Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol

Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol

It’s Fall – my favorite season. Which means Halloween is just around the corner.

I’m heading to Europe here for a business trip that will take me through Paris. While looking into things to do, I found out about this theater. It was located in the Pigalle area of Paris (20 bis, rue Chaptal). From its opening in 1897 until its closing in 1962, and specialized in naturalistic horror shows. Its had live staged graphic, amoral horror entertainment, a genre popular from Elizabethan and Jacobean theater (other examples include Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, and Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil). Today, we might call them splatter films. While it was always staged horror, the “special effects” would sometimes be too realistic and it was reported audience member would faint or vomit during performances. It was said the ‘success’ of the show was rated by how many people fainted.

It didn’t help that the building was an old chapel. The Gothic interior added to the ambiance. Here were some of the plays for example:

  • Le Laboratoire des Hallucinations, by André de Lorde: When a doctor finds his wife’s lover in his operating room, he performs a graphic brain surgery, rendering the adulterer a hallucinating semi-zombie. Now insane, the lover/patient hammers a chisel into the doctor’s brain
  • Un Crime dans une Maison de Fous, by André de Lorde: Two hags in an insane asylum use scissors to blind a pretty, young fellow inmate out of jealousy
  • L’Horrible Passion, by André de Lorde: A nanny strangles the children in her care
  • Le Baiser dans la Nuit, by Maurice Level: A young woman visits the man whose face she horribly disfigured with acid, where he obtains his revenge

It’s interesting that it waned in the years following World War II then closed in 1962. Management attributed the closure in part to the fact that the theater’s faux horrors had been eclipsed by the actual events of WW II two decades earlier. Apparently people had their fill of realistic horrors.

Read more about it here:


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