- Directed by Douglas Hickox
- March 16, 1973 / April 5, 1973 (US) / June 7, 1973 (UK)
In London a group of theater critics is being picked off one by one in ways reminiscent of Shakespearean plays with the only suspect being an actor long thought dead.
Theatre of Blood is a horror comedy that is closer to horror than it is comedy. The humor here is dark but not necessarily anything you will laugh at. Instead you will be entertained by the cheese and at times the silliness of the whole situation presented in the film.
I find the use of Shakespearean plays similar to The Abominable Dr. Phibes that used the plagues of Egypt as its central character’s inspiration for their kills. In both cases the method of exacting revenge was not a simple bullet or knife but rather a complex murder whose template came from something else. Both are films that are very over the top in their execution.
The legendary and incomparable Vincent Price stars as theater actor Edward Lionheart who has met with more than a few bad reviews in his time. After getting snubbed for an award which he was convinced he would win, he goes off his rocker. After he threatens the critics who he felt wrongfully denied him, Edward attempts suicide by jumping into the Thames. After being presumed dead but actually being saved by a group of vagrants, he picks off his critics one by one based on scenarios derived from the Shakespearean performances he was proud of that they panned his performance in.
The legendary Vincent Price was one of the kings of horror. The man made a career out of it, and he did it quite well. He could be downright frightening or somewhat campy as he is here. He didn’t just play the role. He added things to the character he portrayed. Here there are expressions and reactions that he has when a character does something stupid or when he is about to become involved in the kill. He’s closer to being the individual he is playing than many of the performers in this movie.
Bits and pieces of the Shakespearean works that inspire the kills are performed by Price. He was a good actor in general but one thing that jumped out at me in Theatre of Blood was that his performances when doing the lines was not that good. It wasn’t as good as he was capable of doing which went with the character of Edward Lionheart. Price was good actor playing a bad actor and he was legitimately bad when appropriate! That is brilliant acting.
Truthfully I watched this film because of the name ‘Vincent Price’ in the cast alone but I learned that Diana Rigg was in this movie when I saw the opening credits. Emma Peel herself! Here she is Edwina Lionheart, Edward’s devoted daughter. It took me a little bit to figure out how her character, an insanely loyal daughter, fit into the kills. She is actually in a significant portion of the film, but I think you’ll be hard-pressed to actually point her out.
The plot is rather absurd in a fun way. British horror tried some interesting stuff and more often than not I think it could work well enough to be entertaining. I’m curious just how this idea came to be. What inspired the initial kernel of the story all the way to the finished product? Was this some writer or director or actor vicariously living out a fantasy? The initial presentation of the idea must have been as odd as the initial presentation for the classic series Hogan’s Heroes.
The score is absolutely beautiful. It’s very good music and doesn’t seem to fit in a horror movie. It’s not what you would expect anyway. Composer Michael J. Lewis crafted something unique and interesting that should not fit yet does.
Blood and gore in film hadn’t gone all realistic yet so what blood they show is rather bright red. The film is filled with interesting camera angles and shot composition that help to heighten the strange nature of the entire situation. There is nothing too frightening here but there are a few mildly shocking moments. Anything you feel is more psychological than it is visual. The film relies on tension and an odd vibe.
Theatre of Blood is a bit of a cult classic, and I think it deserves that reputation. It has great music and an interesting if silly story that will hold you from beginning to end. I say check it out!