Friday, May 31, 2019

THEATER OF BLOOD (1973) Movie Review

Theater of Blood (1973) d. Douglas Hickox (UK) (104 min)

In reportedly his personal favorite role over a very long career, Vincent Price has the time of his life as critically-reviled Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart, who sets out to even the scores with his enemies in the press after being denied the illustrious Critics Circle Award. Interestingly, the film predates the trend of future body-count movies in that it’s less a question as to whether his victims will perish, but rather how they will meet their prescribed demise.

While essentially following the same path blazed by the Abominable Dr. Phibes movies (director Robert Fuest was supposedly offered this project as well, before Hickox landed in the big chair), the literate quality of Anthony Greville-Smith’s screenplay elevates the proceedings markedly, and the absence of the Phibes outings' more bizarre aspects makes for a more streamlined and accessible affair. I also enjoy Lionheart’s recruitment of a bunch of drunken vagrants to be his accomplices and built-in audience, though it’s clear they know not a hawk from a handsaw.

In this aspect, Greville-Smith’s clever script (based on an idea by producers Stanley Mann and John Kohn) rises far above the norm, with all of Lionheart’s messy murders creatively inspired by the works of Shakespeare, i.e. drowning in a wine vat (Richard III), a bedtime beheading (Cymbeline), etc., and it’s puzzling why Greville-Smith didn’t enjoy a more fruitful career based on the wit and promise shown here.

Price gleefully dons wigs, fake beards, and nose putty over an array of vocal characterizations as he runs through the canon with wild abandon, spouting verse as the blood spurts (and there is quite a bit of it – the film wholeheartedly earns its R-rating), demonstrating his estimable dramatic chops and receiving some of the best notices of his career in the process. (The Los Angeles Times crowed, “If horror pictures were taken seriously, he would surely be an Oscar contender next year.”) As Lionheart’s daughter, Diana Rigg is utterly delightful, assisting in the offings and doffings with barely contained zeal.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast of superb English character actors and Wolfgang Suschitzky’s (Get Carter) sly camerawork take things to an entirely different level. As the poisoned pen-wielding arbiters of taste, we have Michael Hordern, Dennis Price, Arthur Lowe, Harry Andrews, Robert Coote, Jack Hawkins, Coral Browne (soon to become the third Mrs. Vincent Price), Robert Morley, and Ian Hendry, with Milo O’Shea and Eric Sykes appearing as the one-step-behind lawmen, while lovely Madeline Smith (The Vampire Lovers) and Diane Dors (From Beyond the Grave) ably round out the ensemble.

On the other side of the camera, editor Malcolm Cooke (Flash Gordon, Death on the Nile) and production designer Michael Seymour (Alien, The Bride) provide the requisite trimmings (and trimmings) to create a fun and stylish romp that should delight fans of both the bonny Bard and blatant bloodletting.

While Theater of Blood has yet to receive an official North American Blu-ray release, leaving us to make do with the bare-bones MGM Midnight Movies DVD release for the time being, Arrow Video released it in the UK in 2014 armed with a bevy of extras. Those of you with all-region players should check out the goodies HERE:


Trivia: Hickox made his directing debut in 1959 with The Giant Behemoth.

More Trivia: This marked the final theatrical screen appearances for both Jack Hawkins and Robert Coote.

Even More Trivia: Though the film's title is clearly shown onscreen as T-H-E-A-T-E-R, both the theatrical one-sheet and Arrow's Blu-ray cover art spelled it as T-H-E-A-T-R-E.


Victims, methodology, and plays referenced, in order of demise

George Maxwell (Michael Hordern) (murdered by a swarm of vagrants, Julius Caesar)

Hector Snipe (Dennis Price) (speared by Lionheart, then dragged to the funeral of Maxwell behind a horse, Troilus and Cressida)

Horace Sprout (Arthur Lowe) (bedtime surgical beheading, Cymbeline)

Trevor Dickman (Harry Andrews) (lured to observe “living theatre” performance where his heart is cut out, The Merchant of Venice)

Oliver Larding (Robert Coote) (drowned in vat of wine, Richard III)

Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry) (though he is not killed, he is severely wounded whilst sword-fighting with Lionheart a la Romeo and Juliet. Shout out to stuntman Peter Brace filling in for the 62-year-old Price beneath the fencing mask)

Solomon Psaltery (Jack Hawkins) (Lionheart poses as masseur, leading Psaltery to murder his wife in jealous rage, after which he is subsequently arrested, Othello)

Chloe Moon (Coral Browne) (posing as groovy hairstylist “Butch knows best,” Lionheart electrocutes her and sets her ablaze via her curlers a la Joan of Arc, Henry VI, Part 1)

Meredith Merridew (Robert Morley) (force-fed his little poodle puffs, Titus Andronicus)

Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry) (strapped into chair with blades coming toward his eyes, King Lear) (not killed again!)

Collateral Damage:
Maisie Psaltery (Diana Dors) (strangled by jealous husband)

Sergeant Dogge (Eric Sykes) (killed in train/car collision)



  1. My absolute favourite Vincent Price movie (and as a huge fan of the man's work, that's saying something).

    1. I would probably have to agree, although I will always have a soft spot for the Corman anthology TALES OF TERROR because it was the first thing I remember seeing Uncle Vincent in. (Plus Peter Lorre cracks me up in the "Black Cat" episode.)