I was feeling nostalgic again, nostalgic for the kind of horror films with which I grew up, which were hugely influential in the growth of my celluloid obsession and on which I have previously opined – with that in mind, I thought I would share my thoughts on a film that I consider to be one of the best produced, written, acted and directed of the full-blooded horrors that could have only been made in the 1970s, namely Theatre of Blood (1973), by Douglas Hickox, which I have already given a nod to in my 10 Best Horror Films.
The film also features, along with The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), the best performance from Vincent Price that he gave during the 70s, which was also one of the very best of his entire career.
Price is brilliantly cast as Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart, a Shakespearean actor who is every inch as hammy as his handle, but who is convinced that he is nothing less than the greatest to ever tread the boards. Unfortunately, the London Critics’ Circle, headed by Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry) don’t quite see his ‘talents’ in the same light and, when they once again deny him their annual Best Actor prize, he takes his own life. Apparently. But, just a year later, one of their number, George William Maxwell (Michael Hordern) is brutally murdered, and the circumstances of his untimely end have a distinct, Bard-like ring to them. There’s dirty work afoot…
Like …Phibes, this works so very well because of the insistence of Price, Hickox and writer Anthony Greville-Bell that tongues be kept firmly in cheek all round, despite the fact that the murders, when they come, are among the most grisly committed in the mainstream horror of the era.
The film is often mistakenly referred to as a Hammer horror but, without taking anything away from that great studio’s output, this is simply in a different league, and has a cast that Hammer could barely have dreamed of, to wit (in addition to the actors already cited) Diana Rigg as Lionheart’s loyal daughter Edwina, Jack Hawkins, Arthur Lowe, Diana Dors, Robert Morley, Dennis Price, Eric Sykes, Madeline Smith, to name just a few.
Seriously, this is likely the most fun you’ll ever have watching lots of people die grisly deaths, but it’s actually moving as well; Price, playing an actor who really can’t act so very well at all to a tee, may even provoke a tear in your eye by the end. Or would you have to be as twisted as I am, do you think? Do let me know – you can enjoy Theatre of Blood here, and make sure you keep an eye out for the name of the removals firm on the van that is the first image in the film. Heh, heh, heh…