Theatre Of Blood Review
Mike Sutton has already reviewed the Region 1 of this film and for a slightly different view, read his review here.
Theatre Of Blood stars Vincent Price as Edward Lionheart; an actor scorned by critics for is insistence on only playing Shakespeare. Lionheart is mocked by the major critics in London both for this and for dismissing modern theatre and the actors who perform it. Once a year, these critics, who, as a group, form the Critic's Circle, meet to present their awards and in the year in which the film is set, Lionheart fully expects to be honoured at the ceremony and to receive the Best Actor award, even so far as standing up at the ceremony to accept it prior to its announcement. Instead, to his shock, a much younger actor, well known for his performances in modern theatre, is presented the award.
Lionheart feels that he has been ridiculed by his peers and, uninvited, he attends the post-ceremony party to claim the award as his own. His daughter, Edwina Lionheart (Diana Rigg), arrives to escort him away from the party but, as critics are wont to do, they mock him to such an extent that, utterly dejected, he dives into the Thames from apartment in which the party is being held, and, as his body is never recovered, he is assumed dead.
However, some time later, George Maxwell (Michael Hordern), one of the Critic's Circle, is found dead, stabbed multiple times in a rundown building in London, occupied by squatters who Maxwell was to have evicted. Soon after, another of the Critic's Circle, Hector Snipe (Dennis Price), is also murdered, with the weapon of choice being a spear this time. His body is dragged behind a horse to Maxwell's funeral. Where Maxwell's death was relatively straightforward, it is only with the peculiar death of Snipe - based on Troilus And Cressida - that the Critic's Circle suspects a pattern. Maxwell's death is re-examined and is linked to the death of Julius Caesar - stabbed multiple times on the 15 March, also known as the Ides of March.
To the current head of the Inner Critic's Circle, Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry), it is obvious that the deaths are linked to murders committed in Shakespeare's more violent plays, particularly those performed in Edward Lionheart's last season and, in conversation with the police, lists the order of the remaining plays. The audience, police and critics now know that Richard III, The Merchant Of Venice, Othello and, favourite of, and most memorable to, most viewers, Titus Andronicus, will follow the deaths of Maxwell and Snipe.
As is typical revenge dramas, the police, led by Inspector Boot (Milo O'Shea), slowly realise what is happening but, as is typical of these films, remain confused and inept throughout the investigation. Peregrine Devlin is highlighted early on as the closest to a hero as this film is going to provide, even surviving an early meeting with Lionheart, and it is up to him, rather than Boot, to find Lionheart and stop him committing any further murders.
The motive for Lionheart's acts of revenge soon becomes clear. In addition to the shame he suffered at the awards ceremony, he felt he had been ridiculed for years by the Critic's Circle, keeping every negative review in a scrapbook and quoting them during his meetings with those he regards as his tormentors.
With its, admittedly basic, structure in place, the real enjoyment in watching this film begins, seeing the rather inventive ways the filmmakers realise each murder. What is particularly entertaining, however, are the sequences during which Lionheart tricks each critic into a position where he can take his revenge. As each critic is fully aware how dangerous a position they are in, Lionheart is required to work ever harder to deceive them and, as the film progresses, these sequences become ever more entertaining, though it does help if you are familiar with Shakespeare to make the most of the humour in the script. Whilst this may be reduced to a basic slasher movie, the predictable structure is actually a great advantage when watching the film a second or third time as, knowing which critics are murdered and when, you can simply sit back and enjoy the slaughter and Price's incredible performance.
What will be a surprise to many people is how well Price plays Shakespeare. There is a habit for fans of cult films to believe their favourite actors and actresses are quite capable of acting outside genre given a chance and are only typecast in skin flicks, horror movies, sci-fi and fantasy because of lazy casting. In the majority of cases, this is sadly untrue but Price is really an exception. Only very occasionally here does he ham it up excessively and these are typically in the scenes where Lionheart takes his revenge but there are a number of scenes, usually the more touching of the film, where Price gives a good reading of Shakespeare's texts. He's no Olivier nor may be even be a Branagh, heaven forbid, and whilst he may be more convincing playing Lionheart, rather than playing Lionheart performing Shakespeare, he is one of a very small number of cult actors who could have played this role and he does it admirably.
Price also has a great cast assembled around him to complement his playing. Diana Rigg is a great actress, consistently witty, and her performance here comes close to matching Price, accurately capturing Edwina Lionheart's duplicitous nature. Coral Browne (as Miss Chloe Moon) met Vincent Price during filming and married him shortly after and whilst many viewers consider Price a camp actor, and disguised as a hairdresser named Butch, he most certainly is, he just cannot compare to Robert Morley (as Meredith Merridew) who, wearing an outrageously pink suit and carrying two poodles, fills every scene he appears in - excellently cast.
Indeed, it is this cast which elevates Theatre Of Blood from being standard slasher fare. The premise is original, the deaths inventive but it is the acting, the sharp dialogue and the black humour that will be remembered long after the film finishes.
The film is presented in 1.66:1 and looks acceptable, if not perfect. Mike Sutton mentioned that it might be open matte when he compared it to a fullscreen video copy but if it is, the presentation has not suffered.
The film was released in 1973 and the cinematography is very much of its time - it can be gritty, much of the lighting is harsh, some of the close-ups can be jarring and the location filming can appear as though the crew simply pitched up on a street corner in the East End of London and started filming. However, none of this is unpleasant as it looks exactly like a contemporary British low-budget horror from 1973 should. What Theatre Of Blood should be congratulated on is that, instead of attempting to fit an American horror standard, it wears its Britishness with pride, reminiscent of a time when stylish and entertaining horror films were a staple of the British film industry.
However, the DVD transfer is not bad - any imperfections are, no doubt, due to the age of the film and the condition of the print.
The film is presented in its original English language mono, which was the right decision to take when transferring this film to DVD - a Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS remix would not have improved the soundtrack by any recognisable amount. The mono soundtrack is clear and simply recorded and is, again, very much a product of its time. The soundtrack can occasionally sound dry, but there are no issues with the audio transfer.
There is but one extra on the DVD:
Trailer (4:3, 2m23s, Mono): This contains a quite incredible number of spoilers so I would suggest you do not watch this until you watch the film. It is also badly chopped to 4:3 with both the left and right hand sides of the frame missing, cutting off the full names of the cast.
I'm no longer going to include Scene Selection and Interactive Menus, as these simply are not extras.
Michael Weldon of Psychotronic fame believes this is the role Vincent Price had been working towards his whole life and he's probably not far wrong. Price, assisted by Diana Rigg, truly carries this film and with the talent in the supporting company, particularly Robert Morley who is excellently cast, Theatre Of Blood contains consistently good performances throughout. Price is so vital to this film that, had the wrong actor been cast, Theatre Of Blood could well have failed. This is not Price's best film - my personal favourite is The Masque Of The Red Death - but it is hugely enjoyable and does complete a loosely themed revenge trilogy if you include the similarly vengeful horrors of the Dr Phibes films.
Be warned, however, that Theatre Of Blood is not fully equipped to cross into the mainstream. Even now, it can be quite gory, so much so that those viewers who are not fans of horror films may be put off. As an example, though, of a great British horror film, when such things were not a rarity, Theatre Of Blood is superb - it capably mixes horror with wit and invention and is, as a whole, ignoring a small number of minor faults, great entertainment. This film comes recommended.
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