Shocktoberfest!!! 2010: Kiss of Blood
The subject of violence on television was once a growth industry, with studies, councils essays, panels, organizations, foundations, and congressional hearings producing reams of paper and stacks of statistics.
"The average child who watches two hours of cartoons a day may see nearly 10,000 violent incidents each year," concluded one study funded by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Teens and adults were also being studied for anti-social behavior incurred by prime-time bullets being shown leaving a gun and entering a body.
A lot of the indignation arose when we had but three networks projecting their broadcast signals into every home. Now we have hundreds of stations, many that you have to pay for, and if folks are taking to the streets because the hero of Dexter is a gleeful serial killer or because the head cop in The Shield liked to beat up suspects, I haven’t heard about it.
This roundabout has been leading to the phenomenon of Grand Guignol theater, and how obviously fake blood and violence can elicit stronger reactions in a live setting than much more realistic bloodshed can on a screen. At the opening-night performance of Thrillpeddlers’ Shocktoberfest!!! 2010, a studly-enough theatergoer blurted out, "Oh, shit. Gnarly," when a character chopped off an obviously fake stand-in for his hand.
The most famous purveyor of the blood-and-horror theater was Le Theatre du Grand Guignol, which operated in Paris from 1894 to 1962. It’s definitely a niche market, but it endures thanks to tenacious proponents such as the Thrillpeddlers group that will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary. Is its appeal akin to a theme-park thrill-ride that we know will safely give us the sense of a near-death experience? Does it tap into latent sado-masochistic urges? Maybe it’s just juvenile fun to see lots of messy stuff, like fake blood, get squirted all about.
Thrillpeddlers has strayed a bit from its plasma-phantasmagorias with the runaway success of Pearls Over Shanghai. The annual Shocktober programming has been integrated into a rotating repertory with the revival of the old Cockettes show. The trio of short plays making up the current Shock roster includes something new, something old, and something refurbished.
By far, the best of the lot is the something old. Kiss of Blood (Le Baiser du Sang) was presented in 1929 in Paris by the original Grand Guignol theater, and it proves a much sturdier work than the two plays that precede it. Its Grand Guignol-ness drips with authenticity.