Blu-ray Review: Theatre of Blood (1973)

Theatre of Blood BR CoverDistributor: Arrow Video

BBFC Classification: 15

Director: Douglas Hickox

Starring: Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Diana Dors, Ian Hendry, Michael Hordern, Arthur Lowe, Robert Morley, Dennis Price, Eric Sykes, Madeline Smith, Coral Browne

1960’s The Fall of the House of Usher marked the beginning of the most successful period of Vincent Price’s career, when he made several notable films with legendary filmmaker Roger Corman, and it was arguably 1973′s Theatre of Blood that signified the end of that era for the veteran actor. Not that Price didn’t make any more films after that – indeed, he kept working up until 1990 – but, much like with his good friends Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, his work rate seemed to slow down as a new breed of grittier and gorier horror movies started to emerge. Luckily, Theatre of Blood was a less creaky and more credible film than what Hammer were throwing out at the time and it seemed that Vincent Price would at least end his most prolific period on something of a high.

Edward Lionheart (Price) was a Shakespearean actor who apparently committed suicide after being humiliated by a board of critics who snubbed the actor for a prestigious award. However, Lionheart is not dead and begins exacting revenge on those who denied him the accolade he thought he thoroughly deserved by recreating the death scenes from the Shakespeare plays that he had worked on, albeit with a little bit of flamboyance, comedy and lots of blood.

In the special features film historian David Del Valle says that Vincent Price claimed Theatre of Blood was his favourite out of the films that he made and you can see why as not only does the actor get to play around in the horror genre that he had been mostly known for but he also got to flex his theatrical muscles by recreating several of Shakespeare’s characters, something that the actor never got to do for real. By this point in his career Price had become typecast in horror films and so was rarely offered anything else but in fact he was an actor with a huge range and had spent many years on the stage before appearing in movies, and many more years appearing in film noir and period pieces before making his name with horror films in the 1950s.

In a film that echoed Price’s own relationship with critics, his performance as Lionheart proved to be something that divided said critics as, despite being the murderer of some unsavoury but still innocent people, he proved to be quite a sympathetic character. Lionheart himself was pompous and overblown but he had put the work in and, in his mind, deserved the awards for it, only to be laughed at by sneering snobs who can make or break somebody’s career with a few words. It may be a horrible act to kill a dog and bake it into a pie but the scene where Lionheart – in disguise as a chef – feeds the unsuspecting Meredith Merridew (Robert Morley – The African Queen) one of his own poodles is played for laughs and almost demands that you root for the vengeful thespian, especially when a gleefully mischievous Price is hamming it up like only he can.

But despite having Vincent Price take centre stage for most of its length Theatre of Blood also boasts a very strong supporting cast that features several notable British actors, including Ian Hendry (Damien: Omen II), Arthur Lowe (Dad’s Army), Diana Rigg (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Michael Hordern (Where Eagles Dare), Eric Sykes (The Others), Madeline Smith (Taste the Blood of Dracula), Diana Dors (From Beyond the Grave) and Price’s future wife Coral Browne (The Killing of Sister George). Quite a list and everybody plays it fairly straight, with only Robert Morley adding a bit of camp with his bright pink suit and constantly declaring his love for his poodles, who go with him everywhere.

The disc comes loaded with a few interviews, the most interesting being with Vincent Price’s daughter Victoria who, apart from being a dead ringer for her father, speaks very highly of the film and notes its significance in her father’s career. Perhaps laying some of the groundwork for the horror comedies that would come in the following decade, Theatre of Blood manages to work on both levels to some extent but lacks consistency when it comes to the tone of the killings – some are dealt with brutally and fairly quickly, like when one character is stabbed to death by homeless tramps, and others are more drawn out and quite funny, like seeing Price dressed up in an afro wig as Butch the gay hairdresser shortly before resorting to electrified hair curlers as his weapon of choice – and this constantly shifting tone can be a little distracting. Nevertheless, Theatre of Blood is still very much a fun ride, with a very self-aware Vincent Price at the top of his game and clearly having a ball, and although it won’t gross you out it will make you wince occasionally and smile quite a lot, which is no doubt what the man himself would have wanted.

Theatre of Blood

Special Features: Audio commentary by the cast of The League of Gentlemen, interviews with Vincent Price’s daughter Victoria Price, author and film historian David Del Valle, actress Madeline Smith and composer Michael J. Lewis, trailer, reversible sleeve, collector’s booklet.

UK Release Date: 19th May 2014

Arrow Films – Website

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