If you’ve been enjoying Netflix’s fascinating documentary series Wild Wild Country, and the Rajneesh cult’s rise and fall, you might be in the market for the demented yet unquestionably entertaining Fear is the Master, which I first picked up on VHS in the mid-1980s. From fundamentalist Christian film producers Jeremiah Films, this 1983 documentary – which, unlike other Jeremiah productions, was actually pitched to international distributors on the basis of its sensational theme – is almost entirely about Rajneesh, but also manages to throw in the then-recent Jim Jones mass suicide into the mix in a spurious attempt to connect the two (Jonestown was a breakaway Christian cult with no connection to the Rajneesh group, but let’s not split hairs). Clutching further at straws, the film also compares Rajneesh to Adolph (sic) Hitler, which – no matter what you think of the ‘disco sex guru’ – seems a bit of a leap.
As the Jeremiah Films website states, the film exposes the “eerie charisma with scientific mind control techniques were used by Osho in Oregon to control an entire city through Hinduism.” Hinduism? Of well, he was an Indian, so I guess that’s code enough for the sort of people who even believe Catholics to be the spawn of Satan.
Some viewers might also raise an eyebrow as the film criticises Rajneesh for setting up his organisation as tax-exempt and his taste for luxury – something that the evangelical church and its leaders have never done, obviously. The other claims here are a mix of fact, assumption and nonsense that assumes that any religion that isn’t Christianity must at best be bogus, and at worst a threat to civilisation. In truth, you could make the same claims that are made about Rajneesh against any mainstream religious movement, all of which have their frauds, their fanatics, their exploiters and their abusers.
Anyway, Fear is the Master is sensational, lip-smacking stuff – possibly having its cake and eating it, as it leers over the more lurid elements of the Rajneesh lifestyle. This four-part version is the best quality copy that we have found.