The Black Museum: Echoes From The Sleep Room

Published on November 26th, 2012 in: Canadian Content, Horror, Movies, Reviews, Upcoming Events |

By Less Lee Moore

At long last, I finally attended one of The Black Museum‘s “lurid lectures for the morbidly curious.” (Go here to read my Q&A with the curators.) It was Thursday, November 22 and the topic was “Echoes From The Sleep Room,” an examination of the history of medical experimentation in horror cinema. The presentation was wonderful; my only complaint was that I was unable to attend the previous four lectures!

When you hear the word “lecture” you probably think of a classroom setting and you may even suspect you’re in for a boring, academic evening. This was not the case. Black Museum co-curator and lecturer Paul Corupe hosted this event, which took place at the Projection Booth East in Toronto. The cinematic location did remind me of my film studies classes from back in the day, but since then, technology has progressed quite a bit, so it was markedly more interactive.

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Corupe began with an outline of the history of medical experimentation, beginning with the Nuremberg trials (which were addressed in the 1961 film, Judgment at Nuremberg) and then focusing on two particular incidents in Canadian history: the Duplessis Orphans and MK-Ultra. As an American, I had never heard of either of these ugly chapters in history and was shocked and disturbed. Corupe presented clips from a 1979 TV special which outlined the background and nasty legacy of the MK-Ultra experiments as well as a TV movie that dramatized the events.

One thing we definitely didn’t have when I was in film school was a nifty electronic map that one can travel through to visit various points in the lecture. Each signpost included bullet point lists, photos, and frequently, embedded video clips to illustrate and expand upon the concepts that Corupe was explaining. Even if the content had not been as terrific as it was, the presentation style of the lecture was definitely impressive.

Then the audience was taken through various cinematic examples of the “mad doctor” and medical experiments in mainstream Hollywood (i.e., American) and Canadian film history. Corupe showed clips from respectable fare as well as no budget schlock like Science Crazed and Things. This is something that definitely didn’t happen in most of my film classes, with the exception of Contance Penley’s Science Fiction Cinema class.

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Corupe successfully argued the case that Canadian films dealing with such subject matter had a much more organic relationship to historical events as well as dealing specifically with the human cost of these illegal, unethical instances of medical experimentation.

It would be a shame if the only audience members at The Black Museum’s lecture series were those who still wish they were taking university classes, because I think even a non-scholarly-minded horror fan would enjoy and benefit tremendously from attending. The best part? No tests! There was no homework assigned either, but any horror film fan worth a damn will be checking out the recommended reading and viewing that Corupe suggested.

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Unfortunately, the series is done, but here’s hoping that there will be another one in the near future. If you’re curious, and you live in the Toronto area, come to the Last Call Of Cthulhu Official Closing Party on Friday, November 30 and have a chat with either Paul Corupe or his co-curator Andrea Subissati to find out what they have planned next.

2 Responses to “The Black Museum: Echoes From The Sleep Room”

  1. Rev. Syung Myung Me:
    November 26th, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    It’s funny, because I knew about MKUltra, but didn’t realize there was a Canadian component to it. …at least the CIA knows to share…. Sure, it shares _horror_, but isn’t it the thought that counts?

  2. Popshifter:
    November 26th, 2012 at 7:55 pm



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