This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Theater of Blood (1973)

"For thirty years the public has acknowledged that I was the master, and that this year my season of Shakespeare was the shining jewel in the crown of the immortal bard!"
-Edward Lionheart.

I recently wrote a review of the terrific comedy, Billy Shakespeare. The film, written, directed and co-edited by Deborah Voorhees, shows how we'd react to history's most famous playwright if he emerged in contemporary times.

Watching that film prompted me to look at another, more sinister look at Shakespeare. Theater of Blood tells the story of actor Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price), who, after apparently taking his own life two years earlier, sets out to kill all the critics who denied him the best actor of the year award.

Lionheart, aided by his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg) and a group of tramps who nursed him back to health following his suicide attempt (Lionheart's fan club?), goes about these grisly tasks by re-enacting death scenes from Shakespeare's plays.

His first victim, George Maxwell (Michael Hordern), is stabbed to death by said misfits on March 15, a la the killing of the title character in Julius Caesar.

The next victim, Hector Snipe (Dennis Price), like Hector in Troilus and Cressida, is impaled through the heart with a spear before being dragged by a horse.

Lionheart next drugs Horace Sprout (Arthur Lowe) and his wife (Joan Hickson) to sleep before decapitating him, leading to his Mrs. getting the same wake-up call that Imogen did when she awakens to see Cloten in Cymbeline.

But Lionheart is not above taking dramatic license with the text he holds so dear when he permits Trevor Dickman (Harry Andrews) to be killed in order to satisfy the bloodlust of Lionheart's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

He also takes advantage of Oliver Larding's (Robert Coote) love for alcohol when he drowns him in a vat of wine, a la the Duke of Clarence's demise in Richard III.

The one critic Lionheart purposely does not kill is Solomon Psaltery (Jack Hawkins), whom he ensures goes to prison when he tricks him into killing his wife in a jealous rage, a la Othello.

Lionheart's plans begin to slightly derail when he attempts to kill Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry) by re-enacting the sword fight between Tybalt and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Devlin, who has begun to suspect Lionheart as the murderer, fights admirably, but admits defeat when Lionheart overcomes him and basically tells him to get it over with. But Lionheart then decides to spare him for another time.

However, Lionheart's temporary mercy is not extended to Chloe Moon (Coral Browne, who later became Price's wife), whom Lionheart electrocutes with hair curlers as a modern-day version of Joan of Arc burning at the stake in Henry the VI: Part I.

Lionheart then kills Meredith Merridew (Robert Morley) by forcing him to eat his two poodles baked in a pie, just as Queen Tamora ate her children baked in a pie in Titus Andronicus.

He then attempts to kill Devlin again by taking him to a theater and threatening him with hot pokers in his eyes, a la the blinding of the Earl of Glouchester in King Lear, unless he announces Lionheart as the winner of the Critic's Circle Award.

Fortunately for Devlin, the police arrive in time to save him. Lionheart sets the theater on fire. When Edwina is killed in the confusion, Lionheart takes his daughter to the top of the burning building and quoting the end of Lear before falling to his death.

Some have noted the plot similarities between this film and The Abominable Dr. Phibes(1971), which also starred Price. In that film, he played the title character, who goes about killing the doctors he blames for the death of his wife by re-enacting the curses depicted in the Old Testament.

This film, while gorier, has more of a sense of humor. One could often tell the fun Price was having in many of the films he did, and that is probably never more apparent than it is here. He also has a wonderful supporting cast to back him up.

This film could be viewed as the precursor to Scream (1996) in that its killer commits his horrific acts using something he loves as inspiration (Devlin, at one point, tells Edwina that her father may have been praised more if he had done more than just Shakespeare).

Thankfully, this film never had the increasingly awful sequels Scream had.

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