Theatre of Blood (1973)

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Edward Lionheart, a classically trained actor, takes sinister revenge on the guild of critics whose reviews savaged him, causing him to loose the Best Actor of the Year award to a young upstart. He’s going to make them pay, damn it. And he’s going to do it via the most relevant and horrible theatrical device imaginable: Shakespeare.

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Gah! The horror! The HORR-OR….

This movie is essentially a collection of Shakespearian death scenes linked together by a very thin plot device. Using the plays Lionheart produced/starred in the previous year (the ones in which the critics spurned him), he and his merry ‘chorus’ of drunken, dirty street refugees kill each member of the Critics Circle based on a death scene in one of the chosen Shakespeare plays. It’s really a very simple movie, when summed up. There’s a themed death, some exposition, another death, etc… and the pattern continues as such, all while the poor police scratch their heads of course, until the climax at the end.

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Though all of Price’s scenes are filled with varying levels of campyness, the rest of the film is played almost completely straight. For every scene where Lionheart is having just a grand ‘ol time dressing up and knocking people off in creative fashion there’s another where everyone is grim and serious and wondering when the killer will strike next and who the next victim will be.

Such transitions add a level of disjointedness to the film that sadly feels horribly miscalculated. I think they did try in a couple of scenes to even it out, but the efforts still mostly feel out of place and more often than not it feels like you’re watching two separate movies. It’s not a huge negative to the film as a whole, but I do wish they had found some way to smooth out that particular wrinkle.

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I take great pleasure in informing you that my clothes are never wrinkled.

The reason this film works can be summed up in two words: Vincent Price. He is the backbone, nay, the supporting structure of the entire film. All those other characters? Screw ‘em. They’ll probably be dead by the end anyway and, with the exception of perhaps two of them, they contain the base minimum of characterizatio, so it’s not big loss when they croak. No, this is Price’s show and, by god, he freakin’ knows it. Hell, I’m pretty sure everyone involved with this film knew it, too. The writer, director, the cast…Everyone. The role clearly called for someone who could pull off campy, classy and sinister and Price nails it with his familiar mixture of energetic panache and deep, festering madness. He is perfect and brilliant and being the as Vincent Price as Vincent Price can be.

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Or, at least he is when he’s not dressing up as his distant cousin,
Stu Price…
I love Stu.

This is of course not a knock on any of the other actors. Each critic was a big name in British film and theatre and includes Robert Morley, Arthur Lowe, Harry Andrews and Jack Hawkings. Diana Rigg also plays a prominent role as Lionheart’s daughter and is a joy to behold. But no matter how excellent each secondary character may be (and they are all excellent), they just cannot hold a candle to Price. But that’s alright. I’m perfectly content with them being the cherry and sprinkles on top of an already impressive sundae.

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Sundae, Bloody Sundae

Despite a couple criticisms, Theatre of Blood is a fun film from the first frame all the way to the end. In a current era filled with dismal, dark horror movies it’s a refreshing take while still sparing no expense in the shocks and blood department. It is equal parts humor and horrifying, absurd and even touching. Price’s Lionheart comes off more as an antihero rather than a straight villain, helped along by the dickishness off all the critics and the way they treated him. And any horror movie with a classy villain who creates intricately awesome, bloody and often gory traps is a winner in my book. The effective resulting ‘cheese’ is just an added bonus.

I’ve read that Price considered this is best film.

I wouldn’t have argued with the man.

Theatre of Blood is currently available to rent on Amazon.

It has also received a DVD and Bluray release.

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Michi

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