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October 16, 2022

Brutal and Gruesome: Terrifying Pictures of Grand Guignol, the Notorious Paris Horror Theatre in 1947

There is a legend about Paris’s gruesome Théâtre du Grand Guignol. One of the most notorious stages of all time, it was the place where playwrights staged horrific tales of violence and revenge under the haunting eaves of a former chapel. During its 65 years in operation, the Grand Guignol staged over a thousand plays to both the shock and delight of its audiences, going down in history as one of the foundations of horror-as-entertainment.

Actors demonstrating use of the acid vat to make skeletons in production trick at the Grand Guignol Theater.

In a typical Grand Guignol performance patrons would see five or six short plays, all in a style that attempted to be brutally true to the theatre's naturalistic ideals. The most popular and best-known were the horror plays, which featured a distinctly bleak worldview and gory special effects, particularly in their climaxes. The horrors depicted at Grand Guignol were generally not supernatural; rather these plays often explored altered states like insanity, hypnosis, or panic. It was committed to the kind of extreme butchery and unrelenting violence that would deeply shock audiences—making them scream or even faint. To heighten the effect, the horror plays were often alternated with comedies, a lineup referred to as “hot and cold showers.”

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.”

Take a look at the once-notorious Parisian theater through these gruesome pictures taken by LIFE photographer Hans Wild in 1947:

In a gaslit alley off the Rue Chaptal in Montmartre, the little theater was patronized by the late General Patton and King Alfonso of Spain.

Actors reenacting scene with frightened woman and a man with facial burns, in production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Actors demonstrating use of the acid vat to make skeletons in production trick at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Skeletons left over from the acid vat victims, appearing in production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Actor dramatizing the realistic stabbing trick in production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Actor dramatizing the realistic stabbing trick in production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Actor dramatizing the realistic stabbing trick in production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Actors engaging in an eye-gouging scene in a bloody melodrama production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Actors engaging in an eye-gouging scene in a bloody melodrama production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Actors demonstrating the face frying trick in production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Actress working with a stabbing knife, used for trick in production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Actor demonstrating the dagger plunging trick in production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Actor demonstrating the dagger plunging trick in production at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Actor Tony Laurent putting on horror makeup for show at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Actor Tony Laurent putting on horror makeup for show at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Audiences at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Private boxes beneath the balcony at the Grand Guignol.

Private boxes beneath the balcony at the Grand Guignol.

Audiences at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Interior view of area where chief propman, Edmond Beauvais, works his magic during productions at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Actress Renee Gardes, wearing a fur coat, performs in productions at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Tony Laurent, an actor in productions at the Grand Guignol Theater.

Jacques Masbeuf, an actor in productions at the Grand Guignol Theater.

(via Atlas Obscura, TIME)




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