Today’s horror fiction writers owe a great deal to an early stage empresario, Oscar Metenier. Slasher writers and movie makers should thank Oscar for the debt owed to him.
He celebrated gore just down the street from the can-can girls of the Moulin Rouge in late 19th century Paris. This gory celebration was at The Theatre du Grande Guignol – Theatre of the Big Puppet Show – founded in 1897 by Oscar Metenier in a small theatre that had originally been a chapel.
Their original plays showed graphic violence: realistic dramas of murder, rape and disembowelment, throat slashing, eye gouging and acid throwing. It was an extension of what was then called the naturalistic movement. Occasionally actors were badly hurt.
Usually six plays were offered in an evening. Bawdy sex farces, some comedy acts to laugh away the intermittent acts of violence. But terror was the main staple of the Grand Guignol, and a new genre was born: horror. In fact, the success of a play was judged by the number of people who fainted during a performance. Eventually a house doctor was hired to offer help to those who did pass out.
(The horror genre seems to have its roots in France. Later the playwright and novelist Andre de Lorde became the Prince of Terror as he went for insanity, necrophilia and hypnotism. Yikes! Wonder what his hobbies were?)
Finally special effects were developed. Lighting and sound became an important part in the Grand Guignol’s theatrical presentations. Does this sound familiar? Check out any contemporary horror flick and see how much they depend on eerie lighting and scary sounds.
I watched a Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees horror film recently. Never got the name of the movie. But wow, shuddering shades of The Grand Guignol! Here and in our own early 21st century.
The film was really gory but with a certain camp. When Freddy and Jason go at each other there are a few surprises. Splattering blood, decapitation, flying body parts, dismemberment, and between all that, wisecracks from Freddy. You gotta love the guy – he’s tough. The movie has a terrific cartoon edge. Freddy and Jason fight like two fraternity brothers who’ve had too much to drink.
The Grand-Guignol edge comes when they attack the real people. Then it gets tense; the young handsome guy, the girl with the large bosoms (there’s always at least one such person – she gets me tense). Those bloody scenes are probably closest to what Oscar Metenier was thinking about. The actors play real people out on a lark and they’re being maimed and killed in really horrific ways. But that’s what horror’s all about. Nice ordinary folks being murdered by strange monsters.
Hey – I know, let’s get together. I’ll meet you at the Theatre du Grand-Guignol and we’ll talk horror.
Pity – it closed in 1962.
This post is contributed by Author Wally Runnels