The origins of the haunted house date back to 19th-century London, when a series of illusions and attractions introduced the public to new forms of gruesome entertainment. In 1802, Marie Tussaud scandalized British audiences with an exhibition of wax sculptures of decapitated French figures, including King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marat and Robespierre. Tussaud’s likenesses were remarkably accurate, and with good reason — she created death masks of the French Revolution’s many guillotine victims. When she set up a permanent London exhibition, she dubbed her grotesque collection the “Chamber of Horrors” — a name that has stuck to the wax museum to this day.
At the turn of the 20th century, as Rebekah McKendry describes in Fangoria magazine, the closest relatives to modern haunted houses began experimenting with macabre themes. In Paris, the Grand Guignol theater became notorious for its on-stage depictions of graphic dismemberment; the theater’s director, Max Maurey, famously boasted that he judged each performance by the number of people who passed out, shocked, in the audience. In 1915, an English fairground in Liphook debuted one of the first “ghost houses,” an early type of commercial horror attraction. The public appetite for horror was picking up.
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