Murders in the Rue Chaptal
From TIME magazine - March 10, 1947
Tucked away in a corner of Paris’ rue Chaptal, a cobblestone nook at the edge of Montmartre, is a quaint little Gothic chapel. Inside, carved cherubs and two seven-foot angels smile down from the black-raftered vault at a nightly round of vile murders, mangling, and assorted acts of torturing, fang-baring, acid-throwing.
The onetime chapel is now Le Theatre du Grand-Guignol (The Theater of the Big Puppets), the greatest horror show on earth. As a tourist attraction, it has ranked for years with the Eiffel Tower, Picasso, and the late maisons de tolerance.
Last week Grand-Guignol began its 50 th season with four new short plays which had been toned down for the benefit of queasy critics. It was not like the old days; there were only three gruesome murders, and there was no torture more horrendous than a barehanded strangulation. Nobody in the audience even fainted. The spectators, mostly old Guignol-goers and a few youngsters whose parents had warned them no to go, lounged around on rough wooden benches and had a modest emotional binge. A few couples in screened baignoires had another kind of binge on the indifferent house champagne.
“Really,” sighed English Actress Eva Berkson, who currently owns and operates the theater, “I’ve almost come to the conclusion that the only way to frighten a French audience since the war is to cut up a woman on the stage – a live woman, of course – and throw them the pieces!”
That is about what Grand-Guignol audiences hope to see in the most-famed, most-repeated plays:
Le Laboratoire des Hallucinations is the story of a doctor who discovers that a patient is his wife’s lover and graphically operates on the fellow’s brain. At the first opportunity, the crazed patient retaliates by graphically hammering a chisel into the doctor’s brain (see cut).
Un Crime dans une Maison de Fous (Crime in a Booby Hatch) is about two yellow-fanged old hags who are miffed at a new inmate because she is young and pretty. While one harridan pinions the newcomer’s wrists, the other wrenches back her head and plunges long scissors into her eye. “La! La!” she cries happily as gore spatters in all directions. When the hags have a difference of opinion, one shoves her pal against a red-hot stove.
Such realism is a passion with the Grand-Guignol . The stop-at-nothing tradition was established by Founder Max Maurey, who died last week. It was carried on by the late Andre de Lorde, “ Le Prince de la Terreur ,” the man who wrote the two favorite plays and many other Grand-Guignol classics. Says an old De Lorde fan: “He was a mild, sweet little man, always smiling.”
In make-up, especially, Grand-Guignoleurs excel. Their piece de resistance is a boiled, partly skinned head (the actor is wrapped in a silk stocking and daubed with putty, sponge, cloth and “blood”). The theater has a secret recipe for blood: when the stuff cools it coagulates and makes scabs. Thrill-hungry customers in the small auditorium get a dividend when they overhear the hoarse backstage whisper: “Vite, Edmond! Warm up the blood."