Having referenced Theatre of Blood yesterday as an example of homicidal gimmickry, lend me your ears as we revive this comedy of terrors.
Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) throws himself into the Thames after being snubbed by the Theatre Critics Guild, only to survive and unleash the green-eyed monster on the reviewers who made him a laughing stock. Lionheart’s measure-for-measure payback plays out like a comic version of Seven (or as you like it in Shakespearean terms, Henry VII), dispatching the dispatchers by staging the Bard’s most fitting murder scenes – for instance he punishes a critic who drunkenly slept through his Richard III by drowning him in a barrel of wine.
Theatre of Blood is a brilliantly self-referential idea, but not one to be taken literally in case Gwyneth Paltrow happens to be reading this. Fortunately it only works with theatre critics (and food writers as in The Simpsons‘ ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner?’) because film reviews have about as much impact on a celebrity’s career as allegations of sexual assault. Avoiding Lady in the Water-style bitterness towards the hacks, it even-handedly paints both actor and critic as codependent narcissists afraid to engage with reality (not me though, just ask my cat. Her name is Dan).
The direction is not as tight as an Amicus in marrying the strange bedfellows of comedy and horror, yielding a camp production that is high in theatrics but low on atmospherics. But when it comes to Shakespeare the play’s the thing, and Vincent’s priceless portrayals of multiple Shakespeare characters (plus various Peter Sellers-type disguises) form a masterclass in what the playwright called laying it on with a trowel. The 1973 horror might not give you the shakes but its murders are not for the faint-hearted, ahead of the curve in establishing elaborate kills as a slasher staple (alongside Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory a few years prior).
With the bonus of co-starring the late Diana Rigg (and Dors), Theatre of Blood is barrels of fun thanks to a peareless lead performance from King Fear himself.