination, thanks to my parents, with the occult and in what I like to call the collapse of history, which is where common narratives become infected with mythology and magic (and this was partly inspired by my studies – I gained an MPhil in Late Latin Literature from Swansea University in 2002), and I inherited from my dad a whole library of occult books and ephemera from the 70s and 80s. Since 2015 I’ve maintained a blog at Room207Press.com, where I write about history, the occult and film, and occasionally post fiction and poetry. It’s a grab bag of stuff that interests me, and it always surprises me that I have an audience at all, given how off the beaten track my interests are.
Diabolique: What has inspired your talk? What are some of the themes you will be exploring?
Ingham: A part of that has been a love of the spookier side of TV and film from that period (another thing I inherited from my dad) and I think it was in 2016 that I discovered that the term for a lot of the stuff I liked was “folk horror”. In October of that year, I thought, I know, I’ll have a Halloween movie marathon with a folk horror theme, but it proved to be tremendously popular. I started falling down a rabbit hole with it, and the series is still going on. When Josh at Miskatonic asked me if I’d do the talk, I immediately thought that what I’d like to tackle is the way that folk horror in the period that most interests me (the 70s and a few years either side of it) reflects the cultural atmosphere of the time, and how we’re in a cultural climate that has a lot of similarities with the 70s – back then we had the Three Day Week, the rise of the National Front as a political force, a government that called a disastrous early election, and now we’ve got Brexit, UKIP, and, well, the other thing. But more than that, when I was a kid you had astrologers on the news, you had everyday guides to ESP, biorhythms and UFO spotting sold alongside guides to flower-arranging and car maintenance, and the sense that a real cultural war was being fought. Now, if you search Instagram for, say, #witchesofinstagram, you get over a million hits, all from people who like the witchy aesthetic. And as for culture wars, again, I think half an hour on Twitter shows how that’s turning out. The lines may be slightly different but you can draw real parallels. The internet has made a real difference in how we connect with subcultures, and there’s this amazing cottage industry in independent film and literature.
Diabolique: What can people expect to take away from it?
Ingham: I’m hoping that people will come away feeling that nothing happens in isolation. History doesn’t repeat exactly, but some themes come back, over and over. I’m a strong believer in the idea that cultural criticism – which for me involves writing about film and TV – helps us to work out who we are, and what our place is in the society in which we find ourselves. And also I’d love the audience to think, yes, this stuff is really worth looking at.
Diabolique: Tell us a little bit about the key films you have picked and why?
Ingham: Obviously, I’ll look at the Folk Horror Troika – Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man – because they’re the starting point. But I’m also keen to look at the stuff that sits in the corners and throws up a mirror to society. The Dead of Night episode The Exorcism (1972) has a real anger in it about poverty and class divisions. Lawrence Gordon Clark’s updating of Casting the Runes for ITV Playhouse (1979) works because it feeds into the appetite for the popular occult, and begins with a TV documentary exposé on a popular witchcraft cult. The Play for Today episode A Photograph offers a great parable about how privileged people patronise and fetishise the poor. And, perhaps adjacently, Dennis Potter’s Brimstone and Treacle, with its grimly funny take on xenophobia and evil, seems more relevant now than ever. On the other side of the divide, Ben Wheatley’s films – and I’m thinking of the three films he made between 2011 and 2013, Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England – have a real power to them, and part of that comes from the way they look back to the original folk horror boom while being completely contemporary. Horror is, in my opinion, one of the most political of genres, and folk horror most of all, because at its centre it’s about the horror of folk.
Howard David Ingham is a writer and educator. He lives in Swansea. Between 2005 and 2012 his work appeared in more than forty publications for White Wolf Games Studio. He writes games, fiction and books, and keeps a regular blog about film and culture at Room207Press.com. His book We Don’t Go Back: a Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror is due for release in 2018.