Theater of Blood
U.K. / 1973
Directed by Douglas Hickox
Starring
Vincent Price
Diana Rigg
Ian Hendry
Color / 104 Minutes / R
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
MGM Home Entertainment
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8
    6   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Lucas Micromatis
Ushering in the 1970s with a torrent of blood-drenched horror opuses, genre star Vincent Price etched two characterizations that many fans purport to be the greatest in his long line of cinematic villainy. The first one of the few villains outside of Dr. Goldfoot and Batman's Egghead popular enough to warrant a return engagement was the delightfully devious Dr. Anton Phibes of The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Avenging the (perceived) murder of his wife by a team of physicians, the Phantom of the Opera-esque Phibes undertook the plagues of the Pharaohs to dispatch the docs in gruesome ways. The second was Theater of Blood's Edward Lionheart.
    Borrowing the revenge motif of the Phibes films, Theater of Blood stars Price as Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart, embarrassed and humiliated by the prestigious Critic's Circle, who chose a younger actor over Lionheart as Actor of the Year. The embittered Lionheart, thought dead after a suicidal plunge off the balcony of the Circle's meeting place, allies himself with a gang of wayward bums, and his devoted daughter Edwina (Mrs. Peel herself, Diana Rigg) to avenge himself on the Critic's Circle. Utilizing murders borrowed from the plays of William Shakespeare (at one point, he goes so far as to rewrite The Merchant of Venice to accommodate his mad scheme!), Lionheart concocts elaborate set-pieces to mercilessly rid himself of his critical adversaries. It's up to head critic Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry) and a police inspector (Milo O'Shea) to try and put a stop to Lionheart's shenanigans.
    Armed with the vivid character of the tragic Lionheart, Price is brilliant here. Price, who successfully parodied his own horror image in several of his films, seems to channel his own frustrations as a typecast star to bring to the
role a sense of realism and sadness. Lionheart walks a fine line between high camp, as he gleefully offs some of Britain's best character actors (Michael Hordern, Robert Morley, and future Mrs. Price number three, Coral Browne, amongst a perfectly cast ensemble), and deadly seriousness. The "to be or not to be" scene, in which Lionheart confronts the Critic's Circle after being denied the prestigious award he believes is rightfully his, is outstanding. Those convinced Price was no more than an effete ham need look no further than Theater of Blood for a full display of his considerable range, depth, and talent.
    Although ostensibly a black comedy in the Dr. Phibes vein, Theater of Blood is often a gruesome and highly bloody film, even by today's standards. Morley's death scene, in particular, is difficult to stomach (no pun intended!). Also, the film is a trifle overlong. At 104 minutes, Theater is Price's longest horror film and starts to wear out its welcome about 15 minutes before the exciting, fiery climax. Still, backed by a solid cast of British theater veterans and bolstered by Price's full-blooded (and possibly greatest) performance, Theater of Blood is a must-have for the discerning horror fan. This one might even grab the Halloween/Friday the 13th crowd with its plethora of ingenious death scenes.

Brought to us by the budget-minded folks at MGM, Theater of Blood, in its original widescreen format, looks terrific outside of some minor wear during the opening credits. Some of the colors seem a bit dull, but then again the film has looked dark in all its incarnations, if memory serves. As usual for the Midnite Movies line, Theater is paired with its gruesome trailer (with the British "Theatre" spelling), but that's it as far as extras go. In spite of the thinness of the extras in this line, I'm terribly grateful to MGM for making these films available at such affordable prices. 9/25/01
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