There are more festivals dedicated to horror than any other kind of film-making. Outside of science fiction there is no genre which can boast such a large and enthusiastic following, who pack out cinemas in their thousands for the opportunity to have the living hell scared out of them by old and new film-makers alike.
Many want to do more than just watch the film: they turn up to showings of The Room and Troll 2 in costume, they bring things to throw and they scream along. As a lifelong fan of both horror and the theatre, I’ve always been baffled as to why there’s so little truly frightening and adventurous horror theatre out there. We’re hoping that the London Horror Festival can help to change that.
It was the cinema which sounded the death-knell for the Parisian Théâtre du Grand Guignol, the original theatre of horror and the erotic which ripped flesh and bodices alike for almost 70 years before meeting its end at the hand of the new wave of graphic 1960’s horror films. The purpose of the London Horror Festival is to allow a range of companies to prove that theatre still has plenty of tricks up its sleeve. A successful horror play contracts the distance between the audience and the terror or brutality of what’s occurring on stage. It can offer a level of immersion which no other medium can equal.
In the theatre there’s no possibility of hitting the pause button or turning up the lights, and a good horror story can grab you by the scruff of the neck and make you pay attention. It can reach out and pull you into the story, and when the blood starts flowing, there’s every chance it’ll catch you in the face. From working in horror theatre over the past two years I’ve seen audience members vomit, faint and flee the auditorium in floods of panic-stricken tears. These are intense visceral reactions which it’s rarely possible to generate in the cinema.
We created the London Horror Festival because we think theatre can do so many things with horror which exceed what you can expect from the cinema. We want to create a platform for companies, writers and performers who share a passion for the macabre to come together and find an audience for their work. We want to see other horror practitioners in action, and exchange ideas and experiences. We want to bring the existence of this whole rich theatrical genre to the attention of the horror-loving public, and we think we have the shows to do it.
There’s the premiere of a new stage adaptation of H P Lovecraft’s classic The Dunwich Horror, complete with strange rituals and dimension-hopping Old Gods; there’s The Monster Hunters, a loving parody of 1970’s British horror fare such as Dracula AD 1972 and The Beast Must Die, and immersive theatre experience The White House, a brand-new work which draws the audience into a sort of 18th century From Dusk Till Dawn, all fangs, petticoats and depraved sexualities. There’s also a load of new writing, such as Kathryn McConnell’s blackly comic Possession is 9/10ths and Stephen Middleton’s The Woods Are Lovely, a claustrophobic survivalist nightmare.
The influence of the Grand Guignol is everywhere, with a five-week run of Theatre of the Damned’s own Revenge of the Grand Guignol, four brutal little dramas inspired by the original theatre and the follow up to last year’s Grand Guignol, named ‘London’s scariest show’ by the Evening Standard. There’s also an appearance by London’s Nouveau Guignol, presenting a new version of French classic The Orgy in the Lighthouse, together with two other plays of the darkly erotic.
It all kicks off the week before Halloween, and if all goes well we’d like it to be an annual event. With Ghost Stories storming the West End and rumours of a new Grand Guignol musical by no less a luminary than Neil Gaiman, it looks like horror theatre is finally on the rise again.
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