By Judy Garrison

I’ll start by stating outright that we are not talking here about Psycho type horror movies. Those I have no interest in. It is documentaries on cults and other similar secret societies that mess with peoples’ minds and lives that define “horror” for me. At the same time I find them fascinating. If  Winter life in Andes is not providing enough stimulation, perhaps the following suggestions will get you energized with some righteous indignation. At the least you’ll be privy to some of the extremes of mind and behavior control going on in our world, as well as the horrors let loose when confrontations between opposing forces are unleashed.

  The Family (Netflix 2019) was executive produced by Jeff Sharlet, whose books are: C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy and The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. We are introduced to Douglas Coe, the leader of The Family. This group, also known as The Fellowship, is an enigmatic conservative Christian cluster of men. Coe never sought fame and always professed a desire for maintaining a low profile for himself and his followers. These followers, including many members of Congress, some who share lodgings on C Street, adhere to Calvinist doctrines. The group offers individuals non-judgmental assistance as leaders and brothers, seemingly regardless of their bad actions. The series offers a good mix of reenactments, real interviews and past footage to bring alive the group’s activities. I was stunned by the power and reach of the members, including internationally. By mouthing the word “Jesus,” these politically affiliated men who swear they are meeting heads of state only as individuals, maneuver to extra-legally acquire access for their long-term projects. The prominence of the National Prayer Breakfast (usually held on the first Thursday in February) which was founded in 1953 by Abraham Vereide, a mentor to Douglas Coe, is testament to how far the religious-oriented group has permeated government. My takeaway: Nowhere do I see respect for the usual Christian virtues of aid to the poor and downtrodden as part of their mission. It’s a grift for influence and power.

  Opus Dei: The Influential Ultra-Conservative Sect (2002) on YouTube vs. Opus Dei: Decoding God’s Work (2006) on Prime

The latter is an apologia for the group which they deny tried to amass power and influence at the Vatican. They also deny that Opus Dei is anything like the group portrayed in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code.

Britannica defines Opus Dei (literally Work of God) as a Roman Catholic lay and clerical organization whose members seek personal Christian perfection and strive to implement Christian ideals and values in their occupations and in the broader society. Theologically conservative, it has been accused of secrecy, cultlike practices and political ambition. It was founded in Spain in 1928 by Josemaria Escrivia, a priest, later canonized, who trained in law and designed separate branches for men and women. Members commonly practice self-sacrifice, like fasting and abstinence from certain pleasures; and self-mortification, such as the wearing of the cilice, which often takes the form of a spiked chain worn around the upper thigh. After watching the 2 documentaries with their opposing points of view you can decide for yourself which you consider the virtues and which the vices of this little talked about group.

  Wild Wild Country (Netflix2018)

This mesmerizing docuseries plays out the tension between Oregonians in the tiny town of Antelope and members of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s autonomous utopian community who, starting in the late 1970s, settle into the region. The Rajneesh, later known as Osho, bought a 65,000-acre ranch adjoining this town and moved his spiritual community from India where it was under investigation. The achievement of the ashram city they built in a very short time is mind-boggling. My “loyalties” shimmied back and forth as new information was divulged, until I was duly horrified with everyone’s behavior.  Ma Anand Sheela, an Indian-Swiss woman (born in Gujarat, a graduate of Montclair State University in N. J.) who began following the Rajneesh at 16 and became his spokesperson/secretary, is one of the many narrators and interviewees shown from past footage as well as current-day video. She was without a doubt a charismatic presence. But was she a monster when opposed? Ignore the wind blowing through the Catskills and submerge yourself in this weird entertainment.

  Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath – Netflix

Leah, who was brought up in the religion and later gained leadership roles, testifies as an apostate about the religion and her experiences. She gives vivid and distressing examples of how members continually harassed and stalked her and her family members. The series includes “The Life and Lies of L. Ron Hubbard,” accounts of what it is like under the leadership of David Miscavige, an interview with mental health and cult expert, Steve Hassan. There are many stories from former members about what they were subjected to. Leah sits down as well with journalists who have been hounded by the church for their reporting. This is more inside the Scientology movement than I have ever gotten before. And I found it horrific.

Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey – Netflix

This documentary miniseries is one of many series that demonstrate some of the extreme authoritarian, misogynistic practices afoot in some Mormon groups. The focus of this one is the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, particularly highlighting the behavior of its leader, Warren S. Jeffs and that of his father, Rulon Jeffs, the preceding president. We witness his arrangement of child marriages, the enforcement of a strict dress and behavior code for women, and what befalls young people who attempt to choose their own partners. Later episodes cover Jeffs’ construction of a massive temple on a Texas ranch, his expelling of prominent men, and the expansion of surveillance into every aspect of his congregants’ lives. No further spoilers.

So, folks, we can be both horrified and riveted by real life movements that control their members, are intransigent in their self-righteousness, and extremely bad for the social politic. Enjoy!~