About fourteen years ago, a teenage Andy was in a summer stock production, one day during rehearsal the director walked over to me and said “You like older movies, right?” I nodded that I did. The director then walked away to a tote bag, pulled out a VHS tape that was in one of those oversized boxes MGM used in the ‘80s, returned to me and placed it in my hands. “You must promise me you’ll watch this tonight, and bring it back tomorrow. You’ll love it!” This was accurate, and this is how Theatre of Blood came to my life.
Theatre of Blood is one of those movies that reminds you why you love movies. Released in 1973, shot entirely around London, Theatre of Blood stars the great Vincent Price as Edward Lionheart–a Shakespearean actor who takes himself far too seriously–and still holds a grudge towards the holier than thou critics who made their living lambasting his. Two years after Lionheart’s death–on March 15th–he returns and begins to take his revenge out on those who have denied him his true glory.
Using the baseline of a revenge plot–similar to the Dr. Phibes films–Theatre of Blood is a truly witty, gem of a film. More of a very dark comedy than a horror film, though there is a fair amount of fake blood. Now just watching Vincent Price killing a bunch of stuffy theater critics would be fun, but it’s the way that Theatre of Blood executes this that makes it all the more delectable. Each of the killings in the film are lifted directly from The Bard’s works. Before or after committing the murder, Price, as Lionheart, recites a bit of Shakespeare.
Reportedly a favorite of Price–and arguably his best role–you can see clearly he is having a ball with this one. It not only gave him the chance to perform Shakespeare, but also in the role of an over the top stage actor, ham it up with great relish. The film co-stars the fabulous Diana Rigg as Lionheart’s daughter, Edwina. Plus, Ian Hendry as the head critic of the group of nine who are destined for death. The rest of the eight critics is a cream of the crop parade of British character actors, including the wonderful Robert Morley–who spends most of the film with a twin set of poodles by his side, and Coral Browne. Price would later marry Browne, the two meeting on this film, and Rigg helping to fan the flames of their love.
Anyone who loves British cult TV will also note that Hendry and Rigg both co-starred alongside Patrick Macnee in The Avengers, and when Price stepped down from hosting Mystery on PBS, he suggested Rigg for the job–which she accepted (Price and Rigg became great friends during the making of this movie).
The U.S. blu-ray debut of Theatre of Blood comes courtesy of Twilight Time, who have presented a very nice disc. The film looks great, and is sharper than the MGM DVD–which was sourced from a 1997, non-anamorphic letterbox transfer. The sound, however, leaves a little to be desired. This is by no fault of Twilight Time, as I’m sure they were working with whatever master was provided. The audio sounds sourced from an optical print and can sound a bit “tinny” at times. Checking with the old DVD, it sounds the same, so perhaps the original audio tracks have gone missing.
Extras include the original trailer, an isolated score track, and audio commentary by historians David Del Valle and Nick Redman. The two provide a very lively and informative track that is rarely silent. Theatre of Blood is an absolute must for fans of Price, or anyone looking for a fun, murderous romp with The Bard.