Saturday, June 27, 2020

Curtains For The Critics: Theatre of Blood (1973)

Theatre of Blood (United Kingdom, 1973)
Rating: ****
Starring: Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry 

Ah, Vincent Price. You and your enjoyable proto-slashers! We meet again!

A deliciously campy romp from the legendary horror icon, Price is Shakespearean actor Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart! Disgraced by a group of critics who tore his performance apart, leading to him losing a prestigious award to a newcomer and driving him into suicide by jumping to the Thames from a building's height. Thought to be dead for two years, Lionheart, surviving the fall, soon returns as a madman hellbent on revenge and he has a little mob of homeless meth drinkers, as well as a mysterious man in shades helping him impose gruesome demises upon those who failed to see his genius.

Basically, Theatre of Blood (1973) is a brilliant classic proto-slasher for Price to demonstrate his ability to be both horrific and melodramatic at the highest levels of camp. He succeeds in doing this with the most over-the-top devilish persona to ever grace an exploitation piece, a shamed former actor who puts his stage skills and newfound bloodlust to use through the most entertaining revenge plot that's as cheeky as it is horrendous. There's no doubt Price adored this role seeing his twisted enthusiasm and wry delivery, perhaps one of his most entertaining characters in his acting career! He even gets to treat us with his stage play prowess reciting lines reeking in high grand, all to entertain his smelly and impressionable group of minions inside the abandoned Putney Hippodrome, adding a layer of appeal to his character.

The rest of the cast are a catch too, mainly Diana Rigg, a 60’s sex symbol and the Bond Girl in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), playing Lionheart’s avenging daughter Edwina who willfully carries out her father's plan along his side, and Ian Hendry as Peregrine Devlin, the only likable critic who suspects Lionheart's hand on the recent deaths and putting up a good fencing fight in yet another of the movie's more memorable scenes. The pompousness of the doomed critics does rile up a good nerve to earn their ruthless yet creative dispatches, but not enough to make them overly unlikable to the matter of being unentertaining considering their sneering banter with one another provided some laughs.

And speaking of dispatches, the deaths here are another aspect of this movie that makes it a spectacular watch, perverting Shakespearean writing into decidedly gory comeuppances ranging from a delightfully messy decapitations, an ironic drowning, upsetting meat pies and a clever trick that has one of the critics getting themselves into a fate leading to death. The graphic nature of these killings contrasts fully with the light-hearted comedic tone of the script, hence making them cathartic and striking enough even if they have a twinge of dark humor in them.

In all honesty, I see very little to speak ill of about this movie as everything about it works as a comical slice of horror cinema. From Price playing dress-up multiple times to lure in or get close to his victims, to the outrageous set-pieces he and his cohorts have to work with just to get back on those who wronged Lionheart's talent and make a point, there's hardly a boring scene here. Every thing is dipped in a good amount of gloriously hilarious goodah and on a pace that flows so smoothly that its hundred minute running time feels like a satisfying breeze. The movie carries its British retro charm to a fun tee and snazz it up further by practically not taking itself too seriously, just having fun with the ridiculousness of its premise. 

Shockingly macabre yet innovatively dark, Theatre of Blood (1973) is a horror comedy in its best form, and too Vincent Price's testament as to why he's regarded as one of horror's treasured artists. Don't delay yourself from this 70s genre classic and see it as soon as you can!

1 male stabbed to death by a mob of vagrants
1 male ran through with a spear
1 male decapitated in an impromptu surgery
1 male had his heart carved out with a dagger
1 male drowned in a barrel of wine
1 female smothered with a pillow
1 male implied to die in prison due to old age
1 female electrocuted with a rigged salon hair dryer
1 male choked on force-fed meat pie
1 male immolated inside a car by an incoming train
1 female dies from a bludgeoned head
1 male set ablaze
Total: 12

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