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Grand Guignolers de Paris

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Sunday night I crept down an alleyway, drank a bunch of absinthe and watched a girl get her eyes gouged out with a knitting needle. The gouging wasn’t real, but the absinthe was. Welcome to Los Angeles' theatre du Grand Guignol de Paris. The Grand Guignol was a theater in the Pigalle district, the seamy underbelly of Paris. The theater’s focus varied slightly with shifts in management, but the subject matter of its short plays invariably involved horror, sex and madness. Comedies were interspersed between the dramas to release some of the tension. During its heyday in the early 1900s, women supposedly fainted at every performance. That may just be an Ed Wood-style publicity stunt. Of course, with those tight corsets, women used to faint just about any time they sat down (hence the chaise lounge). With the advent of World War II and its genuine horrors, the theater was rendered obsolete. But before its final death rattle in 1962, it had established a rhythm and style that would be the basis for the entire genre of horror films. In San Francisco, The Thrill Peddlers have been performing classic Grand Guignol and modern take-offs for well over a decade. Portland-based troupe The Tragedies, perform their interpretation of Grand Guignol every Halloween.