Theatre of Horrors
From SEE magazine - March, 1950
AUDIENCES RELISH GRAND GUIGNOL SPECIALTY – GHASTLY DRAMA ON BLOOD-SOAKED STAGE – THRILL-SEEKERS SHIVER, SHUDDER AT REALISTIC STAGE SADISM
Just off the Place Pigalle, at the end of an alley in Paris’ Montmartre, the little Theatre du Grand Guignol tonight serves up its regular dish of chilled crime in the raw, as it has done since 1897. As usual, nearly 300 assorted Parisians, provincial Frenchmen and foreign tourists will pay 80cto $1.50 to participate vicariously in ghoulish, realistic mayhem and murder performed by expert actors.
>Directed by Mme. Eve Berkson, an Englishwoman, the Grand Guignol troupe squeezes the last drop of gore, the last scream, from each of the thousand horror plays in its repertoire.
As typically Parisian as the Folies-Bergere, the theatre has no exact counterpart in other lands. In the U.S., Bogeyman Boris Karloff numbers his devotees by the millions. In England, Madame Tussaud’s wasworks are still favorite entertainment. Everywhere, the fearful delight people take in make-believe blood and suffering offers a ready market for the chills-and-thrills merchants. But for catering to these tastes, there’s nothing like the Grand Guignol.
There, before your very eyes, steam rises to the ceiling as an old woman’s face is pressed onto a red-hot stove. A girl screams and bleeds as her eyes are gouged out with hatpins. The bullet aimed at a young man’s head draws liquid “blood,” which slowly congeals as he sinks to the floor. Devices for effecting these and other terrifying refinements are ingenious, include rubber knives, concealed bladders and tubes for blood-like liquid (a secret formula), small, strategically located steam pipes.
Whether a taste for such pleasures is natural or acquired is a question for psychologists. But the taste is strong. General Patton’s 1945 visit to the little theatre illustrated the single-mindedness of Grand Guignol fans. When newspapers next day carried the headline, “’Blood and Guts’ at the Grand Guignol,” the box office was immediately swamped with calls from steel-nerved enthusiasts asking for reserved seats for the new play, “Blood and Guts.”