The Horrors of New French Extremism

Making sense of the most extreme and disturbing horror genre in film.

  • The Royal Cinema (608 College Street)
  • Wednesday, March 12
  • 9 p.m.–11 p.m.
  • $12 advance, $15 door

On Wednesday, the Black Museum‘s lecture series returns with possibly its darkest and most intense subject yet: the horror genre known as New French Extremism. Dedicated to providing “lurid lectures for the morbidly curious,” the curators of the Black Museum are certainly not uncomfortable when it comes to confronting and dissecting the darker recesses of the human imagination, but this particular lecture, entitled “Quelle Horreur! The Films of the New French Extremity,” may be their most intense offering to date.

While many consider the American film genre colloquially known as torture porn (perhaps best embodied in the popular imagination by the Saw franchise and the oeuvre of Eli Roth) to be the most boundary-pushing incarnation of horror to date, New French Extremism (also called New French Extremity) is far more disturbing. The term was coined by Artforum critic James Quandt and was originally intended as an insult, but the genre has embraced the label. The films of New French Extremism focus on bleak narratives and the delirious excesses of body horror—the movement has, in fact, cited Toronto’s own David Cronenberg as an important influence.

The lecture will be given by freelance horror journalist and playwright Alexandra West—known for her work in Rue Morgue, Toronto Star, and Diabolique and for the Faculty of Horror podcast she hosts with Andrea Subissati. She’ll be examining the genre through films including Irreversible, High Tension, and Martyrs, and tracing its influences from the Grand Guignol and the Theatre of Cruelty to the turbulent political landscape of contemporary France. While horror in general, and films as intense as those found in the canon of New French Extremism in particular, are often dismissed for their grotesqueries and shocking content, West is known for her challenging and complex interpretations of even the most troubling material, and her take on the film genre should be fascinating.

A full list of future Black Museum lectures can be found here.

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