Directed by Douglas Hickox
Interest in this classic piece of camp horror has been prompted by Arrow Video’s release of the Blu Ray (and Blu Ray Steelbook). Theatre of Blood is the story of a hackneyed thespian, Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price). He is overlooked for the ‘Best Actor’ prize by the pompously self-important tastemakers of the London theatre scene, the Critic’s Circle. Believing he had a divine right to it, he is shocked to learn they have given the award to young rival that Lionheart describes as: “A nervous, twitchy boy.”
Logically, in horror terms and his passions, he takes his revenge using key death scenes from Shakespeare as his inspiration. Ably assisted by his daughter, Edwina Lionheart (Diana Rigg), and a bizarre troupe of Dickensian looking tramps. Equally strange is the brummie sounding (to these ears at least) bearded stage manager who Rigg spends most of the film dressed up as.
Price chews up the scenery with relish in a role he was clearly born for. My co-presenter, Stephen Routledge, on the soon to be launched Evilspeak podcast said: “Price’s voice and Shakespeare’s words do go well together.”
The supporting cast is a who’s who of stalwarts of British TV and film from the fifties and sixties who are stretching their careers into the seventies. The Critic’s Circle includes the likes of Arthur Lowe (Dad’s Army), Harry Andrews and Jack Hawkins. The investigating officers are played Eric Sykes and Dubliner, Milo O’Shea. Diana Dors even makes a brief appearance.
Given the episodic nature of the murders, Theatre of Blood plays like an anthology movie. Each set up is imaginative and elaborate, in the AmDram sense of the words, and the bloody executions are almost deserving of the 18 certificate. Hickox omits any of the real logistics you’d imagine needed to create them because it’s all about Price dressing up as a new character before dealing out his punishment. A truly stunning one is Butch the gay hairdresser that see Price sporting an oversized ginger afro.
The film is very self-aware of what it is poking fun at. At the point where they begin to deduce it could be Lionheart, leader of the Critic’s Circle, Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry) quips: “It’s Lionheart alright. Only he would have the temerity to rewrite Shakespeare.” Or when the critic, Trevor Dickman (Andrews) is encouraged to read from a script by Lionheart, he says: “I’m not an actor. I’m just a critic.”
The disc includes a new audio commentary from The League of Gentlemen team (Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith), interviews with the likes of Victoria Price, author and film historian David Del Valle, Theatre of Blood star Madeline Smith and composer Michael J. Lewis. The release also features a reversible sleeve featuring new artwork by Sam Smith and a collectors booklet with new writing on the film by critic Cleaver Patterson and a reproduction of the original press book material, illustrated with original archive stills.
The Blu Ray and Steelbook edition are out now.