Val Lewton and the Grand-Guignol: Mademoiselle Fifi and horror canonicity | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 5, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2040-3275
  • E-ISSN: 2040-3283



This article explores a film produced by Val Lewton that is not usually included within his horror canon, Mademoiselle Fifi (Wise, 1944), as embodying important elements of the tradition of the Grand-Guignol theatre. The Grand-Guignol was the infamous Paris theatre (1897–1962) popularly associated with excessive onstage blood-letting, vitriol burns and dismemberment. I argue that the Grand-Guignol and Lewton’s film have much more in common than is often considered by scholars of the horror genre. Because of the film’s explicitness with respect to its politics and use of violence, even under the Production Code, Mademoiselle Fifi challenges the myth of Lewton, as a man of the shadows, of restraint and the indirect. I argue that the terms ‘Lewtonesque’ and ‘grand-guignolesque’ are not mutually exclusive, dislodging the reductive dichotomy (terror/horror) about the Lewton canon and the horror genre more broadly. Moreover, I consider the Grand-Guignol stage in ways that move beyond its popular misrepresentation as solely a place of excessive bloodletting by retrieving such techniques as ‘signposting’ and the ‘moment of violence’, usually associated with the experience of hidden terror, not only visible horror. This article locates Val Lewton’s work within a more complex set of intertextual convergences in order to broaden narrow understandings of horror canonicity.


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