Unless you’re completely freaked out by the consumption of human flesh — and who wasn’t completely turned on by Helen Mirren in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
, really — there’s only one truly shocking moment in Shocktoberfest: Curse of the Cobra
, and it comes almost at the very end. Like The Simpsons
’ Treehouse of Horror episodes, the Thrillpeddlers’ annual rite of ridiculousness is a Halloween tradition, and this year’s iteration is strongly California-themed, touching on the Gold Rush, the ill-fated Donner Party crossing, and forbidden love in a postwar housing tract.
As a string of vignettes in the house style, one’s enjoyment of Shocktoberfest
will strongly correlate with one’s love of ridiculous wordplay and self-conscious camp (along with corsets, gingham, and boys in short, sparkly dresses). But every narrative is an exercise in framing, to shoehorn plot elements like murderous madames, gay adolescent bomb-shelter trysts, and the specter of Maria Montez, and however artful or inartful, it’s always fun to watch.
It opens with a tale of scheming whores and prospectors. “Cracking the Vein
” combines nuggets of gold with nuggets of astute historical observation, and it’s the best-written segment of the night. Although both halves of “The Model House
” constitute quite a poignant look at suburban familial psychodrama refracted through Cold War paranoia, its seriousness weighs it down. And “The Revenge of the Son of the Cobra Woman
” has a plot so absurd and condensed it’s hard to keep up. With the Thrillpeddlers, musical numbers are always stronger, and “Down at the Donner Party Diner: A Song in Bad Taste
” is the Shocktoberfest at its finest: not scary, not shocking, but nailing the Grand Guignol grotesquerie. Spoiler alerts: the Donner Party didn’t make it, and today’s special might include a fib or two about where its ingredients were sourced.
The Thrillpeddlers claims to be the group who’s brought more of that storied Montmarte theater’s plays back from the dead than anyone else, and I believe it. Because when this troupe revives a corpse, it not only goes on a jubilant killing spree a la Frankenstein’s monster, it bares its buxom bosom, cracks jokes about sexual repression in Eisenhower’s America, and belts out a cabaret showstopper, too.
, $25-$35, through Nov. 21, at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St., 415-377-4202.