Thrillpeddlers Horror Theater Company Loses Home, Calls It Quits

A Thrillpeddler Production of the Cockettes' 'Pearls over Shanghai' (Photo: Daniel Nicoletta/Thrillpeddlers)

Thrillpeddlers, the South of Market theater company that has specialized in horror and high camp for 26 years, will likely produce its last show in February. Russell Blackwood, the company founder and producing director, learned on New Year’s Day that the owners of the Hypnodrome, Thrillpeddlers' custom built theater, had sold the building.

The new owner, Blackwood said, runs a furniture showroom which was recently priced out of the San Francisco Design Center.

Thrillpeddlers specializes in revivals of gory 19th century Grand Guignol plays, which often spatter fake blood on audience members, alongside revivals of work first produced by the Cockettes, a drag theater troupe founded in the 1970s. “There is an underground aspect, and a sex-positive aspect that belonged South of Market and in the Folsom," Blackwood says.

But despite the gory and sexually-charged content of most of the company’s shows,  Blackwood aims to be inclusive. “I saw this as being a community theater,” he says.

Scrumbly Koldwyn, founder of the Cockettes, and Russell Blackwood, founder of Thrillpeddlers
Scrumbly Koldwyn, founder of the Cockettes, and Russell Blackwood, founder of Thrillpeddlers (Photo: David Allen/Thrillpeddlers)

Blackwood also runs a kids' theater workshop, Creepshow Camp, to teach younger devotees how to stage science fiction and horror shows of their own.

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As the company's sole employee, Blackwood says he’s not sure he wants to keep Thrillpeddlers going if it means moving to another space. He loves the intimacy of the 45-seat Hypnodrome. And he says he's equipped the theater with special features designed to frighten audiences at the company's annual Halloween Shocktoberfest shows, including a realistic-looking guillotine.

Blackwood isn’t mad at his landlords. “These gentlemen are our benefactors," He says. "The rent was always well below market rate, and their relationship with us has been like family.”

Thrillpeddlers is going out in typical style with a series of nude readings of the fantastical writings of H. P. Lovecraft -- Naked Dudes Reading Lovecraft -- and a semi-staged concert of the new musical Amazon Apocalypse -- or How the Devil Came to Save the Planet, plus two benefit variety shows and a rummage sale of props and costumes.

Asked for an epitaph for the company, Blackwood says he’d like the Thrillpeddlers tombstone to say, “They were the San Francisco you moved here to meet.”

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