With a cunning conceit at its core and a cast of the choicest of character actors, Douglas Hickox’s Theatre of Blood combines the genres of Grand Guignol and black comedy into a timelessly clever concoction.
The Production: 4/5
With a cunning conceit at its core and a cast of the choicest of character actors, Douglas Hickox’s Theatre of Blood combines the genres of Grand Guignol and black comedy into a timelessly clever concoction. Its reputation having grown in giant leaps since its 1973 release, Theatre of Blood is one of the most enjoyable of the old school, somewhat ironically delectable horror films right at the time when The Exorcist was coming along to close the door on this kind of genre film forever.
Devastated by the poor reviews he has received during his career and the lack of an acting prize for his Shakespearean season just concluded, Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) seemingly takes his own life. Two years later, London theater critics begin dying under mysterious circumstances, their deaths mirroring the violent ends in the very Shakespearean plays which made up Edward Lionheart’s final season on the boards. His still-distraught daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg) insists her father is dead, but as the murders continue occurring and the police are unequal to the task of preventing the critics from violent demises, it seems abundantly clear that either Lionheart has come back from the dead or he never died at all.
Anthony Greville-Bell has taken violent circumstances from eight of Shakespeare’s plays and staged a series of clever and ingeniously constructed murders around variations of those acts: critic George William Maxwell is stabbed to death by a group of angry citizens as in Julius Caesar (the murder effectively filmed through a plastic sheet which serves to camouflage some of the violence); Hector Snipe (Dennis Price) is impaled and then dragged behind a horse as in Troilus and Cressida; Trevor Dickman (Harry Andrews) has a pound of flesh (his heart) taken from him a la The Merchant of Venice, and so on. Each murder is different, and each connects directly to a play by the Bard and allows the still living Edward Lionheart to perform a soliloquy from said play either before, during, or after the deed is done. Director Douglas Hickox wonderfully films all of the execution scenes from a variety of vantage points: the Romeo and Juliet duel between Lionheart and urbane critic Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry) traverses a gymnasium with the duelists teetering on balance beams and bouncing off trampolines in expressly athletic ways while prissy Meredith Merridew (Robert Morley) is stuffed to death in a paean to Titus Andronicus. While one may blink at the lavish lifestyles of these London theater scribes (who knew writing criticism paid so well?), and the fiery ending is just the tiniest bit of a letdown, the movie on the whole keeps the murders (while occasionally quite gory) rather effervescent and spritely with their deviously clever set-ups and executions (no pun intended).
Vincent Price always regretted never getting to play a Shakespearean role on film, but Theatre of Blood at least lets him tip his hat to the Bard, even if some of the soliloquies are delivered rather badly (necessary since Lionheart is really a rather hammy actor). Diana Rigg proves to be the Joker in the deck, navigating through the film in a variety of disguises and yet as the daughter showing genuine grief or exquisite satisfaction in what she and her father are pulling off. The police as a whole come off very badly in the movie, rather dim-witted, slow on the uptake, and inept in keeping the remaining critics safe from harm, so Milo O’Shea’s Inspector Boot and Eric Sykes’ Sergeant Dogge fit the bill nicely as plodding policemen doing the best they can. And cheers to the superb group of character actors who milk their scenes with great relish as they meet their maker: Harry Andrews, Coral Browne, Robert Coote, Jack Hawkins, Michael Hordern, Dennis Price, Arthur Lowe, Robert Morley, and Ian Hendry (who is spared in his first encounter only to endure an even grislier fate the second time around). In tinier roles as spouses of the victims, Joan Hickson is magnificently imperious as the haughty Mrs. Sprout while Diana Dors, plumper than in her sex bomb days, must endure a Desdamona-like end at the hands of her jealous mister.
3D Rating: NA
The movie is framed here at 1.66:1 and is presented in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. While sharpness in close-ups is very nice with good detail especially in facial features, there are some soft shots here and there. Color is nicely controlled with copious amounts of blood which are bright but never bloom. Flesh tones are decently true-to-life. Contrast may be variable here and there, and black levels aren’t always exemplary either. There are the usual little dust specks here and there found in many MGM high definition transfers. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 seems at times to be a little weak in the dialogue recording and presentation. The music by Michael J. Lewis and the atmospheric effects are nicely rendered, but occasionally spoken lines seem less forceful than in other mono mixes and somewhat subdued for no good reason.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Audio Commentary: producer Nick Redman and film historian David Del Valle have a wonderful conversation about the film and many of the actors on display. With David Del Valle having been a friend of both Vincent Price and Coral Browne (who became Vincent’s wife after meeting on this project), he has many personal stories to tell about work on this film and other moments of both of their careers. A must listen.
Isolated Score Track: Michael J. Lewis’s background score is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.
Theatrical Trailer (2:31, SD)
MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06, HD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains some excellent color stills from the movie, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s enjoyable reflection on the movie.
Theatre of Blood is one of the last and best of the old school comic horror concoctions offering a delicious starring role for Vincent Price (one of the films of which he was most proud) and a sensational number of cameo roles for the cream of the British film industry. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.