Despite my penchant for peter pan collars and pretty stationery, and to the bemusement of my friends and family, I love horror. Be it literature, film or television, I’m all about the sinister, the gory and the macabre.
I love zombies and vampires. I’ll take a horror movie over a romantic comedy any day. My bookshelf is filled with Gothic novels, my knowledge of Tarantino dialogue is hard to beat and my students tease me for my unbridled excitement every time there’s a new episode of True Detective, Hannibal or The Walking Dead to get home to.
Needless to say, as a horror-loving PhD cinema student, there isn’t much that shocks me anymore. But I was certainly taken aback by what I saw on my recent visit to the Musée de la chasse et de la nature (the Hunting and Nature Museum).
I’d expected some stately oil paintings of gentlemen galloping on horseback, preceded by their faithful hounds. I’d expected a smattering of tasteful taxidermy and maybe a few shotguns behind glass. That is not what I found.
Le Musée de la chasse et de la nature is a decadent mahogany and velvet shrine to the weird, wonderful and worrying of nature. Sure, there’s plenty of information about the history of French hunting. But this is tucked in among arrays of skulls, cabinets of curiosities, haunting antler chandeliers and some rather horrifying contemporary art installations (think deer transformed into bagpipes).
Part of the museum’s grim atmosphere is due to the dark halls in which it is contained (it reminds me of how I used to imagine Thornfield Hall). But many of the museum’s installations themselves are so quirky they’re downright disturbing. I enjoyed standing face to face with a stuffed polar bear, his head grazing the ceiling. But I didn’t stay long in the trophy room, fitted out with a mechanical boar’s head that snarls and grunts every few minutes.
I never thought I’d say this about a nature museum, but if you’re easily offended by the gruesome, this may not be the place for you. But if, like me, you have a fascination with the darker side of things, it’s well worth the visit. Parts of the museum are a little over the top, to be sure. But the museum captures quite artistically the dark truth of hunting: transforming the living into the dead, the natural into the unnatural, the beautiful into the grotesque. Much like a horror movie, come to think of it.