Theatre Of Death Review

The Theatre of Death is a Parisian playhouse specialising in "horror, murder and avarice". Its creative director, played by Christopher Lee, has a penchant for hypnotism and misogyny and may have a connection to some recent murders involving young girls and vampirism. Julian Glover and Lelia Goldoni play the police surgeon aiding the investigation into the murders and his girlfriend respectively. To further the intrigue, Goldoni also works in the theatre and has recently suffered a nervous breakdown.

Christopher Lee, of course, is the one to watch. Whilst both Glover and Goldoni acquit themselves well with the limited material, Lee is the one who produces the performance with the most command. Getting all the best dialogue, the actor recalls his previous roles as Dracula with his charm and seductiveness as well as looking forward to his Bond villain eight years before the fact. Indeed, his character of Philipe Darvas could be described as a two-nippled Scaramanga (only with a fuller head of hair), though sadly there is no hero on a par with James Bond to play against.

Unsurprisingly, this leads to an emptiness whenever the actor is off-screen and, sadly, Samuel Gallu isn't a strong enough director to counter the problem. Everything is shot in a curiously flat style despite the opportunities offered by the 'scope' frame, and any significant moments are broadcast by an overuse of overbearing close-ups. There also appears to be some indecision on Gallu's part as to whether he is making a straight forward thriller or a horror movie. Certainly, the opening twenty minutes suggest the film could go either way, yet Gallu refuses to use this opportunity to toy with the audience. To make matters worse, Theatre of Death is exactly the kind of film that requires some flamboyance on the part of its director, as it is hampered with an extremely workmanlike script.

The writers' main problem is that they don't know where to go from their initially intriguing premise. Once everything is in place, they rely solely on a single twist and a number of red herrings without ever truly furthering the plot. The more interesting elements are almost entirely ignored, including the vampiric elements of the killings, the fact that the theatre is located in a disused church, and the mysterious disappearance of Lee's father. Even the serial killer aspect of the plot is treated in a straightforward manner, the script never seeming willing to take any risks (all the more frustrating considering its principle character is famed for doing just that). In fact, the only time Theatre of Death does show some any evidence of this is in its somewhat prudish references to "sexual assaults" and risqué voodoo re-enactment. And yet, this merely seems to be a cynical attempt to make the film palatable for a 1967 audience and disguise the fact that is a truly old fashioned piece of filmmaking. Indeed, outside Lee's performance, there is little with which to recommend.

The Disc

Theatre of Death is here presented in its original Technoscope 2.35:1 ratio. Whilst this makes a welcome change from the pan and scan prints screened occasionally on Channel 4, the picture quality still isn't perfect. Age has muted most of the colours to an unseemly green tint, whilst the reds now seem over-saturated.

The sound fares slightly better, here presenting the original mono split over the front two speakers. For the most part the soundtrack remains clean, though there is the occasional drop-out.

As for special features, not even the trailer is available. Yet another reason to avoid the disc, those who are intrigued would be better served by catching a television screening.

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