“This year is a bit of a blood bath,” Thrillpeddlers artistic director Russell Blackwood says about the 15th anniversary of “Shocktoberfest.”
And that’s a bit of an understatement when describing the theater troupe’s “Shocktoberfest 15: The Bloody Debutante — An Evening of Horror, Carnage, Puppets, and Song!,” a quartet of gleefully ghastly vignettes at the Hypnodrome through Nov. 22.
Thrillpeddlers — which infuses its onstage blood baths with enough comedy, songs and burlesque sensuality to stir the chilliest soul – is a hardcore practitioner of the Grand Guignol theater tradition.
Borne of early-20th-century Paris, “it’s a theater that deals with taboos, as terror plays, and sex farces and comedies,” Blackwood says. Grand Guignol’s most infamous taboo is realistic blood and mayhem via imaginative special effects.
“The Taxidermist’s Revenge,” starring Birdie-Bob Watt as the delightfully unhinged titular pickler, contains one of the show’s more challenging effects: a vivisection table that’s meant for draining the blood of animals, but is used on … larger subjects.
“There's a great reward to having an audience know what’s coming, and have them wondering, how are they going to do that?” Blackwood said about the troupe’s inventive special effects. “And they see, ‘This surpassed my imagination. This is awful!’”
“Shocktoberfest 15,” which manages to be truly shocking in a seen-it-all kind of town, includes vintage adaptations such as “The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether,” an intense battle of wits between a lady reporter (the magnetic Bruna Palmeiro) and the very suspicious asylum director (seasoned pro John Flaw) that draws from an Edgar Allen Poe tale. Thrillpeddlers is giving the piece its English-language debut after developing it in partnership with Brazil’s Rigor Mortis troupe during a 2013 tour of Rio De Janeiro.
The most ambitious tale, “The Bloody Debutante,” stars Roxanne RedMeat as a shy debutante who seeks revenge on a unfaithful suitor. Anyone who assumes they’re in for a workmanlike “Carrie”-style revenge fantasy will be surprised, then horrified, but ultimately thrilled by her exquisite vengeance.
The blood and gore have a toe-tapping soundtrack thanks to writer Scrumbly Koldewyn, an original member of the fearless Cockettes troupe that shattered taboos of its own in front of Hypnodrome audiences in the 1970s.
The Cockettes, who turned Hollywood tropes inside out with flamboyant cross-dressing and bawdy humor, are a spiritual forefather of sorts to Thrillpeddlers, which has performed Cockettes pieces in other productions.
“The Cockettes were latching onto fashion or music, or elegance from a time that had passed – the Hollywood Golden Age,” Blackwood says. Similarly, he says, the Thrillpeddlers have revived and adapted the Grand Guignol tradition, which was all but forgotten in Europe.
Luxuriating in the forbidden thrills of yesteryear has an altogether, well, wholesome effect.
“That's my raison d’etre about reviving these pieces,” Blackwood says. “In the 1920s they were enjoying plays as salacious as this – that makes me, as a contemporary person, feel a little bit less jaded about who we are today.”
IF YOU GO
Shocktoberfest 15: The Bloody Debutante
Presented by Thrillpeddlers
Where: Hypnodrome Theatre, 575 Tenth St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, plus 8 p.m. Oct. 28-29; closes Nov. 22
Tickets: $30 to $35
Contact: (415) 377- 4202, www. thrillpeddlers.com, www.brownpapertickets.com