Entertainment Magazine

Theatre of Blood

Posted on the 18 October 2014 by Christopher Saunders
Theatre of BloodTheatre of Blood (1973) is a unique Shakespearean slasher movie. Vincent Price considered this his favorite role, infusing his classical stage training into a typically ghoulish villain. Theatre's winning conceit carries it through grisly killings and morbid humor, even if it eventually wears thin.
Several London theater critics wind up dead, murdered in gruesome ways. Police are baffled, but Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry) recognizes a pattern: one man drowned in wine a la Richard III, another beheaded in bed like Cymbeline, a victim stabbed on the Ides of March. The murders are perpetrated by Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price), a Shakespearean ham actor who tried suicide after critics refused him Actor of the Year. Yet Lionheart survived, and with his daughter (Diana Rigg) and various vagrants, seeks poetic revenge on his tormentors.
Theatre of Blood provides an amazing cast. Ian Hendry (The Hill) is our protagonist, by virtue of having a conscience. Queuing up for gruesome demises are Harry Andrews (The Charge of the Light Brigade), Coral Browne (The Ruling Class), Jack Hawkins (The Cruel Sea), Michael Hordern (Where Eagles Dare), Arthur Lowe (This Sporting Life), Robert Morley (The African Queen) and Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets). Add Diana Rigg as Lionheart's daughter, Diana Dors as Hawkins' wife and Milo O'Shea's cop on bench support. This roster would be impressive for a Roadshow epic; for a modest horror flick, it's astonishing.
But it's Vincent Price's show all the way. Price was never better utilized: he devours scenery, reciting the Bard's speeches while sporting an Afro wig or feeding victims poodle pie. Not even Olivier, surely, got to recite Hamlet's "To be" soliloquy, Marc Antony's eulogy and Richard III's opening speech in the same film! Price's glee quickly infects the audience: he's clearly having fun, and viewers can't help going along. Effortlessly convincing as a crack-brained ham, he's creepy and funny in equal measure.
Theatre of Blood benefits from its cast and Anthony Greville-Bell's sharp script. Douglas Hickox enjoys staging the creative murders, though considering death by hair curlers Shakespeare-inspired is a stretch! There's a memorably weird sequence where Lionheart and Devlin fence with uncapped sabers, sparring while bouncing on trampolines. The sheer variety of set pieces keeps Theatre engaging, though not everything works.
But Hickox's uninspired direction ultimately lets Theatre down. Oftentimes it seems too heavily skewed towards comedy, granting the deaths little weight. The critics are shallow caricatures, and many death scenes fizzle; Hawkins' denouement is particularly weak. A firmer directorial hand could have better balanced horror and comedy, or given it more dramatic urgency. Plant tongue too firmly in cheek and the audience grows wary.
But Theatre of Blood's shortcomings don't compromise a fun picture. There's enough kitschy gore and morbid humor to please any horror fan. And who can resist Vincent Price in all-out ham mode?

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