Theatre of Blood
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Who hasn't had the urge at least once to forever silence a snobbish critic who panned a favorite book, play or movie? For most people, the mere fantasy of exacting revenge is enough, but in Theatre of Blood (1973), a classically trained actor named Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) goes a step further, literally stalking and dispatching his most severe critics in a variety of innovative ways, copied from famous death scenes in Shakespeare plays. Assisting the deranged actor in his sinister schemes are his devoted daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg) and a ragtag army of homeless derelicts who fished Lionheart from the Thames River where he was thought to have committed suicide. Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry), a key member of the London Theatre Critics Circle, suspects the true culprit behind the bizarre murders and tries to convince the police of his theory before he himself becomes a victim.
Often cited by Vincent Price as one of his favorite films, Theatre of Blood is an ingenious black comedy which bears some comparisons to the horror actor's two earlier films, The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again! (1972), in its revenge scenario. But while the Dr. Phibes films were campy art deco horror fantasies, Theatre of Blood pokes fun at the theatre world while paying homage to the Grand Guignol tradition. In Vincent Price Unmasked by James Robert Parish and Steven Whitney (Drake Publishing), the actor said, "Revenge is really the only evil human emotion that is not dated, and it is in everyone. Our motives of mayhem today are so senseless. You mug someone on the street for $1.98 and then shoot him for the fun of it. Revenge is one of these great ballsy things. You killed my wife and now I'm going to kill you."
Theatre of Blood originated as a project with Sam Jaffe, Price's former agent and friend, who offered Vincent the role of Edward Lionheart. Thanks to a witty and literate script, the producers succeeded in attracting some of the best actors in England for supporting roles. In an interview with Stanley Wiater for Dark Visions (Avon Books), Price recalled, "When I did Theatre of Blood, we had Michael Hordern, who had just been made a knight, we had Harry Andrews, who's considered the greatest supporting Shakespearean actor in the business, we had Jack Hawkins...every single person in that company was a huge star. They came out from plays they were doing in the West End, only about an hour's drive to the movie studio. They did their day's work, and the movie was shot around them."
Co-star Diana Rigg, who makes a memorably twisted accomplice to Price's Lionheart, recalled the making of Theatre of Blood in Vincent Price: A Daughter's Biography by Victoria Price (St. Martin's Press): "At the time I was working at the National Theatre doing a couple of classics, and it [the script] struck me as witty and wonderful and funny to be doing the classics on one hand and a spoof of the classics on the other. I didn't meet Vincent before we started working, so we were thrown into the deep end together in a way. We hit it off immediately....What people don't know unless they have seen the film, and tend to forget because of his horror movies, is what a great classical actor he would have been. Listening to him deliver some of those Shakespearean speeches, I remember thinking, 'God, what a missed opportunity.'" Rigg also played matchmaker to Price and his co-star Coral Browne, bringing them together at a charity event. Soon afterward the two actors began dating and eventually married. Watch them together in the famous hair salon scene where Price masquerades as a hairdresser named Butch and see if the sparks don't fly.
The gallows humor of Theatre of Blood was well reflected in the film's ad campaign which showed six murdered critics accompanied by the tag line, "Vincent Price has reserved a seat for you in Theatre of Blood." Some reviewers, however, actually thought the murders in the film were too bloody and gruesome, spoiling the comedic effect of the tongue-in-cheek performances. Dog lovers will probably be offended as well due to a scene where critic Meredith Merridew (Robert Morley) is forced to eat his pet poodles. But for those who appreciate black comedy at its blackest, Theatre of Blood is mandatory viewing. The final comic irony of the whole thing is that when we finally get to see Lionheart performing a scene from Shakespeare at the climax, we realize the critics were right, after all. This actor wasn't unfairly maligned in the press; he truly is an unmitigated ham, given to outrageous overacting.
And now for some trivia: Vincent Price would go on to host the PBS anthology series Mystery! from 1980 until 1989, when his former co-star Diana Rigg took over the role. Also, Ms. Rigg previously appeared with Theatre of Blood player Ian Hendry in the cult TV series The Avengers.
Producer: Gustave Berne, John Kohn, Stanley Mann
Director: Douglas Hickox
Screenplay: Anthony Greville-Bell
Production Design: Michael Seymour
Cinematography: Wolfgang Suschitzky
Editing: Malcolm Cooke
Music: Michel J. Lewis
Principal Cast: Vincent Price (Edward Lionheart), Diana Rigg (Edwina Lionheart), Ian Hendry (Peregrine Devlin), Harry Andrews (Trevor Dickman), Coral Browne (Chlose Moon), Arthur Lowe (Horace Sprout), Robert Morley (Meredith Merridew), Jack Hawkins (Solomon Psaltery), Diana Dors (Maisie Psaltery), Milo O'Shea (Inspector Boot), Dennis Price (Hector Snipe), Robert Coote (Oliver Larding).
By Jeff Stafford