Kier-La Janisse was on the fast track to a life as an expert in horror films at an early age.
While other three-year-olds were watching Sesame Street, the West Broadway resident remembers watching the movie The Horror Express on TV with her mother.
"It was my first memory of being alive and I had nightmares every night following that," Janisse fondly recalls.
Contrary to what some folks might have thought at the time, she didn’t grow up to be a serial killer. Instead, she is now one of North America’s leading horror movie experts.
Janisse created the CineMuerte International Horror Film Festival in Vancouver and programmed the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas for four years. She has also contributed freelance articles to several leading horror movie publications including Fangoria, Filmmaker and Rue Morgue.
Currently she is the film writer-in-residence at Aqua Books where she will lauch the first course from her Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies from March 30 to April 1.
"During high school spring break, students have nothing to do because it’s all geared towards younger kids," says Janisse, who authored the book A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi.
Janisse’s course is entitled Introduction to Horror Film Criticism for Teens. It’s designed for teens 14-and-older and offers an in-depth look at the horror movie genre.
The course will focus on developing interpretative skills by watching five films, exploring historical schools of writing and discussing topics such as feminism, paedophobia and the applications of folklore.
And, horror of horrors, students will receive homework assignments. Each student will be given a movie to watch at home and review using their newly acquired critical skills. Those reviews will then be sent to Rue Morgue magazine’s website, where the top three will be published online.
Janisse says the course will also be a great opportunity for arts professionals who have a horror background but don’t get to use it as much as they would like.
Writer and director Caelumm Vatnsdal, who will teach a second course in April entitled They Came From Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema, says horror movies are some of the most cinematic celluloid available.
"Just the way it uses the grammar of film so perfectly," says Vatnsdal, who has published a book with the same name as his upcoming course.
"It’s such a visual genre and it uses all the tricks that film has to offer from suspense, editing, music and lighting."
Vatnsdal says the aim of most horror films isn’t simply to put a scare into people using graphic violence. Rather, he says, it’s about forcing them to confront their own fears.
Janisse agrees. She says there is a lot more to the oft-maligned genre than most film fans realize. Sometimes, a monster is more than it appears to be, she says.
"The course is a means of looking at different subtexts in horror films, because there’s almost always a subtext," Janisse says.
The course will take place at Aqua Books at 274 Garry St. March 30 to April 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It costs $150 and includes lunch from EAT! Bistro.
To register, or for more information, visit www.big-smash.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.