Theatre of Blood Blu-ray Review
Directed by Douglas Hickox
Written by Anthony Greville-Bell, Stanley Mann, John Kohn and William Shakespeare
1973, Region B, 104 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Blu-ray released on 19th May 2014
Vincent Price as Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart
Diana Rigg as Edwina Lionheart
Ian Hendry as Peregrine Devlin
Harry Andrews as Trevor Dickman
Coral Browne as Miss Chloe Moon
NAME as CHARACTER
Shakespeare meets slasher movie in Douglas Hickox's Theatre of Blood, which dresses the horror legend up in his finest silks and lets him give his own inimitable version of The Bard's best. It's an inspired fit, with Price's hamminess working well alongside Shakespeare's delightful sadistic streak. Lest we forget that Shakespeare gave us the original Zombie Flesheaters with his “out, vile jelly” in King Lear and a cannibalism tale nastier than anything Hannibal Lecter ever cooked up in Titus Andronicus. Whoever said English literature was boring?
Even the most disgruntled student could never accuse Shakespeare of being boring in Theatre of Blood, a slasher film and horror comedy which pre-dates most classics of those subgenres. Spurned by his critics, pretentious Shakespearian actor Edward Lionheart flounces to his suicide after they overlook his talents during awards season. Rescued from the Thames' muddy banks by a tribe of paraffin-chugging tramps, Lionheart sets about exacting his revenge upon those who spurned him, one revolting critic at a time.
It's a wonderful modus operandi, with Lionheart diving into the dressing-up box to murder his critics in a series of Shakespeare inspired crimes. Taking a leaf from the (play)books of The Merchant of Venice, Titus Andronicus and Othello, among others, the film is a reminder of how surprisingly cruel Shakespeare could be at times. And yet, Theatre of Blood is also very funny – intentionally so, most of the time – a black comedy which revels in its own silliness and Price's high camp tongue-in-cheek performance. Pre-dating Halloween, Black Christmas and most other films credited with birthing the slasher movement, it's like a very English Giallo film, very rarely getting the credit it deserves.
Some will baulk at the lack of subtlety in Price's performance(s), while Diana Rigg's role in the story is telegraphed to the point that I wasn't sure whether it was even supposed to be a twist when her identity is revealed. The Othello skit, meanwhile, is where the film begins to stretch plausibility – if you weren't already turned off by the daft acrobatics of an earlier fencing match, that is. Still, you'd have to be a real stick-in-the-mud to not enjoy Price's turn as a disco hairdresser or the gloriously Grand Guignol finale.
Fun, funny and delightfully theatrical, Theatre of Blood is a wonderfully witty celebration of the talents of William Shakespeare and Vincent Price. Theatre of Blood is beautifully and literally Shakespearian.
Video and Audio:
Having only viewed the film through an awful DVD release previously, this transfer is revelatory. The newly restored 1080p print allows the costumes and set design to stand out like never before. The audio is equally impressive, lending the appropriate level of gravitas to Price's booming soliloquies.
Horror comedians, writers, scholars and actors The League of Gentlemen (Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith) provide an entertaining audio commentary, while Victoria Price discusses the film in A Priceless Potboiler. Elsewhere, stars David Del Valle and Madeline Smith are interviewed in A Fearful Thespian and Staged Reaction, with composer Michael J. Lewis talking about the film's score in A Harmony For Horror. A trailer is also included, in addition to the usual reversible sleeve and collector's booklets you'd expect from an Arrow release. All in all, this set of extras should bring the roof down.