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Theatre Of Blood (1973)

I know you've probably heard it all before, how this film is sheer class, how it should probably be hung in the Louvre as the pinnacle of British Horror Film making, etc etc. But please, you just have to see it to appreciate that yes, everyone is absolutely right.

It would be easy to dismiss this film as just another Abominable Doctor Phibes, but it's so much more than that. It's probably just as camp, but the campness is there for a reason (after all, Price is playing the world's worst actor). It's more literate, it's just as gory, and it hardly puts a step wrong - apart from Jack Hawkins' not very gory and frankly a bit crap exit from the proceedings.

The story, for those of you who don't know, concerns a certain Edward Lionheart, who returns from the dead to exact a terrible revenge on the critics who (rightly) panned his Shakespearian performances right up to his (supposed) suicide.

All the critics are killed in the manner of the Shakespearian tragedies. For example:

Michael Hordern is hacked to death on the Ides Of March by a bunch of tramps, a la Julius Caesar.

Denis Price is gorily impaled on a spear and then dragged behind a horse for miles (Troillus and Cressida), finally ending up at Hordern's funeral. "He's supposed to be one of the mourners..."

Arthur Lowe has his head chopped off in his sleep (Cymbeline). On finding this, the maid faints brilliantly.

The next critic gets his heart cut out - a pound of flesh (just like it doesn't happen in Merchant of Venice - as one critic says: "It's Lionheart alright... only he would have the temerity to re-write Shakespeare").

At this point I'd like to add that two British horror film - standard thicko policeman are cold on the trail of the killer, played by Milo O' Shea and Eric Sykes.

"How does a dead man commit three murders?"

"Perhaps he's not dead, inspector." (To which should be added: "You thick bastard")

The next critic gets drowned in a vat of wine (Richard III), another narrowly misses death during an impromptu trampoline fencing lesson (if you knew a madman was after you, would you really start fencing with a stranger sporting a dreadful French accent?) which is supposed to be the duel from Romeo And Juliet (no trampolines in the Baz Lermann version, if I remember rightly).

Then Jack Hawkins gets put away for life after being tricked into murdering his wife (Diana Dors) - and I thought Othello was just that stupid game with the black and white counters.

Price camps it up (literally) as Butch the hairdresser (with tremendous afro wig) when he fries a woman Joan Of Arc style with some dodgy heated rollers (Henry VI pt I) and then an equally camp Robert Morley gets force fed his poodles (Titus Andronicus).

But for me the best death is reserved for Eric Sykes' police sergeant, who, trapped, in the boot of a car, can be heard reporting on his shortwave radio: "I can hear a train whistle... I can definitely identify it as a train... T-R-A..."

Oh, please yourselves.

The last death is from King Lear. I'll leave it up to you to find out what happens. Just track down and watch this gem of a film...

Director: Douglas Hickox Writer(s): Anthony Greville-Bell

Cast: 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, Joan Hickson - Mrs. Sprout, Renée Asherson - Mrs. Maxwell, Bunny Reed - Policeman, Peter Thornton - Policeman, Charles Sinnickson - Vicar, Brigid Erin Bates - Agnes, Tutte Lemkow - Meths Drinker, Stanley Bates - Meths Drinker, Eric Francis - Meths Drinker, Sally Gilmore - Meths Drinker, John Gilpin - Meths Drinker, Joyce Graeme - Meths Drinker, Jack Maguire - Meths Drinker, Declan Mulholland - Meths Drinker, Tony Calvin - Police Photographer, Charles Gray - Solomon Psaltery (voice)


Last updated: February 27, 2010

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