Uncovering Curiosities: Douglas Hickox’s THEATRE OF BLOOD
As a horror icon, Vincent Price was beloved by many, however he never felt that he got the respect that he deserved as an actor (he was right – he didn’t). Critics often lambasted Price for his ‘hammy performances’ and this irked Price. Therefore, it’s great to see the charismatic star get his revenge (on screen at least) in Theatre Of Blood.
This 1973 film sees Price play Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearian actor slammed by the critics for not moving with the times, and only starring in Shakespeare plays. Believed to be dead, Lionheart exacts his revenge on a London critic’s circle by offing them in a selection of ways inspired by Shakespeare’s greatest world.
Douglas Hickox’s film has an impressive line-up of British acting talent including Jack Hawkins, Ian Hendry, Michael Hordern, Eric Sykes, Arthur Lowe, Joan Hickson, Robert Morley, Milo O’Shea (he’s Irish, but we’ll let that slide), Diana Dors and Dennis Price, Harry Andrews, Coral Browne, Robert Coote and Diana Rigg (who plays Price’s daughter in the film). Theatre of Blood is very much a product of the time, showing a grim and grimy London. The days of Hammer-style were fading into the night and a new age of horror was dawning. Horror cinema was getting darker and grittier, with more blood and gore seeping through the velvet days of old. Theatre of Blood manages to straddle both facets of the genre and Hickox’s film features the dark humour of old, with ample buckets of blood to satisfy fans with a lust for haemoglobin.
Vincent Price met his third wife, Coral Browne on the set of Theatre Of Blood and he had an immense fondness for the film. However, this was much more than fond romantic memories – the film gave him the opportunity to tackle Shakespeare on screen, which was something that he always wanted to do. Price gives a great performance, he knew his days as a horror star were numbered. The role verges on being semi-autobiographical and you can feel Prices’ passion seeping through the screen.This was his moment to show the naysayers that there was more his acting. He achieves this – and more. Who says that you can’t have great acting in the horror genre?
Michael J. Lewis score for Theatre of Blood is powerful. It gives the film an epic sweep, a lush melancholy that underpins cinematographer’s Wolfgang Suschitzky offbeat visuals. Much like Price as an actor, Lewis’s score is something that transcends the horror genre. It’s not just a great horror score – it’s simply a fantastic score.
Theatre of Blood is as darkly comic as it is horrific. The film has a hyper-realistic style and an eerie atmosphere. There’s something disturbing about the way the deaths are presented here, like a late 20th Century Grand Guigno, a lucid dream of blood, Shakespeare and death. This is a film shot in the death throws of the old horror film, just as it was about to be reborn as into the Slasher-age. It’s horrific, funny and thought provoking – everything you could ask for.