The Grand Guignol (French for large puppet show) was something to behold in Paris. People would flock to the theatre to witness people getting chopped up, mutilated beyond belief, driven insane, engage in questionable sexual practices, be witnesses to humorous events, and so on. It was common for someone (or several someones) to faint in the theatre after witnessing such gruesome spectacles. And yet, they loved it. Mel Gordon does a fantastic job in telling the story behind the Grand Guignol and this book was well worth the read.
In his book Theatre of Fear and Horror, published through Feral House, Gordon explains the origins of the Grand Guignol and how several of the founders were obsessed with Poe, Death, and all things strange and unusual. There had to be a way to tap into the deep darkness of Mankind and expose it in all of its gory detail . . . for a fee, of course. Regular patrons came to be known as Guignolers - they held special seats within the theatre. Madness, sex, humor, crass ways of living, horror, mutilation - just a regular night. Gordon then goes on to explain how making many of the special effects were quite protected by the crew, right down to the making of the blood before the show. It took skill to create such believable scenes without overdoing it. However, with WWII came a decline in enjoying the Grand Guignol - how could someone watch fake torture on stage when real torture and unspeakable acts were being committed all around them? As the support for the Grand Guignol dwindled, a rise occurred for the Universal Monster films (inspired by the GG), then fell completely away and seen as campy until the Hammer Horror films appeared (I LOVE the Dracula films - just sayin). The book then ends with 100 plots of plays that were performed by the Grand Guignol as well as two full plays titled A Crime in the Madhouse and Orgy in the Lighthouse - oh yes.
Why are we obsessed with that which scares us? Why do we love what we fear? Why is it that people still enjoy being scared out of their minds even today? Is it a rush of adrenaline, or perhaps we love seeing others go through something horrific, knowing that we won't? Whatever the reason, the Grand Guignol gave the people what they secretly desired and returned it tenfold. In fact, as I was recently bitten by the GG Bug, I knew I wanted to collect as many books on the subject as well as possibly put one of the plays on in my home city. I'm already a lover of the Dark - what's one more grisly step closer?