If you give it enough time, everything returns to the beginning. Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol was French shock-horror theatre. It was founded in the 1890′s by Oscar Metenier, and lasted until 1962 when it closed because Europeans had become desensitized to fictional violence and no longer appreciated its many quirks and charms. Yet the dark spirit of the thing endured, escaping the confines of the stage and haunting cinema. It lived through people like Alfred Hitchcock and H.G. Lewis and George Romero and Tom Savini. The screams of the victims on the screen was it’s heartbeat. The fear oozing out of the audience in the theatre was it’s blood.
Jeremy Kasten (Segment: The Theatre Bizarre)
Did you do any research on the Grand Guignol before starting your segment? If so, what elements or bits of historical detail influenced the end result?
I’ve been fascinated by the Grand Guignol theatre movement for many years and because of my on-going fascination didn’t need to do research to learn about it. It’s one of my peculiar fetishistic obsessions. The name Grand Guignol actually refers to that particular theatre being a large puppet show. It was like saying “here’s something for children re-conceived for adults”. That notion – a childhood nostalgic connection to a puppet show writ large as something… icky… that’s EXACTLY what I’d hoped to capture.
While the original Grand Guignol’s goal was to sicken the audience. Theatre Bizarre wisely takes a more sophisticated approach, making every drop of blood count as opposed to tossing out gallons indiscriminately. What’s your take on the use of gore in order to achieve an effect on the audience?
I think the use of blood and effects in grand guignol was actually restrained in some ways, too. In a real grand guignol show, you’d have to sit through a fair amount of character development and story stuff – really very similar to a Hitchcock movie. The whole time the audience is anticipating something scary or disgusting – but you’re watching something that reflects your own life or your reality. The plays were soap operas about everyday life. People cheating on their spouses and getting syphilis. Shop girls moving to the city and getting raped. Not unlike following Marion Crane in “Psycho” the first time you see that movie and waiting… anxiously… (“I thought there was going to be a bunchy of killing – this lady is on the run with cash – what gives?”). So when the shower scene FINALLY happens, you’re both on the edge of your seat with anticipation and completely caught off guard. I love horror movies but I am bored of their being discussed based how much fake blood is shed or how the special effects look. Who cares? Syphilis is scary – not decapitation.
The original Grand Guignol was often more about feel than story. Stripped of its story, what is the overall theme of your segment?
My segment’s theme is that the storyteller (or filmmaker) has a vampiric relationship with its audience – and that it is better to be an active “puppet” than an inactive observer.
Grand Guignol often tended to be single minded in purpose. What is the single emotion or thought (Besides horror or gross-out) that you wish to elicit from viewers with your segment?
Udo Kier is better than ever. And a sense that the entire film is moving forward even though its comprised of several unrelated stories.
Your segment is the one that has the least amount of consecutive time to tell a story, yet is the most important overall since it has to tie everything together. So in the end it’s a bit maddening because you only get bits and pieces of what’s going on. Is there more to the story of Peg Poett and Enola Penny?
If pressed to tell the backstory for my piece, I would tell you that Zach and I decided that the Pegg Poett story is one of an unending history of a dark spirit occupying that spot where the Theatre now lives. Before it was a theatre, it was, perhaps, a performance space where Native American’s suffered as “puppets” of that ideation of Poett. Before that cave people. And on and on.
That said, I am not sure what you mean by, “it’s a bit maddening because you only get bits and pieces of what’s going on”. I hoped that in telling a simple story with the main function of supporting the other films, no one would feel I was over-reaching or looking to self-aggrandize the wraparounds.
In my review I said that your segment “…lets Udo be Udo, and that’s a good thing.” How much improvisation did Udo Kier do and how much of his performance was directed by you?
Udo and I worked really well together because I knew what I wanted but I was very open to his ideas. Udo is full of creative energy and concepts and will gladly participate in the creative process if given that chance. He appreciated, though, that I was able to tell him clearly when I needed him to do something specific and when I didn’t find an idea useful. Actors tend to find specific direction useful rather than general and I aim for that. The example he used ( when he was discussing the process later) was that I asked him to speak his lines as though he were reading a story to a child.
When I first spoke to Udo he suggested the idea of killing the fly on camera. I didn’t know what to make of it and worried that he’d be full of arbitrary ideas that would take lots of time on the set. Then I stopped being an uptight ninny and realized how great his idea was and how lucky I was to be getting ideas from Udo Fucking Kier. After that our real working relationship started.