The formidable Vincent Price graces us with his presence in Theatre of Blood, exemplifying his awesome range in a role of irony- that of a failed actor. If you have never seen a Vincent Price film, I have to assume you are merely saving yourself for that special night alone with his entire filmography. To know him is to love him- and I don’t say that about anyone else.
Back to the film at hand, director Doug Hickox wastes no time delving into the thick of it. A regal, older gentleman receives a call informing him of the need to evacuate squatters from one of his tenements, and despite his wife’s protests, he sets off to shoo them away. The poor woman even read his horoscope. He arrives at a well-established crack den, and attempts to rouse the throng of bodies from their haze to the exits. He was not expecting a crowd of armed squatters however, and is backed into a plastic tarp blocking an exit. The gentleman is stabbed to death by the crowd. His name was George (Michael Herdern), and he was a well-known theatre critic. One of the constables on the scene removes his helmet, revealing our antagonist Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price), who gives George a few poetic parting lines. A discerning viewer might already have guessed, but for those of us who didn’t study rhetoric by way of the infamous Bard, Lionheart proceeds in the next scene to recite Antony’s eulogy from Julius Caesar, giving us a taste of his motives and intentions. When news of George’s death reaches his circle of fellow theatre critics, it is met with a rather grim remark on their role in news: “finally a headline, instead of a byline.”
It would upset me greatly to find that a review with “spoilers” of this movie put anyone off from viewing it, so if you haven’t seen the film by now then you must come back after you’ve corrected your error. For the rest of you, let’s talk about the genius of Vincent Price starring in a film about Shakespearian serial killings. The devious concoction of each scenario along with the antiquated language reminded of Price’s work with adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe’s works into film. Price knows his prose. He is so convincing as a failed actor exacting revenge on those who wrongfully criticized him that it hurt me to imagine Price with a book full of negative reviews. As to imagining Price murdering reviewers… I can’t say I blamed his character considering reviews describing “a refreshing rest” after having woken up to the end of his “dreary” performances. Yet, haven’t we all been criticized? How far would you go to prove yourself?
Even with a plot contingent upon well-established works of poetry, the creativity in this movie does not fail to amaze. The murders had me hugging my little white dog close to my heart, and I’m not easily shaken. This film even made me reconsider the work I do here at Sinful Celluloid. Then again, I pride myself on staying far from scathing. The good people at the New York Times, however…