Winter. Horror. Theatre. Seems like a natural triad, right? So natural, that it’s a bit of a surprise to discover that the Festival de la Bête Noire, Montreal’s theatre festival dedicated to horror, is brand new. Fortunately it arrives not a cold, dark night too soon this February thanks to the hard, DIY ethic of Jimmy Phule and Mylène Chicoine.
Phule tells me how the idea for the festival grew out of this past year’s Fringe Festival. “Mylène and I are big fans of horror and we were both at the Fringe Festival this past year. Two shows were horror or suspense themed. We hadn’t seen anything in that genre for awhile, and we wondered how do we get to see more horror theatre. The entire festival is borne out of a desire to see more horror.”
Phule and Chicoine immediately started their project after realizing that everyone’s face lit up at the mere mention of a horror theatre festival. In total, they found 10 companies who are putting on 16 shows. Among those participating are the House of Laureen with Blood Ritual, Possiblement Theatre with Une Soirée Avec Seul, New Noise Productions with Bloodbath Peak, Monica Hamburg with Pornomedy, and Riot with Therapia.
“We even have a guy coming from Edmonton,” says Phule, who notes the companies largely come from Montreal, but are diverse. “People are doing everything from clown to straight theatre to different kinds of lyrical poems There’s a musical submission. There’s a 15 minute show called 15 Deaths in 15 Minutes. They bill it as someone will die every minute. There are both French and English shows.”
Phule explains what makes horror theatre, well, horror theatre. “In my mind, there is an emphasis on extremes. I was watching the Birds with a friend, and only three people die. The premise is scary. There is a sense of danger and the consequences of that danger. That’s something horror theatre has uniquely over thriller-type stuff. You see the consequences of the horror. They don’t cut away when the psycho walks into the room with the knife. You see everything.”
Phule also talks about why horror has such appeal. “In the tradition of the Grand Guignol, before horror movies, that is what people did. There would be these horrific murders played out on stage with lots of gore, lots of effects. People would have one of two reactions. They would faint or they would jump and then laugh. Watching something terrible happen to someone else — people love that. There’s a hunger for that. Horror theatre is effects, gore, and you don’t turn away. You can’t turn it off. You’re watching and you can’t stop it. “
“I think there’s a fascination with horror everywhere,” Phule says. “Montreal has a facility to it because we are a continental city that is in touch a lot more than other cities in Canada specifically. We’re an east coast, continental city with influence from a lot of different places – NY, LA, Italy, Rome, Paris, even Moscow. A lot of places feed into Montreal. And one of the great universals of human literature, cinema, and theatre is horror. It’s in every culture. Every culture has a boogey man. Every culture has grandmother saying you better do this or your fingers get eaten.”
What made Phule and Chicoine choose the end of February? “Statistically most people break up at Christmas or Valentine’s Day,” says Phule. “So, our thought is after Valentine’s Day, you want to see theatre with your new honey because you hooked up, or you’re crushed and want to see someone mutilated.”
The Festival de la Bête Noire takes place on February 21-24, at the Mainline Theatre. For details, click HERE.