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A Parisian theater owner producing a Grand Guignol play discovers a string of murders on set.
In turn-of-the-century Paris, after actors Cesar Charron and his wife Madeleine finish another successful performance of the play Murders in the Rue Morgue at the Grand Guignol theater, Eric, who played the part of an ape, is found dead in his dressing room, his face disfigured by acid, just before the performance. Police inspector Vidocq quickly deduces that since the murderer wore Eric's full-body ape costume and played the part flawlessly onstage, he must be a member of Cesar's theater company. Cesar, who is in love with Madeleine because of her resemblance to her mother, has purposefully kept the circumstances around Madeleine's mother's death a secret from his wife. Late that night, Madeleine awakens from her recurring nightmares in which someone cuts a rope, causing a man to fall from the theater's catwalk to his death. Meanwhile, Cesar meets with prostitute and former company member Genevre, who insists that Rene Marot, an actor in the troupe who committed suicide many years ago, has returned from the dead to seek revenge on all the company's actors. Cesar reassures Genevre that Marot is dead, has sex with her and leaves. Soon after, Marot, wearing a skin-colored mask and posing as a customer, pours acid on Genevre's face, killing her. The next day, Pierre Triboulet, a dwarf secretly assisting Marot, introduces himself to Madeleine as the admirer who has been leaving her orchids after performances, and offers to help her career, claiming that he has powerful friends. Meanwhile, when Cesar is asked to identify the body of another former employee, mutilated by acid, Vidocq warns him that the murderer will continue to kill members of his company in this established pattern. Cesar subsequently warns Luigi Orsini, a retired member of the company, but Luigi refuses to listen and continues with his "buried alive" act, in which he is put in a coffin and buried for three days. Late that night, Marot visits the Charron house to watch the sleeping Madeleine, who dreams that Triboulet drives her to a house which she vaguely recognizes where she sees her mother rising from her coffin. When Madeleine questions Cesar about her dream, he finally reveals that the house she describes was her childhood home and that her mother, who was interred at the house, was murdered by Marot. Her mother, also an actress in Cesar's company, was supposed to throw a prop beaker of acid on Marot during a scene, but someone had filled the beaker with vitriol, a real acid, which horribly disfigured Marot's face. Believing Madeleine's mother was responsible, an enraged Marot axed her to death and then committed suicide over killing Madeleine's mother, with whom he was in love. Days later, Luigi is unearthed alive, but Marot kills him with vitriol before Luigi can get out of the coffin, then eludes Vidocq and his men. That night, Madeleine's nightmarish hallucinations cause her to faint on stage, forcing Cesar to call an intermission, during which Vidocq tells Cesar that Marot is indeed alive. Vidocq explains that Marot, having used a shallow breathing technique to survive his burial, then dug himself out of the grave, but Vidocq is unable to prove his theory because the location of Marot's coffin is a mystery. After experiencing more nightmares that night, Madeleine takes her maid Gabrielle to her mother's house, where Gabrielle faints at the sight of Triboulet and Marot captures Madeleine. Meanwhile, Cesar, who knows that Marot's coffin was interred next to that of Madeleine's mother, goes to the house to inspect Marot's coffin and finds it empty. Triboulet suddenly appears, informs him that Marot has captured Madeleine, and then brandishes a knife at the end of his cane to fight Cesar, who wrests the weapon away and stabs him. Cesar finds Marot and Madeleine, who helps Cesar suffocate Marot with a pillow. They drag his body to the coffin and close the lid, unaware that Marot is once again faking his own death. Later, when Vidocq suggests that Madeleine's mother must have hated Marot to have thrown acid on him, Madeleine defends her mother by explaining that she could not have hated Marot because she had requested his body be interred at her home. When Vidocq insists on inspecting the coffin, Madeleine and Cesar are shocked to see a badly decomposed body inside. Late that night, Marot hypnotizes Madeleine, who subsequently gives Cesar a sleeping powder, allowing Marot to kidnap him. Soon after on the stage at Madeleine's mother's house, Marot accuses Cesar of putting the acid in the beaker and of killing Madeleine's mother. When Cesar finally confesses to the murder, Marot promptly beheads him, causing Madeleine to faint. Vidocq arrives immediately after but, unable to catch Marot, convinces Madeleine to play her stage role once more to lure Marot back to the theater. As expected, during the next performance, Marot puts on the ape costume to act the role, but Madeleine recognizes him onstage and screams. Vidocq and his men chase Marot but lose him in a bustling carnival crowd just outside. Back at the theater, Madeleine is in her dressing room with fellow actor John posted just outside her door for protection, when she hears a noise and finds John dead. Madeleine tries to escape but finds all the theater doors locked. Reaching the stage, she sees Marot on the catwalk above her and instantly chops with an axe the rope holding him, reliving her nightmare vision and finally killing Marot. That night, a restless Madeleine is awakened by the noise of someone approaching and watches as her doorknob turns, fully aware that she will be forever haunted by her past.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||GP||Premiere Info:||not available|
|Release Date:||1971||Production Date:||
AFI-DVD, EB, Netflix
|Color/B&W:||Color||Distributions Co:||American International Pictures|
|Sound:||Mono||Production Co:||American International Productions (England), Ltd.|
|Duration(mins):||86-87||Country:||Great Britain and United States|
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