Thursday, October 3, 2013

Halloween Hootenanny: Theatre of Blood (Douglas Hickox, 1973)

It wouldn't be a proper Halloween blogathon without an appearance from one of the patron saints of the season, the Merchant of Menace himself, Mr. Vincent Price. And as far as the actor's repertoire goes, I couldn't think of a finer choice for today's movie than this superlative Shakespeare themed sort-of-slasher, which, as far as I'm aware, is the only film of its kind (if anyone knows of any others, please drop me an email) and is also my favourite Price vehicle. And apparently I'm in good company here, as the actor himself has said this was his favourite of all the film roles he had undertaken over the years.

Price plays Edward Lionheart, a veteran thespian who ends up going method to a murderous extreme when he is snubbed once too often by the critic's circle, headed by Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry). It seems that the plays of the immortal bard have not only provided the inspiration for his life's work on stage, but also suggested the ways by which his unappreciative observers will meet their untimely ends. Needless to say, this movie is an absolute hoot for anyone who's even passingly familiar with Shakespeare, throwing references left, right and centre from the opening scene and onwards. In one of the earliest of the film's riffs on the bard, a critic's wife has a Julius Caesar-esque prophetic dream, suggesting her husband is not long for this world... and furthermore, she also mentions reading his horoscope, which states that March is apparently a bad month for this soon to be withering scribe.

While undeniably gruesome in places, this is never less than great fun, with Price clearly relishing every single moment of screen time. But despite the actor (along with his supporting players, screenwriters, director etc) clearly having his tongue in cheek for the most part, this is also surprisingly affecting at times, with Price supplying plenty of pathos as well... the case in point scene perhaps being (and this isn't giving the game away, so to speak) where he delivers the famous soliloquy from Hamlet before quite literally bowing out to his assembled insensitive critics. 

I'll say no more in case anyone reading this hasn't seen it, except that I think this is one of the finest black comedies I've seen so far, and hands down one of my favourite British horror films, though I'm far from a connoisseur. And it's perhaps not unsurprising that (at least according to Wikipedia) some critics didn't care for the film, finding Lionheart too sympathetic compared to the characters sharing their occupation. And, to be fair, they may have a slight point... but should still probably heed the film's warning nonetheless... 

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