Vincent Price delivers a thrilling “tour-de-force” performance (Variety) as a small-time actor plotting big-time revenge! Boasting a top notch supporting cast, this dramatically “delicious concoction” (New York Magazine) is an “equal mixture of horror, comedy and Shakespeare [that’ll] please just about everyone – critics included” (Boxoffice)!
After years of suffering deadly reviews, hammy Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart (Price) decides it’s curtains for his critics! Bumping off his detractors with executions inspired by the Bard, Lionheart stages a beheading in the manner of “Cymbeline,” a stabbing inspired by “Julius Caesar,” and even an untimely removal of a pound of flesh improvised from “The Merchant of Venice” – proving once and for all that all the world really is a stage… for MURDER!
Theatre of Blood 7.5
‘Theatre of Blood’ is a minor guilty pleasure of mine. For reasons that elude me, this late-period Vincent Price-starrer stands out from the rest of his oeuvre in the most delicious way – even though it’s a slightly sloppy, gimmicky and low budget film.
Perhaps it’s the fact that most of the films he did since the ’60s had very little teeth, while this one has a relatively sharp bite. Or maybe it’s because Price is unleashed all the while remaining within the boundaries of reality, instead of going to either extreme: cartoonish and outrageous or cool and subdued. It’s also possible that I simply savour its basic premise, which could easily be perceived as many artists’ secret daydream (my, how I love a good revenge fantasy. ).
It could also just be that the film earnestly tries to make us believers. Despite its many theatrics, it remains rooted in real life, starting with the credits and their silent black and white shots taken from actual performances of Shakespeare. I quite loved these grainy, scratched credits, because it set the stage for our tale of a Shakespearian ham gone wild. By reminding us that these actors are flesh and blood, ‘Theatre of Blood’ warns us that what will soon follow could actually happen.
While it flails about dubiously at times, the film attempts to retain the script’s sense of realism, its grittiness; the director verges into camp a few times, but not enough to dispel the macabre side of the equation. Actually, there are a few inspired directorial choices during some of the murders, such as camera angles, that highlight a conscious choice to shock or creep out the audience, as opposed to just entertain them in a Grand Guignol fashion.
‘Theatre of Blood’ remains gimmicky, however, as were most of Price’s films at the time, this time basing its set pieces on Shakespeare’s plays: Cymbeline, Henry VI-Part 1, Julius Caesar, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, as well as Troilus and Cressida. It’s all done very loosely, of course, but it’s a fun way to give the audience something new instead of rehashing the same old thrills.
In fact, one of the fun things, for both the audience and performer alike, is that Vincent Price got a chance to recite The Bard’s lines throughout the film – but especially during these moments. Price relished the chance to do so, having had few opportunities in his career and he made the most of it, blending his passion for the material with his predilection for adding a little jambon to his performances – an essential ingredient for his portrayal of Lionheart, thankfully. One can tell that he had a blast with the many roles he played here (and, apparently, this film was one of his favourites).
The delightful Diana Riggs also plays a number of characters in this film. While she isn’t nearly as convincing as she has been in her other roles (part of this problem is directorial, as the director’s choices limited her ability to immerse herself as needed), she’s always a ray of light in any production. I’ve always wondered what drew her to this ghastly film: was it the chance to play multiple parts, was is simply the pay cheque, was it the opportunity to do a Price picture? I mean, after ‘The Avengers’ and ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, why this? I can’t fathom why this ghastly script might have been on her “to do” list.
Having said this, ‘Theatre of Blood’ may be somewhat morbid, but it’s nevertheless an enjoyable tale of revenge – if you’re into that sort of thing (or if you’ve got a bone to pick yourself ). It may also look and feel a bit cheap, being an American International Pictures production, but it trades in cheap sets with real locations, which is nice. And, furthermore, it’s one of Vincent Price’s better films in well over a decade.
‘Theatre of Blood’ probably won’t win over every critic, but we probably won’t ever know. After all, who would ever dare to say anything disparaging about it in light of what it proposes for its detractors?