Creeping around the assortment of horror films in the local DVD-rental store, I
came across one of the queerest combinations of cheesy horror melded with lines
from The Bard yet to be created. I'd seen this effort
before, and chose to sit through it one more time in order to perhaps garner the
concept for a Halloween-party costume. Beside a few great moments ending in
morbid belly-laughs from the audience, this film was excelled by the quite
similar but far finer humor and class of 1978's Who is Killing The Great Chefs of
Europe?. In support of the movie on topic, the 1978 "Who's Killing..." stole
the concept of feeding Robert Morley with a sausage stuffing funnel until
dead. And it worked to great effect (both times). In fact, Morley does a
fabulous job as the poodle-loving theater critic whose two "babies" (French
Poodles) are served up to him in a pie. This was the first time he put up with the indignity of having savoury pie filling
fall out of his mouth while begging for mercy; then he actually takes the sausage-funnel into his mouth and puts up
with the awful conclusion to that scene. Boy, do I miss Robert Morley.
Fabulous costumes, scenery and some very er, interesting interpretations of
Shakespeare punctuate this exercise in boredom with bits of interest here and
there... In fact, it's funny that a movie aimed at the suspense/action crowd refers so often (and so well) to
the writings of the great playwright.
Well, let's start with the good. The basic idea was that, following a season
of avant-garde Shakespeare interpretations, the director/star is frustrated that
the coveted "Critics' Circle" award is yet again awarded to another. In
particular, the award which drove our leading man to jump from an apartment
tower into a river and then become a serial killer was given to a young newcomer
on London's theater circuit.
The film was chock full of horrific scenes,
images and ideas that sufficed to quench my thirst for unmitigated gore. Some of
the imagery, despite being terrifyingly grisly, was in fact downright humorous at
the same time. A good dollop of irony makes the movie worthwhile spending in
front of the television set (but please, I beg you, make sure that dinner's been
finished and Cognac served well in advance of pressing the "Play" button on
one's DVD player).
CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD
Theater of Blood
Director: Douglas Hickox
Writer: Anthony Greville-Bell
Idea/producers: Stanley Mann and John Kohn
Executive Producers: Gustave Berne and Samuel Jaffe
Vincent Price — Edward Lionheart
Diana Rigg — Edwina Lionheart
Ian Hendry — Peregrine Devlin
Harry Andrews — Trevor Dickman
Coral Browne — Miss Chloe Moon
Robert Coote — Oliver Larding
Jack Hawkins — Solomon Psaltery
Michael Hordern — George Maxwell
Arthur Lowe — Horace Sprout
Robert Morley — Meredith Merridew
Dennis Price — Hector Snipe
Milo O'Shea — Inspector Boot
Eric Sykes — Sergeant Dogge
Madeline Smith — Rosemary
Diana Dors — Maisie Psaltry
Release Date: April, 1973
Locale: Great Britain
Okay, it Wasn't That Bad...
Thin on plot but more so, thin on dialogue; Price et al
could've done better, even with the over-the-top lines they were handed by the
writer and his co-producers. Suffice it to say that this film becomes more and
more predictable as it goes on. And on. And on. And on.
Price's character plays a frustrated Shakespearian thespian. As the film
progresses, we realize that the character was at best innovative, at worst
hackneyed. The film gives the character's frustrated soul a chance, distilled into about 90
minutes, to deliver some of the finest, or at least most familiar lines written
Price is presumed dead after a plunge from a high-rise flat's terrace high above the Thames.
Price's character is rescued by the urchins of humanity who soon become his
henchmen (and women). He then goes about wreaking horrific revenge upon the
snobby, clique-ish critics whom he thinks have wronged him.
A very brief explanation of why Price's character was shunned by critics is
given to Diana Rigg by one of the critics. Rigg plays the daughter of star actor
Edward Lionheart with an upsettingly level-headed type of madness which reveals
itself throughout the photoplay. Rigg is told by critic Peregrine Devlin (played
very well by Brit Ian Henry) that her father had stuck mired in Shakespeare and
refused to accept roles in more modern plays, and that his critical failure was
due to his failure to expand his theatrical horizons.
Of course, as the critics are killed off, most of the deaths are predictable.
The most predictable (Shylock's "a pound of flesh") and more, are
translated in all their gory horror directly. The fun comes when one of Price's
victims is very cleverly induced to kill his own wife.
Morley is among the last left alive, however, in a gory and absurd
interpretation of the play in which a mother metaphorically grinds the bones of
her children into dust, only to make meat-pies of them later, this scene takes
the cake for imagination. Now, by this time all of the critics who remain alive
are being guarded night and day by the police. Morley's character is dropped off
in an armored car by four policemen, no less. Immediately, Price and his band of
thugs descend upon the house with a van set-up as a "your favorite dish" type of
television show. Morley is delighted but insists that he see his two beloved
French Poodles. Well, he gets to see them on a platter, and discovers, to his
horror, that he's consumed what Price calls "the choicest bits" of them before,
as said before, Morley is choked with the aid of a sausage-stuffing funnel.
The End is Near
What has not been mentioned but for briefly until now is the brilliance of
Price's daughter, played splendidly by Diana Rigg. If there's one line of
dramatic tension in this movie that deserves applause it's not Price's
over-the-top maniac; it's Riggs's walking the tightrope in order to save her
father. She herself does in a policeman after she discards a homing device
located in a decoy car and continues on. She foils even the best sleuths
Scotland Yard can come up with by foiling their combination of homing device
and second officer in radio contact in the trunk of the car of one of the doomed
critics. We hear the fact that she's parked the car on a railroad track and, of
course "crash, bang, boom."
Our hero, Devlin, who must be commended for giving Rigg's character the
benefit of a doubt, is finally kidnapped and beseeched by Price to re-live the
delivery of the Critics' award. Price evokes the blinding of a character in King
Lear. He can save himself if he merely recites the theatrical Award honors to
Price. Devlin (played by Ian Hendry) is threatened with blindness but does not
agree to say what would seemingly save him. This is the culmination of a number
of incidents utilized to amplify the moral fortitude of Hendry's character; even
risking his life in an heroic attempt to redeem Price's daughter (Rigg).
The final minutes are indeed filled with suspense; a drunk who's one of
Price's gang gives up Price's location (and therefore Rigg and Hendry) in the
throes of alcohol withdrawal when he's plied by the police
with alcohol. The police are off on the trail again. Things become tense as
Price sets fire to the theater but then remains, holding his daughter, injured
by one of his henchmen, in his arms. Things get a bit melodramatic before
Price's final end, again jumping off of a top-floor terrace; this time with his
daughter in his clutches. Devlin lives, being rescued out of the burning theater
by the police.
Price, holding his daughter's body, for some unexplainable reason utters more
Shakespeare, and falls into the burning ruins of the theater. Unnecessary is a
response from Devlin to Price's last words, from King Lear, that one "must
admit he knew how to make an exit."
I wouldn't recommend not seeing this if one were hopelessly lost when exposed
to the world of Shakespearian literature. Well, that's yours truly. I'm a
Shakespeare-challenged moron. However, those who can quote the Bard chapter and
verse will have a nice, if not somewhat surrealistic outing by viewing this
- Review in The New York Times, Attributed to Judd Blaise, All
- Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070791/plotsummary (Accessed 9/23/08)
- Text of Shakespeares's "Titus Andronicus," Act V, here
at Google Books, (Accessed 9/23/08)