Directed by: Douglas Hickox
Written by: Anthony Greville-Bell
Starring: Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, and Ian Hendry
Reviewed by: Wes R.
If you ask most horror fans who Vincent Price was, those who know their stuff will tell you he was an amazing asset to the genre and produced a body of work unmatched by most horror actors since the good old days of Karloff, Chaney, and Lugosi. Those of you who don’t know him…shame on you! Some modern fans will dismiss him as a guy who starred in "old" horror movies, in a time when actual on-screen blood and gore was few and far between. To them, I simply point to Theater of Blood. While it doesn’t have all the trappings of the formula, one could easily label this film as a member of the slasher sub-genre. There is a one-by-one murder scheme, the deaths are very creative (not to mention, fairly bloody), and the murderer is insane.
Poor Edward Lionheart (Price). He can’t get a good acting review to save his life. And of course, it doesn’t save his life. Lionheart commits suicide after a failed attempt to adapt another of Shakespeare’s plays to the London stage…or does he? Soon, each of his former critics begins dying in horrible ways, inspired by some of the Bard’s most memorable plays. Is Lionheart taking revenge from beyond the grave?
This one was just pure fun from start to finish. Price gives us yet another great performance as the deranged, murderous madman. As stated before, the death scenes in this one are fun, inventive, and fairly grisly. We’re given everything from a brutal stabbing to a man being bloodily drug to his death tied to a charging horse’s carriage. The musical score is a bit dated at times, but this just adds to the swingin’ 70s fun. The film isn’t meant to be taken completely seriously. It’s not ‘scary’ at all, in fact. It is, more or less, just a chance to see Price superbly hamming it up and (using a phrase many serious film reviewer types often overuse) chewing the scenery. The man undergoes numerous costume (not to mention, hairstyle) changes in order to recreate the various roles which he was originally panned for. This isn't the 'safe' Vincent Price of House of Wax and The Tingler, this is a truly demented and bloodthirsty performance not unlike his Dr. Phibes films. If you liked the Phibes movies, you'll love Theater of Blood.
One can’t help but wonder if Price, the director, the writers, or all three were taking joy in a project that really skewers (pun intended) critics. You can tell that they were having fun with the concept, and it definitely comes across in the finished film. There is a truly amazing swordfight between Price and Ian Hendry (Tales From the Crypt), a heart cut from a man's chest complete with escaping steam from the still beating chambers, and plenty of other setpieces to keep horror fans glued to their screens. Also on hand is my personal favorite Bond girl, Diana Rigg from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I can’t reveal what her role is in the proceedings, but seeing her and her performance is pure joy. I’ve only watched this one on DVD, but its transfer by MGM as part of the Midnite Movies line is top notch, for sure. I noticed virtually no scenes of print damage or dirt. The colors are fairly vibrant and the image is crisp. The film even comes as a double feature with another 70s Price vehicle, Madhouse, which I also hope to review soon.
Theater of Blood comes very highly recommended. If you’re into 70s British horror, they just don’t come any better than this. Generally when an actor has seen his best days, he’ll take pretty much any role given to him in attempts to recapture his former glory (see Bela Lugosi or Robert Englund, unfortunately). Vincent Price, however, continued to churn out strong work well into the latter part of his career, and Theater of Blood comes off as one of his absolute best. It’s a true shame that director Douglas Hickox never got a chance to revisit the genre. He joins the ranks of guys like J. Lee Thompson (Happy Birthday to Me) and Peter Medak (The Changeling) who made their respective marks and then moved on. As it stands, his work in Theater of Blood deserves to be admired and cherished in the hearts and minds of horror fans young and old. This is a great film, and if you like fun as part of your horror movie mix, you owe it to yourself to track this one down. Buy it!
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