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A great celebration of the Grand-Guignol and its ultimate leading lady, Paula Maxa
This somewhat unusual feature incorporates elements of slasher horror with a period drama. Its story centres around the woman who could be described as the original scream queen, Paula Maxa. She was the lead actress in the Parisian Théâtre du Grand-Guignol; a theatre infamous in some quarters for putting on dramatic shows which enacted out a variety of incredibly bloody murders. This is a place so influential on the subsequent horror cinema genre that the term Grand-Guignol has become a broad term readily associated with a certain type of gory excess. But even then, I daresay most people don't know a great deal about the place itself. Perhaps the chief strength of The Most Assassinated Woman in the World is that it is largely set in this theatre and showcases some of the salacious visceral plays they put on. I was actually quite amazed at the level of violence that these theatre productions revelled in and can see that they were precursors to the cinematic splatter movies kicked off with the release of Herschell Gordon Lewis's Blood Feast in 1963. Its probably no coincidence that the Grand-Guignol itself closed the year prior to that ground-breaking gore-fest, as once cinema finally caught up it was always going to struggle to remain as relevant.
The movie itself mixes reality with fiction. To that end we have an authentic place and a bunch of real characters form the basis of the story. The one fictional character, the reporter Jean, is a connection to the other main invention of the serial killer who has an obsession with Maxa. But even this too had a basis in some reality in that there was an active serial killer operating in the Montmartre area at the time. It is overall a nicely original idea for a film and it makes a great backdrop for a story. I particularly liked the gloomy photography which not only reflected much of the Parisian art of the 1930's but also made you feel you really were in the bowels of this old theatre. It created considerable atmosphere. Anna Mouglalis is also excellent as Maxa, and the film tries to explore to some degree what it was like for her being effectively murdered on stage every night in a myriad of gruesome ways, many of which are listed in one inspired sequence. Another effective aspect was the score by Keren Ann, which mixed period accurate music with energetic modern stuff which combined to give the film a unique energy I thought.
This is definitely a pleasingly distinctive movie. The excellent setting and interesting central character are enough in themselves to ensure this is a fascinating watch, with the bloody re-enactments in the theatre itself being enough of a reason alone to at least see this given their attention to authentic detail. But the whole production is elevated further by blending in a serial killer angle, dark past psychological events from the heroine's life and the additional pressures caused by the outcry of the moral guardians of the city. It ticks a few boxes, this one.
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