horror academic

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Book Review: Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity

Published September 19, 2016 by rmpixie

Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity McFarland & Company Inc., 2016

 Films of the New French Extremity:  Visceral Horror and National Identity by Alexandra West ( McFarland & Company Inc., 2016)

Scholars and journalists Alexandra West and Andrea Subissati, hosts of the Faculty of Horror podcast, focus on in-depth analysis of the horror genre with a feminist approach that would sway the staunchest naysayer.  With their knowledge and background, it’s no surprise that West has recently written a book entitled Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity and after getting to meet the author herself, I had to buy a copy. Once I flipped past the first page I was hooked.

Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity came from a lecture West presented in 2014 for The Black Museum, a series put on by Subissati and Toronto-based writer and editor Paul Corupe where seasoned speakers and professionals in the horror genre present on various topics “from film theory to genre studies”.  It was here that her academic but extremely accessible book was born, and West successfully tracks the transition “from art-house films to full-fledged horror films” that came out of France from the early 90’s to the mid 2000’s.

The genre of New French Extremity is something that for a long time only a few could stomach or relate to. It is brutal, bloody and in your face, but West eases the reader in by giving you a solid base of French history and politics, along with the violence it spawned, in order to help you understand the environment these directors were coming from and the genesis of their films. In essence, French society tended to put a shiny veneer over the ills and wrongs of their actions, turning a blind eye to it all. These films attempt to peel back the shiny exterior of a country celebrated for its culture to show the societal warts that got bigger over centuries. While some of the filmmakers may have different approaches to their subject matter, be it murderous country folk, abused women, self-destructive characters or relentless serial killers, West brings them together to map their contributions to pushing societal, sexual and political boundaries, showing how their films soon became cinematic earmarks as well as social commentaries in the history of horror cinema and what is now considered a critical part of the genre.

Most horror critics and writers like myself have seen many of the films West writes about. I saw them because they were a) French and b) horror or taboo; things I love unconditionally, with Martyrs and High Tension sitting in prime positions on my shelves. They were terrifying films yet I was drawn to them. I couldn’t make connections other than they were all French and showed a darker side to the country I romanticized so much; dots on the same page without the lines to connect them. West is able to create threads of similarities with such coherence and logic, that any French extreme enthusiast feels a sense of almost relief as her analysis pinpoints characters, motivations and plotlines to make sense of the chaos you witness on-screen. All the chapters are riveting, but for those of you who search for some meaning from Martyrs as much as I have, West’s dissection and interpretation of the film comes very near to perfection.

Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity will resonate with those who love French Extreme cinema and those who have visited (and fallen in love with) France like myself; becoming lured by the romantic façade of an aloof yet beautiful country, only to scratch the surface revealing the grimy reality underneath.  Steeped in the history and culture of France, West’s book makes these admittedly horrifying films accessible and convey an understanding much like one would study a terrifying beast for meaning. It is truly a must read for any and all horror fans and academics out there looking for a comprehensive guide to the beginnings of French Extreme cinema.

This Wednesday September 21st, The Black Museum will hold a book launch for Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity in Toronto where West will do a reading. Check out the details here. Come out to support great Canadian talent!

 

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Women In Horror 2015: An Interview with Ashlee Blackwell, Our Graveyard Shift Sister

Published February 12, 2015 by rmpixie

WiHMlogoS-Color

When I first started this blog, I did it because I loved horror and had something to say about it.  That was my first intention, just to write about what I loved, but I always wondered if there was anyone else like me out there, a Black woman who had been immersed in horror from an early age. I would soon learn that I was not alone.

I still have the email my best friend sent me in 2013, asking me if I had heard of a blog called Graveyard Shift Sisters.  When I looked it up I was floored!  Another Black woman thoroughly obsessed with horror?  Can it be?  I sent the creator and founder of the site, Ashlee Blackwell, a quick message telling her how happy I was to find the site, whose apt tagline is “Purging The Black Female Horror Fan From The Margins”, and that started my fan girl following of a blog that has truly strengthened and transformed the way I see horror and women of color.

Based in Philadelphia, Blackwell has had a passion for horror from a young age, incorporating that love into her professional life with a thesis focused on women filmmakers and feminism in horror that earned her a M.A. in Media and Cultural Studies.  She is a writer, an “avid media consumer”, and has been a panelist and speaker at several conferences on women in horror such as Geek Girl Con 2014 and the Southwest/Texas Popular Culture and American Culture Association Conference.  For this double whammy Black History Month and Women in Horror Month, I wanted to get some of her insights on women of color in horror, and I was lucky enough to have this busy horror academic and brand new editor of Ax Wound Zine answer a few questions.

 

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The lovely Ashlee Blackwell!

 

1.  What is your first memory of horror?

I remember watching Beetlejuice for the first time on VHS in my apartment living room on N. 39th street in West Philadelphia. Maybe it was a trailer, I don’t entirely remember fine details but I do remember standing in the middle of the living room mesmerized by the images on one of those huge wooden-paneled televisions that was all the rage back in the 80s. First thing I remember thinking was that I was “weird” which, sounds sad I suppose, but I guess more accurately, ‘”different”[…]because it was already programmed in my brain that girls aren’t supposed to like “stuff like this” so much. I think I was about five then.

But I loved all the talk of ghosts, this pale chick wearing all black, sandworms, and the wildly inappropriate Michael Keaton title character. From there I just kept my eye out for any fringe TV or cinema that dealt with these themes. I didn’t have a way to express my love for a genre I wasn’t quite sure how to label back then, I just knew I loved the fantastic.

 

2.  What were your expectations for the Graveyard Shift Sisters site, and how have you seen it grow?

Graveyard Shift Sisters started with a question: Am I the only Black female horror fan? Answering myself, I said that this question is ridiculous, so let me start this blog as a clarion call and also tell people I’m sick of feeling invisible in this genre, and do a thoughtful job of showcasing all of the Black women who have appeared in horror films over time.

I let my creative expand from there, giving other women the opportunity to have their say. Everything you see on the blog now was not planned or intended, it just happened. If anything, it’s been an exercise in really challenging my imagination to produce ways of serving online content that’s fairly unique. I think and hope I’ve been successful at doing so.

 

3.  You approach discussions about horror in an accessible but highly academic manner, which I love, and present a place where you showcase other women who do the same.  Why is that important, especially with the specific subject matter of women of color in horror?

Horror in general struggles for respect in academia. You won’t (or can) believe how many prefaces or introductions I read in books about horror where the author and/or editor laments about reactions of their critical work. How many have had to stop looking for “approval” and really believe that the work they’re doing matters.

Women of color are an important subject matter to discuss in horror simply because they’re a part of the genre. They’ve played the roles of voodoo conjurers and maids all the way up to a heroine here and there with a plethora of authors, bloggers, etc. in between. And it’s taking quite a bit of work to do the digging to prove that Black women have a rich history here.

I have a grad degree in the humanities so I’ve been trained through-the-mud to do this kind of work, and come from a university where it’s emphasized to ‘stay grounded’ in a sense, when it comes to our work. I don’t “try” I just “do”, so it makes me thankful that particular lesson translated well so that readers of the blog didn’t feel isolated but affirmed and enlightened.

 

4.  You are now the Editor for Ax Wound Zine, so congratulations!  What do you hope to bring to the table?

We’re still in the phases of giving it order. Since Hannah Neurotica, its founder and genius, decided to embark upon its revamp as a blog, she is also looking towards a future for the zine to gain its stride again as physical media. There’s a lot of planning that needs to happen and I’m just lucky we work so well together.

Ultimately, I’m looking forward to shining a light on fresh and well-established voices from both the arts and academic communities who have invested an immense amount of effort into the horror genre and feminism, both men and women. The discourse on the two has only magnified since, for example, Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film and Feminist Film Theory have been published.

Additionally, I want this demographic to be as culturally and ethnically diverse as possible. With artists and academics of color, they tend to bring forth concepts of intersectionality in their texts and as horror moves forward; this is a terrain that has not been well trekked and feels to me like an evolution where we look at how horror looks at matters of race and culture in the 21st century, more importantly from creators of color.

 

 5.  This may be difficult, but if you could narrow it down, what are your top 5 favorite horror movies?

I never in good confidence can answer this question without feeling like I’m betraying the other 1000 horror films that fall into a “favorite” category. There are particular films I love for very specific reasons. It’s difficult because it’s impossible for someone like me who is a self- confessed neurotic about horror. It’s my favorite film genre because it’s the only one where I have much more open mind and willing to watch anything under the moniker. Anything. That’s probably scary in and of itself.

 

Although Blackwell works tirelessly to have the horror genre seen in a more serious, academic way, she is always up for some fun!  Honouring the nostalgic feeling of watching a late-night horror film, she started #FridayNightHorror, a way to connect with other horror movie fans and share a discourse via Twitter and the ever popular hashtag.  Followers comment in real time, like they are at one giant sleepover, while watching some favourite classic titles like Lamberto Brava’s Demons.  It’s a great way of building community, and you can read about its genesis here.  Be sure to join in this Friday February 13th for a live tweet of none other than Friday the 13th Part 1 at 10 p.m. E.S.T.

A big thank you to Ashlee for her efforts to bring horror fans and women of color enlightenment and a place to flourish, and for her time!  Be sure to check out her site:

 

http://www.graveyardshiftsisters.com

 

and follow all the action on Twitter:

 

https://twitter.com/GraveyardSister

https://twitter.com/AxWoundZine

 

 

 

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