Written by: George Pacheco on September 20th, 2016
The latest must-own tome from Fab Press is a marvelous, fascinating and occasionally nostalgic throwback to the 1980s, specifically how Satanic hysteria and panic permeated society and pop culture during the decade. It was the aftermath of 1970s decadence and selfishness; divorce rates were sky high, latch-key kids were growing up, and some were even entering the financially-obsessed 1980s workforce. Sex and violence were still a part of everyday life, but parents were quickly becoming critical of what their children were watching on television, in the cinema and on home video.
Satanic Panic: Pop Culture Paranoia in the 1980s collects a wide variety of articles from an equally diverse selection of writers, all of whom possess a different take upon how the decade played out its obsession with the occult. Subjects range from the media obsession with Dungeons and Dragons to paperback occult novels and, of course, Satanic cinema. There’s also some very deep and sometimes depressing looks into the absolute depths of human behavior, making this one satisfying read. Paul Corupe and Kier-La Janisse edited together the book, and we here at 10kBullets were lucky enough to spend some time with both Janisse and Satanic Panic contributor Will from Deathwound ‘Zine via email to talk about their contributions to the project. Enjoy! –George Pacheco
10K: Hi, Kier-La and thanks a lot for taking the time out to do this; I’m a big fan of your books House of Psychotic Women and A Violent Professional, so I really appreciate it! You are always busy with your hands in a lot of creative projects, but can you tell us the impetus of Satanic Panic? Was this your idea to curate all of these articles, or was the project brought to you?
KIER-LA: It was an idea that I had written down on a list of ideas for future books, but my co-editor Paul Corupe was the one who insisted that was the book we should do next. After our first Spectacular Optical book, Kid Power, we wanted something very different, and this was a much heavier book to put together.
You’re obviously well versed in the topics covered here in the book, whether it be the cultural landscape of the 70s and 80s, to how horror and the occult permeated music and movie media during the time. Was it important for you to have the book cover a wide spectrum of subjects, and how was the process of gathering everyone together? You wrote the intro back in 2015, so I’m assuming this was a labor of love which stretches back a bit?
KL: We invited about half the writers and the other half submitted to our open call, and we got some really great proposals that we felt covered a great cross-section of material which is what we wanted. We knew it would never be comprehensive, but we wanted least every topic to be covered in some way- but of course no one wanted to touch McMartin, [the McMartin Preschool trial for sexual abuse, which took place during the 1980s-10k] and so luckily I recalled an old friend who was very interested in this case and also a great writer, so he was able to write about it. It was definitely a labour of love because the subject matter was pretty harrowing and depressing at times – it wasn’t all just banger haircuts and ironic humour, I mean, there were a lot of real crimes against children in this era, and some high-profile suicides that were being blamed on innocuous music and games rather than exploring the real source of trauma.
You mention in the intro how Paul and yourself wanted to keep the book neutral in tone, and I think you both succeeded at that during the editing process. Did you learn anything from editing the articles in the book about any of these subjects along the way? Did you have a lot of experience, say, with Dungeons and Dragons as a kid, or were you aware of a lot of the real life court cases or controversy that were going on at the time?
KL: I was never allowed to play Dungeons and Dragons as a kid, although my cousin played it, and I found out my uncle wrote supplements for it, which our family was embarrassed about because we were Catholic. I was very aware of the controversy around D&D and music – and even certain products like Procter & Gamble which we weren’t allowed to use either. But for McMartin and all the daycare cases, that was something I didn’t know about until later. It’s strange because I wasn’t shielded from these things – I was very aware of [the] Jonestown [cult] when that all went down, even though I was only six at the time. But McMartin escaped me, I didn’t know about that until I was in my twenties, probably. But it was important to me to remain neutral because I think we both felt there were a lot of religious people who were taken for a ride, and we didn’t want to ridicule them, not to mention that we were dealing with sexual abuse cases that have never been satisfactorily closed, and a lot of these memories are very real and painful for people.
Which contributions did you find to be particularly memorable, or do you feel can best describe the book to someone who may be too young to fully understand the paranoia and media attention paid to anything related to Satan or the occult back in the 80s?
KL: They all cover different aspects of it and I don’t think any one piece can give you a full picture of it – McMartin gets mentioned in most of the pieces, so reading that piece is imperative, but you do also need the heavy metal and D&D to round that out.
The connection between heavy metal, Satan and horror is another subject which comes up often in the book, whether it be satanic imagery on MTV, on album covers or against the PMRC. Are you surprised to hear that some of the accusations against bands during this time are still harbored by some people to this day, or do you think that some of the paranoia expressed in this book will always be in backs of some people’s minds?
KL: Well, a lot of the issues of the Satanic Panic era were never resolved, and while we look at it as winding down in the early 90s ( in terms of a widespread mainstream panic), in more rural and religious communities those fears never went away, the Satanic Panic never ”ended” per se. And I mean look at guys like Mike Warnke, an evangelist who was completely exposed an discredited (as outlined in a chapter in the book) and yet he still has a ministry operating, and followers who believe the charges against him by Cornerstone Magazine (who did the initial expose) were false, despite all the evidence. Some people just like to have their familiar heroes and villains and don’t want to deal with such contradictions.
Were FAB Press receptive to the idea, and how have they been to work with? You’ve collaborated with them for your other books; how would you describe your working relationship with them?
KL: FAB Press published my books as an author – so A Violent Professional and House of Psychotic Women-and maybe whatever I come up with next. But Spectacular Optical is my own publishing company through which I mainly publish the work of other writers, and where I take more of a curatorial role. So we put out the first edition of Satanic Panic in 2015, and it sold out really quickly at book launch events. So at that point Harvey at FAB and I started talking about him sublicensing it for a new edition that was more widely available. At this point I find it very comfortable to work with him. Anyone who would put up with the amount of freakouts I had getting HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN printed is the kind of committed publisher you want on your side!
You’ve also spoken about Satanic Panic at a number of screenings, if I’m not mistaken? Have you programmed some occult horror films to go along with promotion for the book, and do you think we might see more of these in the fall once Satanic Panic is readily available?
Yes when the first edition came out, I did events at Fantasia in Montreal, Fantastic fest, Sitges, the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies in London, the Brattle in Boston, the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork, Ireland, in Hobart Tasmania…all over. Some of these would be short introductions to related film screenings (not just occult horror films but specifically ones from the Satanic Panic era we discuss in the book – 1980-1990), others would be full multimedia presentations with clips from films, news reports, evangelical VHS tapes etc. This is the main model for selling Spectacular Optical books, because I’m a film programmer and know lots of other film programmers it’s easier to pitch this type of idea to them. I have another one coming up in Sweden soon, and am open to having more if people want them – and it doesn’t have to be me doing it, there are twenty authors who worked on the book and who all have their own specialties that would make for great presentations.
What I really found interesting in the book was the discussion of how Satanism related to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s, especially with regards to feminism, escalating divorce rates and latch key kids. Do you think that subjects like these might not jump out immediately to some readers, and was it important for you to have articles which revealed this side to your readers?
KL: Well, I think it’s an important part of explaining the context for the Satanic Panic which some younger readers might not have a personal memory of, so yes, we felt we needed to have not only the intro but also chapters like the one about Russ Martin’s books that went into this side of things. My life as a kid was so, so different from kids now, at least current middle class kids – of course there are kids that are neglected and left to their own devices now too, but it is harshly criticized – but back then nobody looked at it as neglect. Everybody was just in a different headspace, it wasn’t until cases like that of Adam Walsh disappearing in the early 80s that society started to crack down on parents who didn’t keep an eye on their children at all times – and mothers were often the people culturally blamed for this, which is where the sexual revolution comes in – there was a backlash against women working and wanting independence because it was linked to the idea that kids were going missing, being abused and sometimes murdered. If women were content to be housewives and walk their kids to school every day, kids like Adam Walsh wouldn’t have gone missing and been killed. If women looked after their own kids instead of going to work, there wouldn’t be predatory daycare owners molesting kids. That was the underlying message.
How was the response been thus far to the book, and could you tell us a bit about what you’ll be working on in the near future?
KL: The response has been great, although of course the more widely it gets out there the more conscious I am of the real people whose lives were affected by this and how the book dredges up bad memories for them. I think it’s important to not be wooed by the spectacle of the whole thing and remember that real people on all sides of the issues suffered from very real trauma during this period. As for the future, we’re going a bit lighter in a way, but still somehow dealing with religion! The next book is called YULETIDE TERROR: CHRISTMAS HORROR ON FILM AND TELEVISION and it’s another anthology book with about twenty chapters by different authors and then a compendium of Xmas horror films at the back. It’s being edited as we speak. I also have two of my own books I’m trying to write but it’s slow going for various reasons
Kier-La Janisse is the author of both A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi and House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films, as well as a co-founder of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies. She has also served as a writer for Fangoria, Filmmaker and Rue Morgue magazines, a film programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas, and the founder for the film festivals CineMuerte and Big Smash! Music-on-Film, located in Vancouver, Canada.
Hey Will! Thanks for doing this with us! Before we get into your contributions to the Satanic Panic book, would you mind telling our readers who might be unfamiliar with you a little about what you do with Death Wound?
WD: Hi George! Death Wound is a magazine publishing project that is written, compiled and distributed by yours truly. Some people think it’s a bunch of people, but it’s just one weirdo prone to insomnia and bursts of creative output. Each issue of Death Wound examines a larger theme, using music, literature and film as a starting point. People say they especially dig the layout, so perhaps that’s worth noting.
In 2012, I did the first volume, which people loved. I interviewed some of my horror idols (Johnny Morghen [a.k.a. Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Brian Yuzna, and Tom Sullivan who masterminded lots of the special effects for The Evil Dead…).
After the first issue, I was hooked. I’ve talked to some great people, written some decent articles and hopefully helped people think about horror and music in ways they previously hadn’t. Four years have passed since the first issue and Death Wound has morphed into a monster I can no longer control.
Do you remember what drew you to cinema, and how old you were when movies and music became a huge part of your life? What sorts of films and albums really attracted you as a kid, and how would you say your taste grew and progressed as you got older?
WD: As a very little kid, I was a nervous wreck…death, monsters and the afterlife occupied about 50% of my thought on any given day. If you can’t tell from my style of layout, I tend to get hyper-focused! (laughs)
I was sure I had been bitten by vampires on several occasions and that the ghosts of dead people haunted the bottom of every swimming pool. These fears were not organic, but were informed by the covers of VHS films and horror novels. Around the age of eight or nine, I used to go to the video store, and just stand in the ‘horror movie’ section and just freak myself out. We’re talking episodes of heart racing, sweaty palms and dilated pupils, complete and utter fear. I’d look at the covers and make stories up about what each movie was about, imagining each monster and world contained within each box of plastic and tape, my feet cemented to the ground and the stale smell of old carpet in my nose. To this day, I wish I had written these stories down!
I was so obsessed with all things horror-related, that my dad would retell the plots of famous horror movies to me before bed, so I knew about all these movies without ever having seen them. I also used to watch Dark Shadows everyday with my mom for about a year when I was eight or so. The theme from Dark Shadows still sends a chill down my spine. So yes, horror was very much present in my house, but it was always the classics. I was lucky, huh?
Around the age of ten or eleven, I started watching horror movies rather than looking at the boxes. I don’t remember what I saw first…but I know the movie that got me into horror. It was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. After watching that, I felt disgusted but simultaneously thrilled, my excitement knowing no bounds! It was like mana from the heavens! I heard the buzz of that chainsaw for weeks in my dreams. Chainsaw was also like nothing I had ever seen. It looked so god damn gritty. At that moment, I was hooked.
Of course being young, I would watch anything. The Evil Dead completely changed my life as well…I learned how to laugh at the decay and gore of the human body. I think that we live in a very death-avoidant culture, and horror movies actually help us grapple with themes of mortality, humanity and suffering in a playful way. Faces of Death, fits into this category for me as well.
As I headed into my twenties, I pretty much stopped watching movies all together. This wasn’t a purposeful or conscious thing, I simply rediscovered my love for reading and spent all my free time reading books. I read a book by Julia Kristeva called Powers of Horror that is about psychoanalysis and horror, which caused me to re-watch all of my favorite horror films in a new light. I was working forty hours a week and doing school full time, and I kept my cool by re-watching a favorite horror film from my youth every single night for about a year. So literature and theory actually got me back into horror.
As a caveat, I have never much of a genre fan per-se…I’m just into visceral, intense and transgressive cinema. Of course, horror deals with these themes more than any other genre. One very fair criticism I’ve often gotten about Death Wound is I’m not really interested in movies past the early 1990s. Fair enough. I don’t have enough time on this earth to pretend that I care about some horror film that was created by Rob Zombie, you know? It just doesn’t move me!
It should be said that you write fiction as well as non-fiction with Death Wound. Did you write often as a kid, and how old were you when you began to hone that side of your personality?
WD: I wrote all the time as a kid, it was always just easy for me. I struggled with poor motor skills, ADHD, learning disability and a sense of deep alienation from my peers. Even as early as the age of eight, writing was the one thing I could do well and get praise for. It made me feel good, and I loved how the simplest switch of a word could completely change the cadence of a sentence. Hell, I used to straight up read the dictionary…
Additionally, my father is a very talented writer, but always used his propensity for the written word to teach writers of different levels and ages. His ability to give feedback on writing of course extended into his relationship with his own children. For instance, when I was in fourth grade they made us write 250 words a day for homework. I was livid, to a ten year old that’s like a novel! I remember going home, finishing my homework and my dad straight up ripping apart my writing like I was publishing the great American novel instead of some essay on space travel. At the time, it totally sucked. I would get infuriated and argumentative and he’d come back with, “Well, if you want to turn in something crappy, go ahead.”
That’s always stuck with me. Writing is about what you put in. There are very few people who are able to just sit down and write the perfect essay in one sitting, it’s a process, and to rely on inspiration is just setting yourself up for total failure. J.M. Coetzee talks about this, that writing is in fact, work! He goes to his desk and writes each day, regardless of how easy the words or ideas manifest.
Additionally, the lack of ‘seriousness’ for writing is even more present in the age of the internet. This is one of the issues I take with blogging and internet publishing (no offense George, your stuff is great!): one does not have to commit to the digital word and agonize over every word choice because of its impermanence. Typos, statements and whole essays can be removed with the click of a button, post-publishing. I value print, because it makes me work harder on my writing because I can never take back what I write from the public eye. Permanence levitates writing from the banal to the fantastic in my case, because there’s so much more at stake. If that is present in my writing, you can be the judge!
Are you surprised at the positive response Death Wound has had from film and music fans? What do you think Death Wound brings to the table that sets you apart from other zines?
WD: I am absolutely shocked that Death Wound has evolved to the level it has. That is not to say the response was out of the blue, as I do put a ton of work into it. I work full time, and then will go home and do five or six hours of Death Wound stuff when the time is available. But, the amount of excitement is still unbelievable! I’ve met some wonderful people through this project and really watched myself grow as a writer, which is perhaps the most valuable aspect of the whole project to me.
If there is one thing Death Wound brings to the table, I would say it is my love for more ‘intellectual’ ideas about subject matter which has always been low-brow. Last time I saw the mighty PUTRID, he grabbed me and explained to me that he loved Death Wound because “it’s smart ideas for people who mostly like stupid stuff”. He said it better than I ever could! (THANKS MATT!) I’ve also tried to write what I want to write about, not what I think will sell or move copies. I will only interview bands I actively listen to, and don’t blindly take submissions without the certainty that whatever is being presented fits into my larger vision for the project.
Secondly, I think a major part of its success is due to the fantastic illustrators I’ve worked with: Josh McAlear, Yuri Kahan, Mike Tommyrot, Coco Roy, E.O.H.….with their artwork , I could probably just reprint old TV guide episodes inside and nobody would even notice. Please give them all your money for illustrations!!!!
Additionally, I have found that ritual magic, particularly sigil magic, has been beneficial in pushing the project successfully forward. Many people will laugh at this idea, but sigils are (in my experience!) are an organizational tool to focus ones will into a personalized system of signification. I highly recommended reading Austin Osman Spare if you are skeptical. This isn’t some pseudo-occultist-Tumblr-crystal garbage…it’s a psychological tool that blends elements of meditation, positive visualization and narrative-based psychodrama to allow one to literally channel their desire into reality.
Was Kier-La Janisse already familiar with Death Wound prior to your involvement with Satanic Panic? How did you become involved with the project?
WD: Kier-La had not heard of Death Wound (as far as I know!), but rather a mutual friend of ours suggested I send a submission in and Kier-La accepted. She gave me valuable insight and was very transparent in how she ran things. I am very grateful that she gave me the opportunity to be part of the project, especially since I only existed in the ‘zine’ world until then.
You’ve written an article about the 1980s VHS boom, specifically many Christian evangelical tapes from the day, which attacked things like rock music and movies as “satanic” influences upon children. Did you know right away what you wanted to cover when it came to your article for Satanic Panic?
WD: It’s strange; I don’t think I wanted to write about VHS films right away, but instantly found my point of analysis: Evangelical communities have always been insular groups which have relied upon intra-group communication and shunned (in the case of the Satanic panic) contemporary media. However, Evangelical groups have always been rather media-savvy, so there’s sort of conflicting dynamic where television in film is seen as a both a tool for evangelizing, but only done with a certain level of moral and religious purity.
Home media radically changed how Evangelical and Christian/family groups were able to propagate and also disseminate information, as one no longer had to go to a movie theater or attend a church screening to view films and documentaries. Most importantly, home media removes the social experience of cinema and replaces it with the solitary viewer and the screen. Can you imagine if you showed most of the Satanic scare films to a group of high school kids in some 1980s classroom? They’d laugh their asses off! Essentially, the relationship with media always changes based upon the context of who and where somebody is watching. After I realized that, the piece came together very quickly.
Did you have to do a lot of research for this article? The tape with which I was most familiar was Rock-It’s Your Decision, which-in my opinion-is truly dangerous propaganda, never mind any perceived “satanic” threat. Were you already well versed in the movies you covered for the article, and were you surprised by anything during your research?
WD: I spent most of my research reading a few books on the history of the Evangelical movement’s relationship with media. It was a bit dry, but really wove together my argument of home media as a the gasoline on the pyre of another witch hunt.
I had seen a good number of the satanic-scare documentaries and watched several that I didn’t include in that article. Kier-La also suggested a treasure trove of films that I only skimmed the surface of. I had seen a lot of these flicks out of my interest in metal, but hadn’t watched most in their entirety. When you sit down and realize that people actually believed this, it’s a very uncomfortable feeling.
And yes, you’re right, this was very dangerous propaganda, that ruined the lives of countless people! The whole panic was this sort of an echo chamber, where the most absurd and irrational fears assumed their own reality.
It’s ironic, that as much as the American Evangelical-right has complains today about ‘moral relativism’ and ‘cultural Marxism’, the entire worldview of many of these groups is objectively based in non-facts and this dangerous privileging of personal opinion and Biblical scripture over historical truth. The “Satanists are sacrificing children” has now been replaced with “Muslims are terrorists” and “Mexicans are taking my job”. Social media has only added to this absolute madness, where the most absurd opinions are given clout. Witch hunts are nothing new to the American experience, but in the age of global communication they have taken on a barbaric scale that the priests and inquisitors of old could only dream of.
You’ve recently released a collection of non-fiction titled Morbid Tales, to go alongside your contributions to Satanic Panic. Could you tell us a bit more about this tome?
Morbid Tales is Death Wound’s first fiction anthology, and already on its second printing. I took submissions from a variety of people, handpicking only stories which resonated with me in some way. I’m really happy with how the anthology turned out and will soon be accepting submissions for a second volume. It’s got something for everybody…some Lovecraftian scorchers, tales of gore and some more post-modern fiction for those of you who like to drink your coffee black while rocking a beret. I’ll send you a copy for review when the reprint arrives in a few weeks!
What else do you have planned, man? Please fill us in on anything you wish to add, and thanks again for speak with us! Cheers!
My main goal for the future is to not die and communicate with the spectral plane. As of this interview, I am not dead, but the spirits have not yet answered. Time will tell if I am successful with the latter.
Aside from that, I have a ton of project related items in the works. A conspiracy issue is slated for release in early October, and I hope to do a Halloween issue this year. Morbid Tales is getting a reprint, and I’m putting out an LP from Boston’s ‘Missionary Work’ that can best be described as standing in the rain in Rome in 1976, with leather gloves and cold steel in hand. I am releasing Coco Roy’s Don’t Drink the Devil’s Blood on VHS and DVD…and working on a book on the history of Seraphic Decay records.
Take care George, and don’t fear the reaper.
Will publishes the cult fanzine known as Death Wound, which has covered the worlds of heavy metal, horror, punk rock and the bizarre, to critical acclaim throughout the underground. He is also the publisher of Morbid Tales: An Anthology of Weird Fiction, consisting of horrific short stories and fiction from a wide array of independent artists and writers.