BLU-RAY REVIEW: THEATRE OF BLOOD (1973) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DOUGLAS HICKOX / SCREENPLAY: ANTHONY GREVILLE-BELL / STARRING: VINCENT PRICE, DIANA RIGG, IAN HENDRY, HARRY ANDREWS, JACK HAWKINS, MICHAEL HORDEN, ARTHUR LOWE, ROBERT MORLEY, MILO O’SHEA, ERIC SYKES, DIANA DORS, ROBERT COOTE, DENNIS PRICE, CORAL BROWNE, JOAN HICKSON, MADELINE SMITH / RELEASED: MAY 19TH
By 1973, the golden age of British horror was coming to an end. Hammer, of course, were still just about knocking them out, but with The Exorcist (1973) and its ilk on the way, horror-flicks were about to change. However, there was still one last moment of gothic brilliance to come in the unlikely form of a “comedy horror”. Always a problematic genre (seldom that funny but often just good natured enough to stop them from being scary) and remarkably similar to the Dr. Phibes movies of the previous years; it wasn’t even a Hammer, so how on Earth did Theatre of Blood end up being one of the best British horror movies of all time?
Vincent Price plays the supposedly dead Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearean actor of the “vigorous” school who was never popular with the critics. Turns out he took all that criticism to heart (especially after he was denied a prestigious award) so has taken it upon himself to elaborately bump off the Critics’Circle responsible by way of a series of brutal killings; the twist being that they’re all inspired by murders from his Shakespearean repertoire. Be honest, with an idea as good as that you’d have to work pretty hard to turn out a duff film. In fact, it was such a delicious premise that producer Sam Jaffe managed to attract some fairly, shall we say, robust stars. Take a look at the top of this review and look at that cast list. Just look at it. Yep, that is for real. That isn’t just a list of British movie institutions, that’s the actual cast of Theatre of Blood. Blimey.
Price is in the finest fettle of his career and tackles a series of set pieces that allow him to combine his horror-ham persona perfectly with some genuinely high quality Shakespearean performances as he sadistically dispatches those legends. But cleverly, he even manages to camp some of those up as if to prove the critics right. This is Price as the embodiment of old-school horror giving two fingers to the new wave and reminding us all that horror could still be fun. His “to be or not to be” speech has genuine pathos and it’s hard to believe it’s in the same movie as the most memorable pie-related murder in the history of cinema (seriously, you won’t forget that one). There are some predictable but fun one-liners but largely the comedy works because the horror is the comedy; even Michael J. Lewis’s melodramatic score adds to the humour.
Shot entirely on location, this Blu-ray transfer is also so good you might even be able to tell us which one of Price’s henchies is Stanley Bates. Yes, that is Bungle from Rainbow. We told you that cast was stellar.
Extras: Audio commentary with The League of Gentlemen, Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, A Priceless Potboiler: Victoria Price discusses Theatre of Blood, A Fearful Thespian: an interview with David Del Valle, Staged Reaction: an interview with star Madeleine Smith, A Harmony for Horror: an interview with composer Michael J. Lewis, Original Trailer, Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sam Smith, Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by film critic Cleaver Patterson and a reproduction of original press book material, illustrated with original archive stills.