Theatre of Blood (1973)

Theatre of Blood (1973)

It’s curtains for his critics!

A hammy Shakesperian actor takes horrific revenge on the critics who savaged his plays and denied him the chance to win Best Actor of the Year award by killing them in parodies of deaths from Shakespeare’s plays.

 

Essentially an elaborate sequence of death scenes linked by a loose plot, Theatre of Blood is an attempt by AIP to recapture the success that was The Abominable Dr Phibes. With Vincent Price playing a classically educated madman keen on getting revenge on some wrong-doers through a variety of convoluted set pieces, the film was a remarkably camp but graceful affair which is a bit of an oddity. Dr Phibes Rises Again soon followed which followed the same template. Then a couple of years later, this one appeared and for all intents and purposes, Theatre of Blood could almost be Dr Phibes 3.

Theatre of Blood works for one reason and for one reason only – Vincent Price. This is his film right from the start. He knows it. The director knows it. The script writer has known it. The rest of the cast know it. And after we’ve finished, we know it too. Price is at his scenery-chewing best in this one. The role of the hammy but egotistical Shakesperian actor needed a certain character to play the part and Price is perfect for it, mixing his energetic delivery with his velvet vocals and his trademark sinister, dark persona to create the perfectly grandiose villain. Edward Lionheart is weird and sometimes camp, totally mad, devoted to the works of the Bard and always posing an element of utmost danger. Shakespeare himself would have been proud to create such a multi-levelled character! Had Price not become so typecast within the horror genre, he would have made for a fantastic Shakespearian actor as he rattles off a recital of a passage of Shakespeare right before or after each death with immense passion.

Diana Rigg plays his on-screen daughter and seems to be having as much fun as Price himself, though she spends most of the film hiding beneath layers of fancy dress and make-up as she re-enacts the scenes with the ‘help’ of the intended victims. The supporting cast of critics include Jack Hawkins and Arthur Lowe of all people, most famous for his brilliant portrayal of Captain Mainwaring in the hit BBC show Dad’s Army.

Though Lionheart himself flits between the camp and the tongue-in-cheek, the film itself is played straight which makes for a disjointed combination at times. Theatre of Blood sadly lacks a decent narrative to keep it going. As I’ve already mentioned, the film is virtually a collection of Shakespearian death scenes. The flimsy story moves from death A to death B to death C without any hint of deviating. Ultimately, this just means the film gets too predictable because we know that nothing else is going to happen. Basically Price hams it up for a bit, kills someone and then moves on to the next victim. You could argue that the film follows the classic slasher formula to the latter, stripping away as much of the story as possible and keeping things simple.

The death scenes are highly elaborate and gruesome: each one ‘influenced’ by a famous death scene from a Shakespeare play and there are some crackers. One pompous character is fed his own dogs baked in a pie (from Titus Andronicus) and there’s a recreation of the famous swordfight from Romero and Juliet. Knowing your Shakespeare would definitely help! For 1973, the film can quite graphic and gallons of blood are spilled, more done with amusing fashion than truly nasty intent.

 

Theatre of Blood works on one level and one level alone: Vincent Price. If you like him, you’ll love this. If not, you still might like this. Gory fun with an interesting idea and you might even learn a bit of classic Shakespeare in the process. Price considered this his best film and I’d be hard-pressed to disagree.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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