29 July 2014

(1973)

Starring...the one and only Vincent Price. Essentially a horror/comedy, Theatre of Blood (directed by Douglas Hickox) stands as one of Price's crowning achievements.

Although the actor had appeared in 1939's Tower of London with Boris Karloff, it wasn't until House of Wax sixteen years later that he was firmly on his way to a long career in horror films.

Throughout the sixties, Price notably made a series of successful Edgar Allen Poe adaptations with Roger Corman. Among them were House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Raven (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1965).

Theatre of Blood served as a variation on a role he had played in 1971's The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

Price is Edward Lionheart, a hammy and egotistical Shakespearean actor. When a group of critics deny him an award he covets, Lionheart shows up at one of their gatherings and makes a dramatic speech before plummeting from a terrace balcony.

He falls into the river below and swims to safety, while everyone believes he has committed suicide. The actor soon finds himself with a colony of vagrants and forms a new "theatre company."

With this group and with the aid of his daughter Edwina (played by Diana Rigg) he avenges himself on his detractors by murdering them in creative ways...and modeling their deaths on violent set pieces created by the Bard himself.

Donning different disguises, we see Lionheart and his troupe:

  • a mob stabbing a critic to death on the Ides of March (Julius Caesar)
  • a man stabbed with a spear, his body then tied to a horse and dragged along the road (Troilus & Cressida)
  • a beheading (Cymbeline)
  • a pound of flesh cut out of one unfortunate victim (The Merchant of Venice)
  • a drowning (Richard III)
  • a victim of a fencing match (Romeo & Juliet)
  • a jealous man prodded into killing his wife (Othello)
  • a man forced to eat his two precious poodles (Titus Andronicus)
  • In a particularly good scene filled with black humor, Price dresses up as a flamboyant hair dresser...complete with afro wig. Rigg is at his side, done up in male hippie drag.

    They pretend to be doing a female critic's hair (Coral Browne) but end up frying her instead (Henry the 6th, Pt. 1).

    The police finally close in on Lionheart. Unwilling to be caught alive, he sets the theatre on fire...and with Edwina dead in his arms, he leaps to his death. King Lear, anyone?

    Theatre of Blood works on many levels. The direction by Douglas Hickox is top-notch, Anthony Greville-Bell's script is witty...and there's a lush score by Michael J. Lewis.

    The death sequences are strong and required gallons of blood to showcase the grisly deads of Lionheart and company.

    And the cast? First-rate. Vincent Price is superb in this standout piece, the material giving him plenty of reason to strut his stuff. Diana Rigg offers wonderful support. Both Price and Rigg considered this to be the best picture they had the pleasure to work on.

    Price met and fell in love with Coral Browne during the production. They married soon after.

    All in all, a great piece of horror filmmaking...filled with wonderful macabre touches and a devilish sense of humor.

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