Grand Guignol

Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol (French pronunciation: ​[ɡʁɑ̃ ɡiɲɔl]: "The Theatre of the Great Puppet") – known as the Grand Guignol – was a theatre in the Pigalle area of Paris (at 20 bis, rue Chaptal). From its opening in 1897 until its closing in 1962, it specialised in naturalistic horror shows. Its name is often used as a general term for graphic, amoral horror entertainment, a genre popular from Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre (for instance Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, and Webster's The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil), to today's splatter films.

Grand Guignol poster (crop)
Promotional poster for a Grand Guignol performance


Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol was founded in 1894 by Oscar Méténier, who planned it as a space for naturalist performance. With 293 seats, the venue was the smallest in Paris.[1]

A former chapel, the theatre's previous life was evident in the boxes – which looked like confessionals – and in the angels over the orchestra. Although the architecture created frustrating obstacles, the design that was initially a predicament ultimately became beneficial to the marketing of the theatre. The opaque furniture and gothic structures placed sporadically on the walls of the building exude a feeling of eeriness from the moment of entrance. People came to this theatre for an experience, not only to see a show. The audience at "Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol" endured the terror of the shows because they wanted to be filled with strong “feelings” of something. Many attended the shows to get a feeling of arousal.[2] Underneath the balcony were boxes (originally built for nuns to watch church services) that were available for theatre-goers to rent during performances because they would get so aroused by the action happening on stage. It has been said that audience members would get so boisterous in the boxes, that actors would sometimes break character and yell something such as “Keep it down in there!” Conversely, there were audience members who could not physically handle the brutality of the actions taking place on stage. Frequently, the “special effects” would be too realistic and often an audience member would faint or vomit during performances.[3]

The theatre owed its name to Guignol, a traditional Lyonnaise puppet character, joining political commentary with the style of Punch and Judy.[2]

The theatre's peak was between World War I and World War II, when it was frequented by royalty and celebrities in evening dress.[4]

Important people

Metenier, Oscar
Oscar Méténier

Oscar Méténier was the Grand Guignol's founder and original director. Under his direction, the theatre produced plays about a class of people who were not considered appropriate subjects in other venues: prostitutes, criminals, street urchins and others at the lower end of Paris's social echelon.

Max Maurey served as director from 1898 to 1914. Maurey shifted the theatre's emphasis to the horror plays it would become famous for and judged the success of a performance by the number of patrons who passed out from shock; the average was two faintings each evening. Maurey discovered André de Lorde, who would become the most important playwright for the theatre.

De Lorde was the theatre's principal playwright from 1901 to 1926. He wrote at least 100 plays for the Grand Guignol and collaborated with experimental psychologist Alfred Binet to create plays about insanity, one of the theatre's favourite and frequently recurring themes.

Camille Choisy served as director from 1914 to 1930. He contributed his expertise in special effects and scenery to the theatre's distinctive style.

Paula Maxa was one of the Grand Guignol's best-known performers. From 1917 to the 1930s, she performed most frequently as a victim and was known as "the most assassinated woman in the world." During her career at the Grand Guignol, Maxa's characters were murdered more than 10,000 times in at least 60 different ways and raped at least 3,000 times.[4]

Jack Jouvin served as director from 1930 to 1937. He shifted the theatre's subject matter, focusing performances not on gory horror but psychological drama. Under his leadership, the theatre's popularity waned and, after World War II, it was not well-attended.[2]

Charles Nonon was the theatre's last director.[5]


Grand-Guignol-Scène-1937 (2)
A 1937 scene from Grand Guignol

At the Grand Guignol, patrons would see five or six plays, all in a style that attempted to be brutally true to the theatre's naturalistic ideals. The plays were in a variety of styles, but the most popular and best known were the horror plays, featuring a distinctly bleak worldview as well as notably gory special effects in their notoriously bloody climaxes. The horrors depicted at Grand Guignol were generally not supernatural; these plays often explored the altered states, like insanity, hypnosis, or panic, under which uncontrolled horror could happen. To heighten the effect, the horror plays were often alternated with comedies.[6][7]

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.[8]

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.[8]

L'Horrible Passion, by André de Lorde: A nanny strangles the children in her care.[7]

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.[9]

Theatre closing

Audiences waned in the years following World War II, and the Grand Guignol closed its doors in 1962. Management attributed the closure in part to the fact that the theatre's faux horrors had been eclipsed by the actual events of the Holocaust two decades earlier. "We could never equal Buchenwald," said its final director, Charles Nonon. "Before the war, everyone felt that what was happening onstage was impossible. Now we know that these things, and worse, are possible in reality."[5]

The Grand Guignol building still exists. It is occupied by International Visual Theatre, a company devoted to presenting plays in sign language.


Grand Guignol flourished briefly in London in the early 1920s under the direction of Jose Levy, where it attracted the talents of Sybil Thorndike and Noël Coward,[10] and a series of short English "Grand Guignol" films (using original screenplays, not play adaptations) was made at the same time, directed by Fred Paul. Several of the films exist at the BFI National Archive.

The Grand Guignol was revived once again in London in 1945, under the direction of Frederick Witney, where it ran for two seasons at the Granville Theatre. These included premiers of Witney's own work as well as adaptations of French originals.[11]

In recent years, English director-writer, Richard Mazda, has re-introduced New York audiences to the Grand Guignol. His acting troupe, The Queens Players, have produced six mainstage productions of Grand Guignol plays, and Mazda is writing new plays in the classic Guignol style. The sixth production, Theatre of Fear, included De Lorde's famous adaptation of Poe's The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether (Le Systéme du Dr Goudron et Pr Plume) as well as two original plays, Double Crossed and The Good Death alongside The Tell Tale Heart.

The 1963 mondo film Ecco includes a scene which may have been filmed at the Grand Guignol theatre during its final years.[12]

American avant-garde composer John Zorn released an album called Grand Guignol by Naked City in 1992, in a reference to "the darker side of our existence which has always been with us and always will be".[13]

Washington, D.C.'s Molotov Theatre Group, established in 2007, is dedicated to preserving and exploring the aesthetic of the Grand Guignol. They have entered two plays into the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, D.C. Their 2007 show, For Boston, won "Best Comedy", and their second show, The Sticking Place, won "Best Overall" in 2008.

The Swiss theatre company, Compagnie Pied de Biche revisits the Grand Guignol genre in contemporary contexts since 2008. The company staged in 2010 a diptych Impact & Dr. Incubis, based on original texts by Nicolas Yazgi and directed by Frédéric Ozier.[14] More than literal adaptations, the plays address violence, death, crime and fear in contemporary contexts, while revisiting many trope of the original Grand Guignol corpus, often with humour.

Recently formed London-based Grand Guignol company Theatre of the Damned, brought their first production to the Camden Fringe in 2010 and produced the award nominated Grand Guignol in November of that year.[15] In 2011, they staged Revenge of the Grand Guignol at the Courtyard Theatre, London, as part of the London Horror Festival.[16]

Also based in London, Le Nouveau Guignol form the UK's only permanent repertory Grand Guignol company; plays within their current repertoire include French Guignol classics such as The Final Kiss, Tics... Or Doing the Deed, The Lighthouse Keepers, Private Room Number Six and The Kiss of Blood. However, as their company remit also includes encouraging new writing, they have also staged several new plays in the Grand-Guignol style, including Eating For Two, Penalty and Ways and Means. Le Nouveau Guignol took part in the London Horror Festival alongside Theatre of the Damned at Courtyard Theatre in November 2011.

The Grand Guignolers in Los Angeles, California, established in 2007, create and perform traditional Grand Guignol and original works as a 1920s Parisian theatre troupe. Shows are staged as event and draw on multiple forms of traditional physical theatrical genres in new ways including Commedia dell'arte, melodrama, mime, mask, clown, dance, vaudeville, magic, and puppetry. Many shows play with the literal 'big puppet' theme utilizing puppetry at various levels including the Petits Guignolers, a French existentially lewd finger puppet show with Grand Guignol effects. The company paid homage to its namesake by staging a surprise 200th birthday party for Guignol with A Grand Guignol Children's Show* (*NOT for Children). In addition to evenings of classic Grand Guignol, original productions have included A Very Grand Guignol Christmas and Absinthe, Opium and Magic, 1920s Shanghai.

In August to October 2013, the Xoregos Performing Company presented Danse Macabre, a contemporary tribute to Grand Guignol at Theater for the New City in New York City. Danse Macabre was a program of four plays of psychological and physical terror, one humorous work and a dance, in keeping with Grand Guignol's programming history. The run ended October 27 at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. The playwrights were Dave deChristopher, Jack Feldstein, Dylan Guy, Pamela Scott and Joel Trinidad. Choreographer and Director, Shela Xoregos.

In November 2014, 86 years after the last show of Alfredo Sainati's La Compagnia del Grand-Guignol, founded in 1908 and which had been the only example of Grand Guignol in Italy, the Convivio d'Arte Company presented in Milan Grand Guignol de Milan: Le Cabaret des Vampires. The show was an original tribute to Grand Guignol, a horror vaudeville with various horror and grotesque performances such as monologues, live music and burlesque, with a satirical black humour conduction.

While the original Grand Guignol attempted to present naturalistic horror, the performances would seem melodramatic and heightened to today's audience. For this reason, the term is often applied to films and plays of a stylised nature with heightened acting, melodrama and theatrical effects such as Sweeney Todd, Sleepy Hollow, Quills, and the Hammer Horror films that went before them. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?; Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte; What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?; What's the Matter with Helen?; Night Watch and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? form a sub-branch of the genre called Grande Dame Guignol for its use of aging A-list actresses in sensational horror films.

Further reading

  • Antona-Traversi, Cammillo. L'Histoire du Grand Guignol: Theatre de L'Epouvante et du Rire. Librarie theatrale, 1933.
  • Gordon, Mel. The Grand Guignol: Theatre of Fear and Terror. Da Capo Press, 1997.
  • Hand, Richard, and Michael Wilson. Grand-Guignol: The French Theatre of Horror. University of Exeter Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-85989-696-2
  • Hand, Richard, and Michael Wilson. London's Grand-Guignol and the Theatre of Horror University of Exeter Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-85989-792-1
  • Negovan, Thomas. Grand Guignol: An Exhibition of Artworks Celebrating the Legendary Theater of Terror. Olympian Publishing, 2010.


  1. ^ "Paris Writhes Again". Time. January 16, 1950. Retrieved 2007-04-10.
  2. ^ a b c Pierron, Agnes. "History". Grand Guignol Online. Retrieved 2007-04-10.
  3. ^ Hand, Richard J., and Michael Wilson. Grand-Guignol The French Theatre of Horror. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2002. Print.
  4. ^ a b Schneider, P. E. (March 18, 1957). "Fading Horrors of the Grand Guignol". The New York Times Magazine. p. SM7. Retrieved 10 April 2007., at
  5. ^ a b "Outdone by Reality". Time. November 30, 1962. Retrieved 2007-04-10.
  6. ^ "What is Grand Guignol?". Grand Guignol Online. Retrieved 2007-04-10.
  7. ^ a b Pierron, Agnes (Summer 1996). "House of Horrors". Grand Street Magazine. Retrieved 2007-04-10.
  8. ^ a b "Murders in the Rue Chaptal". Time. March 10, 1947. Retrieved 2007-04-10.
  9. ^ Violence and Vitriol – Exploring 'Le Baiser dans la nuit' Retrieved 2011-02-01.
  10. ^ Dame Sybil Thorndike – London's Queen of Screams Retrieved 2011-17-01.
  11. ^ Fredrick Witney – A forgotten legend of the Grand Guignol Retrieved 2011-02-01.
  12. ^ "Excerpt from the film Ecco (1963)". Grand Guignol Online. Retrieved 2007-04-10.
  13. ^ Liner notes of Grand Guignol CD
  14. ^
  15. ^ It's a scream: theatre of the macabre is a runaway hit Archived 2010-12-13 at the Wayback Machine London Evening Standard Retrieved 2011-01-02.
  16. ^ "Revenge of the Grand Guignol – The Courtyard". Retrieved 17 October 2016.

External links

Coordinates: 48°52′53″N 2°19′59″E / 48.8814°N 2.3331°E

20th Berlin International Film Festival

The 20th annual Berlin International Film Festival was supposed to be held from 26 June to 7 July 1970. The festival opened with Klann – grand guignol by Patrick Ledoux. However, on 5 July the competition was cancelled and no prizes were awarded, due to a controversy surrounding the participation of Michael Verhoeven's anti-war film o.k.

Collection Simple Plus

Collection Simple Plus is a compilation CD album by Ali Project that compiles songs from the singles they had previously released under Victor Entertainment. There are two versions. A limited edition version (catalog number: VIZL-198) has 12 tracks and a bonus DVD, containing the promo video for "Bōkoku Kakusei Catharsis" and a video clip of them performing "Gesshoku Grand Guignol" live. The regular edition (catalog number: VICL-61999) has a thirteenth track, an orchestrated version of "Bōkoku Kakusei Catharsis". A majority of the songs are anime tie-ups. This album peaked at No. 7 on the Oricon charts and sold 45,616 copies in total.

Gabriel Cattand

Gabriel Cattand (29 November 1923 – 9 August 1997) was a French actor. He appeared in 108 films and television shows between 1950 and 1997. He starred in the 1969 film Klann – grand guignol, which was entered into the 20th Berlin International Film Festival.

Ghost Ship (1952 film)

Ghost Ship is a 1952 British thriller film directed by Vernon Sewell and written by Vernon Sewell and Philip Thornton. Despite the same titles, the 2002 film of the same title is not considered a remake of this film. This was one of four attempts by Vernon Sewell to adapt and film an obscure Pierre Mills and Celia de Vilyars Grand Guignol stage play 'L'Angoisse'.

Grand Guignol (album)

Grand Guignol is the second full-length studio album released by John Zorn's band Naked City in 1992 on the Japanese Avant label. The album followed Torture Garden, which was a compilation of "hardcore miniatures" from Naked City and Grand Guignol. The album is notable for the inclusion of cover versions of pieces written by classical composers, the guest vocal of Bob Dorough, and also, like Torture Garden, a selection of "hardcore miniatures" (tracks 9–41) which are intense, fast-tempo, brief compositions, which feature the wailing of Zorn's alto sax, and the screams of Yamatsuka Eye.

The album was also released as part of Naked City: The Complete Studio Recordings on Tzadik Records in 2005.

Grand Guignol (disambiguation)

Grand Guignol refers to the former Théâtre du Grand-Guignol of Paris, which specialized in grisly horror shows.

Grand Guignol may also be:

Any gruesome or gory drama or event, such as a Grande Dame Guignol

Grand Guignol (album), album by Naked City

Le Grand Guignol, album by The Seeker

"Le Grand Guignol", song by Soft Cell from the album Cruelty Without Beauty

"Grand Guignol", storyline in the comic book series Starman

"Gesshoku Grand Guignol" (Lunar Eclipse Grand Guignol), song by the Japanese band Ali Project

"Grand Guignol", song by Bajofondo from the album Mar Dulce

Le Grand Guignol (band), avant-garde metal band from Luxembourg

Grand Guignol Orchestra

Grand Guignol Orchestra (Japanese: 人形宮廷楽団, Hepburn: Guignol Kyūtei Gakudan) is a gothic horror shōjo (targeted towards girls) manga series written and illustrated by Kaori Yuki. Appearing as a monthly serial in the Japanese manga magazine Bessatsu Hana to Yume from the August 2008 issue to the June 2010 issue, the eighteen chapters of Grand Guignol Orchestra were collected into five bound volumes by Hakusensha—together with Yuki's romantic one-shot manga "Camolet Garden", which had appeared in the April 2008 issue—and published from February 2009 to August 2010. Set in a world where a worldwide epidemic of a virus has turned part of the population into guignols (zombies which resemble marionettes), Grand Guignol Orchestra focuses on singer Lucille and his orchestra, which destroys the guignols through music.

At the 2009 New York Anime Festival, Viz Media announced that it had licensed the series for an English-language translation. It published the series under its Shojo Beat imprint, from October 2010 to December 2011. The series has also been translated into other languages, such as German and Mandarin. Grand Guignol Orchestra has been positively received by English-language readers, with three volumes placing on the list of the top 300 bestselling graphic novels. The series has received a range of reviews from English-language critics. Yuki's illustrations and premise were generally well-received, with criticism of the series focused on the narrative and page layouts.

Jose Levy

Juan Jose G. Levy (Portsmouth, 29 June 1884 - 6 October 1936) was an English theatre practitioner who attempted to import the ghoulish and grisly Grand Guignol aesthetic for London audiences.Levy was born in Portsmouth, England and educated at the Ecole de Commerce, Lausanne.

In 1920, Levy opened the Grand Guignol theatre in the Little Theatre located in the London's Strand District. Levy's productions featured performances by the English stage actress Sybil Thorndike, who would eventually originate the role of Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan. During its inaugural season, Levy's company staged such notorious thrillers as Andre de Lorde's The Hand of Death.

The Grand Guignol experiment ended in 1922 when Levy met with interference from England's censorious Lord Chamberlain's Department. Upon announcing its demise, Levy stated that "the reason I am finishing with Grand Guignol is the too rigid censorship. . . it is impossible to carry on while the Lord Chamberlain's Department raises so many difficulties."

In March 1934 Levy received the Légion d'honneur for recognition of his contributions to French drama and theatre in England.

In an obituary published on 10 October 1936 in The Times, James Agate praised Levy’s passion for the theatre. He wrote that “unlike many theatre managers, (Levy) was intensely interested in theatre. The fact that managing a theatre was his business never destroyed his love for the drama as an art.”

Klann – grand guignol

Klann – grand guignol is a 1969 French-Belgian mystery film directed by Patrick Ledoux. It was entered into the 20th Berlin International Film Festival.

Oscar Méténier

Oscar Méténier (17 January 1859 – 9 February 1913) was a French playwright and novelist. In 1897 he founded Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Paris, planning it as a space for naturalist performance.

Patrick Ledoux

Patrick Ledoux (French: [lədu]; born 6 November 1934) is a Belgian film director. He directed 14 films between 1961 and 1979. His 1969 film Klann – grand guignol was entered into the 20th Berlin International Film Festival.

The Flat (1921 film)

The Flat is a 1921 British silent drama film directed by Fred Paul and starring Jack Raymond and George Foley. Its plot involves a man who is invited back to a flat for a drink by a stranger he meets in a pub. It was part of a Grand Guignol series of films.

The Oath (1921 film)

The Oath is a 1921 British silent drama film directed by Fred Paul and starring Margot Drake and Lewis Gilbert. Part of a Grand Guignol series of films, it focuses on a promise made by a Priest in the eighteenth century to protect his brother's family.

The System of Doctor Goudron

The System of Doctor Goudron (French:Le système du docteur Goudron et du professeur Plume) is a 1913 French short silent horror film directed by Maurice Tourneur and starring Henri Gouget, Henry Roussel and Renée Sylvaire. It was adapted from a grand guignol play by André de Lorde which was itself based on the short story The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.

The Woman Upstairs

The Woman Upstairs is a 1921 British drama film directed by Fred Paul and starring Joan Beverley and Frank Hill. It was part of a Grand Guignol series of films. It focuses on the relationship between a demi-mondaine and a newly married man.

Theatre of Death

Theatre of Death (also known as Blood Fiend) is a 1967 British horror movie directed by Samuel Gallu and starring Christopher Lee as a theatre director whose Grand Guignol theatre is thought to be linked to a series of murders.

Torture Garden (album)

Torture Garden is an album by John Zorn's band Naked City featuring Yamatsuka Eye on vocals. The album is a compilation of the "hardcore miniatures" that were also released on Naked City and Grand Guignol. The album was originally released on vinyl and cassette by Shimmy Disc and on CD by Toy's Factory in 1989. Following controversy over Naked City's album covers it was re-released in 1996 on Tzadik Records with Leng Tch'e simply as Black Box. The tracks were also released as part of Naked City: The Complete Studio Recordings in 2005.

The name for the collection comes from Le jardin des supplices, an 1899 decadent novel by Octave Mirbeau.

Weird menace

Weird menace is the name given to a subgenre of horror fiction that was popular in the pulp magazines of the 1930s and early 1940s. The weird menace pulps, also known as shudder pulps, generally featured stories in which the hero was pitted against sadistic villains, with graphic scenes of torture and brutality.

In the early 1930s, detective pulps like Detective-Dragnet, All Detective, Dime Detective, and the short-lived Strange Detective Stories, began to favor detective stories with weird, eerie, or menacing elements. Eventually, the two distinct genre variations branched into separate magazines; the detective magazines returned to stories predominantly featuring detection or action; while the eerie mysteries found their own home in the weird menace titles. Some magazines, for instance Ten Detective Aces (the successor to Detective-Dragnet), continued to host both genre variations.

The first weird menace title was Dime Mystery, which started out as a straight crime fiction magazine but began to develop the new genre in 1933 under the influence of Grand Guignol theater. Popular Publications dominated the genre with Dime Mystery, Terror Tales, and Horror Stories. After Popular issued Thrilling Mysteries, Standard Magazines, publisher of the "Thrilling" line of pulps, claimed trademark infringement. Popular withdrew Thrilling Mysteries after one issue, and Standard issued their own weird menace pulp, Thrilling Mystery. In the late-1930s, the notorious Red Circle pulps, with Mystery Tales, expanded the genre to include increasingly graphic descriptions of torture.

This provoked a public outcry against such publications. For example, The American Mercury published a hostile account of the terror magazines in 1938:

This month, as every month, the 1,508,000 copies of terror magazines, known to the trade as the shudder group, will be sold throughout the nation... They will contain enough illustrated sex perversion to give Krafft-Ebing the unholy jitters.

A censorship backlash brought about the demise of the genre in the early 1940s.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.