of Blood (British 1972; dir: Douglas Hickox; scp: Anthony Greville-Bell;
cast: Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry, Jack Hawkins, Harry Andrews,
Coral Browne, Diana Dors, Robert Morley, Michael Hordem, Dennis Price;
aka Much Ado About Murder)
of Blood is not so much a horror film as a suspense/black comedy, it
keeps getting cited in horror film references. This is probably due
to the presence of Vincent Price. If Theater
of Blood had nothing else going for it, Price's performance alone would
make it worthwhile.
of Blood also has ... blood. Blood aplenty. And class,
and style, and pathos, and hilarious black comedy, and ... Vincent Price.
film, Price portrays Edward Lionheart, a hammy, egomaniacal Shakespearean
actor who fails in a suicide attempt after being passed over for a Critic's
Circle award, then uses his second chance at life to kill his critics by
methods drawn from Shakespeare's plays.
credits play over old silent film footage of Shakespearean actors. While nothing in Theater
of Blood indicates that Lionheart ever worked in film (it's stated
he never performed anything other than Shakespeare), Lionheart, like Norma
Desmond, belongs to an earlier era. Lionheart predates the rise of The
Method in the 1950s, with its "naturalistic" acting style often derided
by practitioners of "classical theatrical style" as producing actors who
dressed dirty and mumbled incoherently. (Marlon Brando and James
Dean were accused of such). Lionheart accuses his critics of denying
him the award to give it to a youth "who can barely grunt his way through
an incomprehensible performance."
egomania shows when he kills one critic by cutting out his heart, thereby
Merchant of Venice. Lionheart's arch-foe, critic Peregrine Devlin
(Ian Hendry), remarks, "Only Lionheart would have the temerity to rewrite
Shakespeare." Not having a son to christen Edward Jr, Lionheart names
his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg). That Lionheart wanted a son is
implied by Edwina's usual disguise of male clothing and mustache, by her
incessant (insecure) desire to please him, and by finally dying happily
in his appreciative arms, happy to have served him well.
comic commentary on the shared egomaniacal roots of artists and political
activists is drawn when Lionheart concludes a thunderous oratory to his
ragged street devotees, followed by a recording of a speech by Hitler (a
former artist) inadvertently played on Lionheart's applause machine.
of Blood depicts an actor's exaggerated view of critics. They
can afford expensive homes and lavish offices, exploit young actresses
for sex, and expend more effort in writing clever insults than in staying
awake to see a complete play. They enjoy hurting actors. Devlin
confesses to the detective inspector that when Lionheart broke into the
Critic's Circle meeting after losing the Best Actor Award, they had fun
at his expense.
are twice criticized for their abuse of power. Once when the detective
inspector suggests possible motivations as to why someone may want to kill
them. A second time when Lionheart justifies his murders to Devlin. In both instances, the point is made that a negative review can close a
production, ruin reputations, bankrupt people, destroy lives. Few,
if any, critics have such power today (perhaps more so in theater than
in film, more so in Britain than in the U.S.). But to insecure actors
in an insecure profession, reviews take on exaggerated importance.
is an egomaniac, his critics are worse. They too have egos, but they
lack Lionheart's cunning intelligence and perverse imagination. One
lecherous old man readily accepts that a young actress (Edwina) is flirting
with him. Another is unsuspicious when Lionheart selects him alone
to report the exclusive story of Lionheart's comeback. Another sees
nothing amiss with a TV crew arriving unannounced at his house, himself
the center of attention. Another shrugs off Princess Margaret's hairdresser
coming in after-hours, especially for her. Another agrees to help
police toss out squatters, because the police need someone with an air
of authority (something the police lack!). All traps by Lionheart,
all successful because these critics' egos block their brains.
critic who survives is Devlin, who doesn't trust Edwina's pretty, frightened
daughter act. Devlin tells her there is a homing device in the car's
glove compartment, but not about the police constable in the trunk. He is also the only critic of those given time to recant, who refuses to
change his critical opinion of Lionheart's abilities (others deny their
past comments or agree to everything Lionheart says).
is a nascent astrology motif. One critic's wife cautions him about
his horoscope. Another critic wears a huge gold Scorpio medallion
around his neck. Most likely, this is merely reflecting the times.
of Blood's gruesome murders are leavened with campy black comedy. Even as Lionheart decapitates one critic, he rolls eyes at Edwina's theatrical
handling of medical instruments. And his forcing one effete critic
(Robert Morley) to eat his poodles, baked in a pie, is a classic scene
of horror black comedy.
of Blood is a sumptuous production with lavish sets and costumes. Extreme high and low camera angles heighten the melodrama. The sudden
switch from a straight-on to extreme high angle just as the critics open
the drapes to view Lionheart about to jump off the balcony creates a sense
that we are looking down on a stage with the curtain opening upon a performance.
Anthony Greville-Bell's literate script artfully integrates select Shakespearean
dialogue into contemporary proceedings that are alternatingly macabre,
comic, or poignant.
The musical score supports the story, shifting
from gentle to dramatic as required, without ever overwhelming events on
screen. However melodramatically the music swells, Lionheart matches
it. Vincent Price shines.
later, tables were turned on Price in Madhouse (aka The Revenge of Doctor Death). In
this film, Price is a has-been horror film star victimized by frustrated
writer Peter Cushing. Yet while vengeful writers have their own subgenre, Theater
of Blood's enduring fame compared to Madhouse's relative obscurity
demonstrates why actors get the glory while writers more often toil in
anonymity. Lionheart's extroverted exuberance, shameless scene-stealing,
and indestructible ego is a crowd-pleaser, easily steamrollering over the
vengeance meted out by cool Cushing's introverted writer. As the
tabloids have long known, actors make for colorful villains, which is why
they get the cover while writers must settle for a byline.
of Blood is bloody good entertainment: horrific, insightful, and wryly
Review copyright by Thomas
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