If you were at FanExpo Canada on Saturday, August 25 this year, you were lucky. Lucky to be alive because the Saturday of the now four-day event is by far the busiest, the most crowded, and the most likely to cause severe claustrophobia, and/or exhaustion.
Besides that, however, Saturday featured the introduction of The Black Museum, a “limited engagement of horror lectures and screenings” in Toronto. The series is named after the collection of criminal memorabilia that Scotland Yard kept at their headquarters in London, England, beginning at the end of the 19th Century.
Although I was unable to attend The Black Museum panels at FanExpo, I did recently get the chance to chat with the two curators, Andrea “Lady Hellbat” Subissati and Paul Corupe to find out more about their macabre multimedia endeavor.
What made you decide to create The Black Museum?
Paul: For me, there’s a few different reasons. Last November, I was invited to Montreal to do a seminar for the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies, an ongoing series of classes about genre films run by my friend Kier-La Janisse out of her (new defunct) Blue Sunshine micro-theatre. Being primarily a writer I found it a challenge to create the presentation, but it was also more fun than I thought it would be, and the audience really seemed positive about how it all went. In discussing the event with Kier-La, we both realized that Toronto had a distinct, horror-literate audience, and that this would also be a great place for a fun, smart genre event. The idea was kicking around in the back of my head all last winter until I heard from a mutual friend that Andrea, whom I had never met, was developing a similar concept. Obviously, the thing to do was to join forces, so we got together and spent a few weeks fine-tuning this idea into something we thought Torontonians would want to see.
Andrea: There’s a purely selfish reason as well: As genre nerds ourselves, Paul and I programmed the kind of sessions we would want to see. I’ve crossed paths with the likes of Vincenzo Natali and Steve Kostanski at conventions and stuff but The Black Museum format really gives them the opportunity to go deeper than they can at a convention panel or a typical Q&A. We knew we would be into something like that, and we have ample evidence of others in Toronto who are, too, so we’re going for it.
Give us a quick overview of what a lecture will be like.
Paul: Every lecture is uniquely designed by that evening’s instructor, but the focus is on multimedia, audience participation, and a light-hearted approach to serious subjects. Generally each lecture will be about 2-3 hours long, and are intended to be as interactive as possible; this is one museum where we encourage people to tear down the velvet ropes and get fingerprints all over the glass cases. Some lectures will include films, such as Stuart “Feedback” Andrews‘s presentation on White Zombie that will feature a 16mm screening of the film; others will be more personal, such as Vincenzo Natali’s discussion of architecture in horror that will touch on some of his own films. My own lecture on Canadian horror films features a full contextual discussion of medical atrocities that happened in Montreal and dozens of clips from locally shot films that people may not even know of, like Dr. Frankenstein On Campus and Psycho Girls to help illustrate how films tap into lingering anxiety over real-life tragedies.
Andrea: We’ve put a lot of emphasis on the entertaining aspect of the lectures and keeping the content as accessible to everyone as possible. Interactivity is also a big focus, which is why the Projection Booth East is the perfect venue for our first semester. It’s a cozy and intimate setting and we’re hoping to foster an environment where guests feel like they’re part of the course.
Who is the audience for The Black Museum?
Paul: Really, anybody whose ever enjoyed a horror film and maybe wondered why they’re still thinking about it a few days later. Of course our lectures should appeal to adventurous filmgoers that attend events like TIFF’s Midnight Madness program, Rue Morgue’s Cinemacabre nights or the Toronto After Dark festival, but we also hope to see those who’ve seen maybe only three horror films rather than 3,000 come out. Our instructors will be throwing a spotlight on lesser known subgenres and titles, so our hope is that people will walk straight out the door into the nearest video store to stock up on DVDs of the wide variety of films they’ve been hearing about.
Andrea: Horror is a vast genre and in developing our curriculum, Paul and I have tried to program courses that appeal to fans all along the spectrum, from the gore fiends to those who prefer the subtler, psychological scares. A lot of what we’ll talk about can be applied to many movies, so I think our courses will appeal to anyone interested in critical appreciation of film.
What do you hope people get out of these lectures?
Paul: Aside from a huge list of recommend viewings, we hope people will leave the theatre with a deeper appreciation of all the dark and hidden corners of the genre, and just how much thought goes into creating such films. Whether its 1980s shot-on-video VHS oddities, Bollywood knock-offs, Indonesian black magic thrillers, 1970s bigfoot movies, or grindhouse-era rape-revenge films, there’s just so much to explore within horror cinema—sometimes fearsome, sometimes funny, and sometimes just plain ol’ fucked up. But bringing a discussion of real-world context to these films can help us understand the time and social conditions that they sprung up from in a way that you can’t get from simply stumbling on some weird movie on late night TV or a bizarre trailer on YouTube. In addition, we’ve really tried to get knowledgeable guests that are directly involved in the horror industry, and we hope people will interact with our presenters as fellow fans of the genre rather than as creators; it’s not gong to be like listening to a Q&A at a screening or reading a promotional interview in a magazine.
Andrea: First and foremost, we hope our guests have fun! The Black Museum evenings offer something unique to do in Toronto, and it’s a great alternative to say, bowling or staying home and watching Glee. Come alone or bring a date! You’ll have plenty to talk about afterwards.
The Toronto horror fan community is thriving and always changing. Why do you think this is the case?
Paul: As genre film fans, we’re extremely lucky to live in Toronto; TO has become the major hub of horror film culture over the last decade. Rue Morgue and Fangoria magazines are both based here now, we’ve got perhaps the most prestigious genre festival in North America—TIFF’s Midnight Madness program—plus an army of dedicated programmers and rep theatres showing a wide variety of horror movies weekly. And we’re even home to the world’s first zombie walk. (The next Toronto Zombie Walk is on October 20.—Ed.)Toronto just loves horror movies, and there are always all kinds of events and screenings going on that put our city on the cutting edge of the community. We hope that The Black Museum will join these other established horror institutions to help elevate the critical appreciation of genre films.
Andrea: And don’t forget Toronto After Dark, which has grown from four nights of movies to seven in a very short period of time. festival (Toronto After Dark runs from October 18 – 26 this year.—Ed.) There is ample evidence to support the notion of a thriving horror scene in Toronto and The Black Museum is offering something new and different. We hope Toronto digs it!
If you’d like to know more about The Black Museum, please check out the series website. If you live in the Toronto area, you are in luck! They are selling Membership Packs from now until Monday, September 24. These include tickets to all five lectures—plus lots of goodies—for just $50. After Monday, individual lectures will cost $15 at the door or $12 in advance.