The occult on screen

Course Dates: 23/04/24 - 28/05/24
Time: 18:00 - 20:00
Location: Keeley Street
Surprisingly, not every film that features the occult is a horror film. Certainly, many of them are; we will consider classics such as Haxan from 1922, Rosemary’s Baby, The Craft, Angel Heart, The Witch and Hereditary. Other films, such as Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising and A Dark Song, attempt to treat the occult seriously as secret or hidden knowledge. We'll examine the cultural backdrop of occult films and questions of representation, gender relations, and spirituality.
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Full fee £149.00 Senior fee £149.00 Concession £97.00

The occult on screen
  • Course Code: HF355
  • Dates: 23/04/24 - 28/05/24
  • Time: 18:00 - 20:00
  • Taught: Tue, Evening
  • Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)
  • Location: Keeley Street
  • Tutor: Gillian McIver

Course Code: HF355

Tue, eve, 23 Apr - 28 May '24

Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Centre for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

This online film studies course examines the occult throughout cinema history, as well as modern television shows such as American Horror Story's Coven and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The term occult refers to a wide range of supernatural beliefs and practises, including magic, alchemy, astrology, divination, spiritualism, and witchcraft. It is also used to describe supernatural powers and energy that are supposed to exist beyond of the physical sphere. We shall concentrate on Western (European and North American) movies, beginning with the 1922 Danish silent film Haxan, a fictionalised documentary on witchcraft. The course will mostly examine portrayals of occult practices, therefore we will see Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Craft (1996), Angel Heart (1987), The Witch (2015), Colour Out of Space (2019), and Hereditary (2018).

Not all portrayals of occult practice, however, are horror flicks. As a result, the course will also examine films by Kenneth Anger that seek to explain and understand the occult, such as The Holy Mountain, A Dark Song, Invocation of My Demon Brother, and Lucifer Rising. Finally, we'll look at The Love Witch, a rare example of a film that mixes humour, feminism, and the occult.

What will we cover?

• How the occult fits (or doesn’t fit) into genres (e.g. fantasy, horror or surrealism)
• Early cinematic depictions of the occult
• Avant-garde and the occult onscreen
• Key directors and films
• The occult in Art cinema, popular cinema and recent TV
• Critical accounts of key films.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Describe and evaluate ways the occult is depicted in Western cinema and recent television
• Describe and evaluate the occult within the horror genre
• Describe and evaluate the key films and film-makers working with occult themes
• Understand and discuss the cultural context of the occult on screen
• Evaluate occult cinema within a critical framework.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

The course is suitable for all levels and you do not require any particular skills - just an enthusiasm for film and discussing film. The course will provide an introduction to the subject but will also be useful for those wishing to build on existing knowledge in the subject area.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

Screenings of extracts from films, talks by the tutor, reading materials, small and large group discussions. It might also be a good idea to see what you can find out about the subject in advance of the class but this is not essential.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

The tutor will provide worksheets for the course and advise on further reading and viewing.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Look for other Film Studies courses under History Culture and Writing/Film Studies at

Gillian McIver

Gillian McIver has an MA in History and a PhD in Art History and Cinema Studies. She has made films and curated many exhibitions in London and abroad. She is the author of the first comprehensive study of the film-art relationship, Art History For Film Makers, Bloomsbury 2016. Her other books include Art and the Historical Film (2022) and Tarkovsky’s River (2012).

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.