12/13/09

For The Love of Price: Theater of Blood (1973)

Some romances know not the bounds of time, space, distance, dimension, or the cinema screen. One such romance has occurred between The LBL’s Fran Goria and Vincent Price. Once in a while the pull is just too overwhelming, and Miss Goria must put pen to paper for the love of the man, for the love of his movies…..

Theater of Blood (1973) Directed by Douglas Hickox. Written by Anthony Greville-Bell. Starring Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry, Corol Browne, and Robert Morely.

Edward Lionheart (Price) is his name, and Shakespeare his game! Lionheart was one of London’s top theatrical performers, much to the dismay of the prestigious Critics’ Circle. At their annual awards ceremony, the coveted “Best Actor’ award went to a newcomer, instead of the seasoned actor. After the event, Lionheart confronted the critics. As they laughed at his humiliation, Lionheart committed suicide by leaping from the balcony. Now, the critics are being killed off one by one, as Edward Lionheart takes his revenge.


Fran Goria's Thoughts

Theater of Blood has always been one of my go to films when I’m in the mood for a little Vincent Price. It has over the top, inventive death scenes (and plenty of them), Price showing his skills as only he can, and a great supporting cast and script. I also quite like the stylized look and feel of the film. My DVD is a “Midnight Movies” double feature paired with Madhouse! Two great films for one low, low price!

First of all, I would like to talk about the glorious murders throughout the film, eight of them to be exact. All entertaining, all relating to some of Shakespeare’s best works, specifically, the final season of Lionhearts’ performances. The killing starts early in Theater of Blood with the first coming in the second scene. The plays represented in the film’s murders are Julius Caesar, Troilus and Cressida, Cymbeline, The Merchant of Venice, Richard III, Othello, Henry VI, and Titus Andromedous. Lionheart uses costumes and disguises to flawlessly lure each victim to certain doom. With real passion and feeling, he delivers an eloquent soliloquy from each play in question. Now I haven’t the time to talk about all of them, but I do have a few tasty favorites to share.

Lionheart’s revenge plot isn’t just about killing the critics, it’s about punishing them. This is evident in the Othello death. Lionheart poses as a masseuse in a white leisure suit and fedora, and he has been providing services for the wife of critic Solomon Psaltery (Jack Hawkins) for weeks. Psaltery is an insanely jealous man. He arrived home early to hear moaning coming from his wife’s bedroom, and well, that cheating woman had to die. In a fit of rage, Psaltery smothers his wife to death with a pillow. He was not killed, but he definitely was punished.

The Henry VI death of Miss Chloe Moon (Browne) was my personal favorite. It takes place at a hairdresser’s studio, where Lionheart steps in as a gay, substitute stylist named Butch. I have to say that it was a wonderful and hilarious thing to see Vincent Price as the flamboyant gay man (complete with lisp, afro, unbuttoned polyester shirt and gold medallion). It was defiantly out of the ordinary and spectacular. Lionheart, or Butch, then sets Miss Moon’s hair with odd shaped metal rollers. He then promptly burned her at the stake. Finally there was the demise of Meredith Merridew (Morely), inspired by Titus Andromedous. Lionheart channels his best French Chef to fool Merridew into thinking he is on his favorite show” This Is Your Dish”. Merridew’s dish was his babies (two toy poodles) baked up into a lovely pie. He is then force-fed the doggie pie until he chokes. These were just my top three scenes in a film filled with wonderful, fun deaths.

Theater of Blood also had a brilliant supporting cast. Some of Britain's finest came together to create the film. It all started with Coral Browne turning down the role twice. Then, Robert Morley called her up and basically said “I’ll do it, if you do it”. She agreed. This started a kind of domino effect with all the other actors following suit. Director Douglas Hickox once remarked that the cast was so good, all he had to do was open the dressing room doors. I’m sure this was an exaggeration, with the quality of the filmmaking and the flow of the story, Mr. Hickox definitely knew his craft. However, the actors really were all really that great.

First of all there is Diana Rigg as Edwina Lionheart, Edwards’s daughter. Edwina assists her father in carrying out his dastardly deeds, and she is just as twisted as he is. It must run in the genes. It is almost a shame to have such a pretty girl in drag for over half her screen time. She took this in stride, and delivered a nice little rounded character. Compared to the actors around her, Miss Rigg was not the shining star, but she did a fine job. Rigg is probably best known as Emma Peel from The Avengers. She was also a Bond Girl in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, as well as Lady Holiday in The Great Muppet Caper. In 1982, Rigg’s book No Turn Unstoned was published. Her inspiration came after a particularly rough review of one of her performances, this drove her to collect the most terrible, biting reviews she could find, and put them all together. This was a very fitting piece of trivia, given the subject of tonight’s film.

Ian Hendry plays head of the Critics’ Circle, Pergrine Devlin. Devlin is kind of part pompous ass, part well respected citizen. The rest of the critics definitely look up to him, and Inspector Boot (Milo O’Shea) seems to value Devlin’s thoughts on the case. Hendry certainly delivered, although he did seem to get a bit lost in the dueling scene. He was acting opposite Price in this scene, and it was quite energetic; so getting lost is understandable. Technically Devlin is the “hero’ of the film, but by the end I didn’t much like him. I wanted to see him fall to Lionheart. However he was a great foil for the Lionheart character. Overall, Hendry’s performance was good. He was another The Avengers alumni, but only appears in season one. I recognized him best as Kerro from Captain Kronos- Vampire Hunter, but he also starred in The Informer and Get Carter.

Robert Morley played the effeminate, eccentric, poodle-loving Merrideth Merridew; and what a fine, fine job he did. This was not a big roll for the character actor, but Merridew did last longer then most of the other critics. I mention this because Merridew was a fun character, and I also quite like Morley. He costarred along side Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre in Beat the Devil. This was the very first “Ladies Night” feature at The Lair. Morley also made an appearance in The Great Muppet Caper. I have never seen a poor performance by Morley, and I always love to see him on the screen.

It is almost time to get to the one and only Vincent Price, but first I want to talk about Coral Browne, or more specifically, the love story between Coral Browne and Vincent Price. She was Vincent’s third, and last, wife. The two met on the set for Theater of Blood, fell in love, married, and lived happily ever after. Well, happily ever after until her death from breast cancer in 1991. Price passed two years later from lung cancer. The two always joked about meeting in a cemetery, and the first scene they shared took place in a cemetery. So they very well could have met in a cemetery. Isn’t it romantic? In 1987, Browne became a naturalized U.S. citizen as a gift to Price. In return, Price converted to Roman Catholicism for her. Such a lovely romance, it just makes me all warm a fuzzy inside. I guess she forgave him for killing her off in such a sizzling fashion in the film.

Vincent Price shows many facets of his talent in Theater of Blood. There is the sinister creature hell bent of revenge, the broken humiliated shell of a man, the brilliant (but demented) theatrical performer, the master of disguise, and (at the end) the tender loving father. Price gives everything for this film. Many feel that Price is too over the top (as if), and there is a bit of that in Theater, but it necessary to develop the character. Edward Lionheart was criticized for being an over actor, so Price had to bring that aspect forth. Lionheart was a stage performer, which requires more emotion then a film actor. That emotion is evident in the revenge and murder scenes. The costumes and beautifully delivered soliloquies really transported the viewer into this dark word of pain and hate, and having the group of meths drinkers (bums that saved Lionheart after suicide attempt) on hand for almost all the murders really added to feel of being a part of it all. Price had to become the same characters that Lionheart was using to carry out his vengeance.

When Price first appears on screen, he is dressed as, and acts like, an average police constable. He also poses as an aging grave digger, a fencing enthusiast, a ladies man masseuse, a French chef, and Butch. I love the scene with Price as Butch. It is so out of the norm for Price, and he just does a fantastic job with it. During the scene of Lionheart’s suicide, the audience is really brought inside to world of a man who as lost all hope. His life’s work laughed at, and spit on, in front all his peers. As he steps onto the balcony and starts to deliver the “To be, or not to be” line, one can see him stepping farther and farther into despair. Then at the end, when Lionheart is mourning for his daughter, Price really shows the viewer a man (a somewhat insane man) that has just lost his only child, and most loyal supporter. He is very tender and loving with her. It shows that Lionheart cares for more than just fame and revenge. Price really pulled out all the stops for this roll. Theater of Blood is a true showcase of Price’s talents. This is one film that will always hold a special place in my Vincent Price collection. It is one of my favorite Price films, and just one of my favorite films in general.


Price Rating


5 comments:

  1. Like the PHIBES films, this tone certainly fits Price perfectly and puts his eccentricities to good work. I buy into him infinitely more in THEATER than I ever did in many of his other entries

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  2. THEATER and both of the PHIBES films are great, but keep checking back, I might run across another that you haven't tried yet. Don't give up on Price!

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  3. For my money, a tossup for Price's finest performance with the also excellent WITCHFINDER GENERAL/CONQUEROR WORM. Of course, THEATRE OF BLOOD is much more fun!

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  4. Thanks for the comment, Hal. I'm glad you mentioned WITCHFINDER GENERAL, it is next month's feature.

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