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Director: Douglas Hickox
Cast: Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, and Ian Hendry
Length: 104 min
Label: Arrow Video
Release Date: May 5, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Audio commentary with The League of Gentlemen, Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith
- A Priceless Potboiler: Victoria Price discusses Theatre of Blood
- A Fearful Thespian: an interview with David Del Valle
- Staged Reaction: an interview with star Madeleine Smith
- A Harmony for Horror: an interview with composer Michael J. Lewis
- Original Trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sam Smith
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by film critic Cleaver Patterson and a reproduction of original press book material, illustrated with original archive stills
The year 1973 holds a special significance in the history of horror, being the year that saw the release of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. Friedkin’s seminal work—along with other forerunners like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby—changed the face of terror, forever. On the other side of the Atlantic, Britain’s Hammer Horror was starting to see a decline in popularity. People were no longer thrilled by period horror or resurrecting classic tales. Audiences looked for something new and exciting. As a result, the identity of British horror started to change. Producers looked for a way to breathe new life into, what was becoming, a tired genre. Some exciting films came out of this period of transition. Hammer upped the ante in the early seventies with the likes of The Vampire Lovers, and rival company Amicus were producing some outstanding anthology films. Away from the heavy hitters, there were a couple of lone wolves who made such an impact that it still resonates today. The first being Robin Hardy’s ground breaking The Wicker Man. The second, a film that gave icon Vincent Price the podium on which he gave one of the most memorable performances of his lengthy career: Douglas Hickcox’s Theatre of Blood.
Theatre of Blood, much like The Wicker Man, was not a huge commercial success at the time of its release. Competing at the box office with The Exorcist, both films gained very little attention. Theatre of Blood was, however, a film that in time became a cult classic; a film that, even today, manages to bring in new fans all over the world. It is a film that also represents one of those rare moments in cinema where everything just feels right—the cast, the production, the script, the music all working in harmony to produce something inimitable and timeless.
The story blends elements of black comedy, tragic melodrama, and vicious horror to great effect. Vincent Price plays Edward Lionheart, a scorned Shakespearian actor, who takes his revenge on the circle of critics he believes have ruined his career. Lionheart, pushed to the edge, fakes his own death. With the aid of his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg), and a bunch of meth drinking tramps, he plots to murder the critics in a succession of elaborate killings based on the work of Shakespeare. The film came two years after The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and a year after sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again. While all three of the films carry an underlying message of scorn and revenge-—and also feature extravagant killings—Theatre of Blood is much more than just a ‘Phibes’ clone. Interestingly, this was one of Price’s last leading genre roles. He followed this with the Amicus production Madhouse- alongside Peter Cushing-, which also carried a main theme based on the settling of scores.Vincent Price, speaking in his biography The Price of Fear (Eisner, 2013), said of Theatre of Blood, “It was a marvellous role because I got to play Shakespearean parts in it, which is a feast for any actor. And I got to knock off eight critics. It was a story dear to the heart of any actor. It was a dream and very real to me.” The enthusiasm he carries in his portrayal of the desperate and tragic figure Lionheart has to be one of his most powerful performances. Known for his ability for both sinister and high camp, Price draws on the legacy he crafted to great effect. Lionheart, although the villain of the piece, is a character you can really root for; the critics in comparison portrayed as snobbish, and unlikeable people. The script is infused with delicious gallows humour and Price delivers each line with complete conviction, making for a remarkable performance. Dealing out each death with a soliloquy from Shakespeare, the audience given the chance to see just how capable Price was as an actor. Price never overplays his hand, delivering just the right fusion of high camp, seriousness, and tragedy: one minute he is camping it up in a gigantic afro wig, as hairdresser Butch; the next he is pumping out lines from Joan of Arc.
For the rest of the cast, well it is safe to say you could write an entire thesis on the talent that populates Theatre of Blood. Taking from the crème de la crème of British names, Hickox ensured his film would rise above the limitations of its relatively low-budget status. Names such as Diana Rigg, Arthur Lowe, Coral Browne, Dennis Price, Eric Sykes, Jack Hawkins, Diana Dors, Madeline Smith, Robert Morley, and Ian Hendry populate the extremely solid supporting cast; everyone putting in strong performances that ensure the entire feature has a feel of quality rarely seen in this type of production.
Despite the lack of finance, Hickox manages to layer on lavish production values, keeping with the tight performances and script. The murders are vicious and graphic, standing up even by today’s standards. The costumes are as elaborate as the subject matter. The locations lend the film a strong British air and sense of class—especially in the use of an old theatre for some of the pinnacle scenes, and the swanky apartment the critics populate which overlooks 1970’s London.
Theatre of Blood is an outstanding piece of classic British horror, but it is not without its flaws. The logic in the script is often as warped as the comedy at play. Sometimes the logistics of getting from A to B do not quite add up, and one has to wonder how Lionheart has planned his ostentatious campaign of revenge, how he funds it, and how he manages to anticipate so many factors ahead of time. Yet it works on some bizarre level. The performances are so enthralling, and the plot too speedily paced, that those little eccentricities just become—for this reviewer at least-—part of the allure.
This newly-restored print from Arrow comes in the form of a High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) upgrade- using original film elements provided by MGM. For one familiar with the previous DVD release, the first striking feature about this print is how sumptuous the sets, costumes and make-up look. The restoration allows the film to pop, and one can appreciate the extravagant production values involved more than ever before. The colors are rich and bold, and the print is fantastically detailed. It upholds its cinematic look possessing a great texture and film grain, with minimal dirt and scratching. Overall, this is a great upgrade and one that has managed to show respect to the film’s age and feel.
The release comes with the film’s original, uncompressed mono PCM audio. The levels are well mixed, and the dialogue and sound effects are balanced perfectly. The film does have a very theatrical feel, given the Shakespearian context, and, therefore, keeping the original sound ensures the composition is delivered as faithfully as possible. The Blu-Ray also features optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing.
Arrow Films are fast becoming a company with a reputation for magnificent extras. Once again, with the help of Calum Whaddell and High Rising Productions, this release comes with a number of exclusive interviews. Actress Madeline Smith talks about her time on the production, giving some eye opening insights into behind the scenes:including Price’s blossoming relationship with co-star Coral Browne, and also some of the questionable health and safety practices involved on set. Vincent Price’s daughter, Victoria, talks about her father’s life and career in a candid and moving interview; Victoria and her mother accompanied Price to London during the filming of Theatre of Blood. Gregarious character Michael J. Lewis, complete with dazzling pink shirt and leather cowboy hat, gives a delightful talk on his experience composing the score for the film. Last but not least journalist David Del Valle speaks talks about Price’s career and gives personal anecdotes and quotes from his interviews with Price. Also included is a commentary from the League of Gentlemen team, Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, and Reece Shearsmith. The commentary, as to be expected by such a tour de force in black comedy, is witty, perceptive, and enthusiastic. This release comes with some fresh artwork, exclusive to this release, from Sam Smith, on a reversible sleeve. Finally, the package contains a sumptuous collector’s booklet with, again, exclusive writing from critic Cleaver Patterson, a reproduction press book—from the original release—all illustrated with archival stills.
Theatre of Blood is one of the highlights of Vincent Price’s lengthy career in horror, and also one of his personal favorite roles. Bleakly funny, graphic, and fast paced, the film represents a quality that is often hard to find in low-budget horror. A strong ensemble cast of British talent, tight scripting, and extravagant production values set this film out as one of the stand out moments of the genre and time. Upgraded beautifully to Blu-Ray by Arrow Films, with fantastic extras, this release is sure to delight fans and newcomers alike.