“Shocktoberfest 13: The Bride of Death” drips with ghoulish gags and bloody tales of human anguish.
Thrillpeddlers, the scrappy little San Francisco theater troupe known for presenting fun terror-fetish productions, offers five elements in its annual Halloween-season pageant: one thriller in the European Grand Guignol style of naturalistic, graphic horror shows, two world-premiere one-acts, two musical numbers and a “lights out” finale that spooks theatergoers out of their seats.
The show starts with a revival of the Grand Guignol “Coals of Fire,” in which a blind woman (Leigh Crow) and her young companion (Zelda Koznofski) have a conversation that escalates into an excruciating and malignant tragedy.
Next comes the world premiere of Michael Phillis’ “The Bride of Death,” a play with the shimmer of “All About Eve” — minus the blackmail, but with all of the bitterness.
Directed by Thrillpeddlers artistic director Russell Blackwood, it tells the 1940s-era tale of a reporter (an absolutely urbane Phillis) and photographer (Flynn DeMarco) sent to interview an aging actress (a resplendent Bonni Suval) about rumors she will return to the big screen after decades, reprising a famous horror role. Their visit becomes frightful when the soft-spoken governess (Annie Larson) turns militant and events take a bloody turn.
Irresistibly dark, excessive and twitchy and filled with hallucinations of dancing giant flies, rats and dolls, “The Twisted Pair” is about an agitated scientist (Blackwood) looking for funding and fame, who, as part of his research, manipulates his colleague (DeMarco) into putting on women’s clothing and pretending to be his fiancee.
Musical numbers “I’m a Mummy” and “Those Beautiful Ghouls” feature the same lustrous, dramatic, big and bold attire created by an amazingly capable costume crew.
Staging in the compact, art-deco-style Hypnodrome Theatre is equally impressive: Adorned tables and couches, flashy brandy decanters and posters inspired by Paris’ Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol are artfully arranged against dark, splash-painted walls.
Beyond obvious creepshow terror, other themes, which won’t be divulged here, permeate “Shocktoberfest 13: The Bride of Death.” Adventurous theatergoers ought to experience the thrills and chills — and more — themselves.