THEATRE OF BLOOD (1973) (Blu Ray) Twilight Time Limited to print run of 3,000. Region Code: Region Free (A/B/C). Color. 104 minutes.Rated R $29.95 http://www.twilighttimemovies.com/theatre-of-blood-blu-ray/
1973 was a changing period for horror films. Horror films were becoming more explicit and old style horror was losing its popularity. Hammer films final Dracula film could barely get a release and then from a small distribution company in the U.S. THE WICKER MAN (EMI) was chopped down, edited and also hardly screened. The EXORCIST(Warner Brothers) would debut Dec 26,1973 and become one of the most successful films of all time but basically put an end to Gothic horror. AIP would terminate its successful run of films with Vincent Price in 1974 with the average MADHOUSE. However, with the release of THEATRE OF BLOOD (United Artists) on April 5,1973, Vincent Price starred in one of his best films ever.
THEATRE OF BLOOD is a wonderful extension to his A.I.P revenge horror films like THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES (1971) and DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972), wherein Price enacts nefarious acts of violence upon those whom he feels have wronged him. Indeed, director Robert Fuest was supposedly offered the project but didn’t want to get typecast in this style of film (his next film was the bizarre science fiction film THE FINAL PROGRAMME (New World,1973, a film that would be shorn of 18 minutes from its U.K. release). *
Enter director Douglas Hickox. Hickox had begun as an assistant director on films like FIEND WITHOUT A FACE(MGM,1958) and HAUNTED STRANGLER (MGM,1958), but had been directing films like an adaptation of Joe Orton’s ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE (Continental,1970) and the action thriller SITTING TARGET (MGM,1972). His films were notable for using many real locations rather than studio sets. I read somewhere (though cannot find the source material at the moment) that his son Anthony (later director of WAXWORKS (Vestron,1988) urged him to take the opportunity of directing Vincent Price.
Price’s contact with AIP as stated earlier was coming to a close (indeed, he would return to England in 1974 to finish it out with MADHOUSE, which was sort of a “Best of” Vincent AIP film), his long association with Sears as a spokesperson finished, and his relationship with second wife Mary Grant was cooling. Price then for various reasons needed this film. Little did he or anyone else realize that it would spark a new chapter in his life.
For one thing, it allowed him, however briefly, to perform Shakespeare. It would surround him with many A List British performer (not that Karloff, Lee, Cushing, or Quarry were slouches, but critics wrongly ghettoized them as mere “horror actors”) who actually wanted to work with him. It had a decent budget and was from a major studio (United Artists). Plus, Price found the woman who would be the final great love of his life, even though he had to kill her to find her! From this, Price would experience a renaissance of work in commercials, tv guest spots, and a pop phenomenon (via Alice Cooper and Michael Jackson), as well as a return to the stage in his greatest role, as Oscar Wilde in DIVERSIONS & DELIGHTS.
The plot has Price as Edward Lionheart, a supposedly dead Shakespearean actor who apparently is killing the critics that denied him an actor award that he had felt was long due to him. Instead, they gave it to a “twitching mumbling Boy who can barely grunt his way through a barely comprehensible performance” (which, having myself seen much Shakespeare of late, feels that he should take out such unclear mush mouthed performers rather than the critics!). His revenge comes in the form of the various murders (and a clever rewrite) of those that appeared in the works of the Bard.
The film is a delight from beginning to end, with the cast as whole relishing their roles and some wonderful bitchy dialogue. The actual locations (especially the” Burbage Theatre”, which in actuality was the Putney Hippodrome, London**, that Hickox had used in SITTING TARGET) do much to anchor the film in the real world while showing us the overly macabre and theatrical deaths.
Along with Price for the ride are such luminaries of the British stage and film as Diana Rigg (Emma Peel of The Avengers TV 1965-68), Ian Hendry (the original incarnation of The Avengers,1961), Robert Morley (Oscar Wilde in OSCAR WILDE,20th Century ,1960, (I wonder if he discussed Wilde with Price, as Morley had played the role back in 1936) but probably known to many Americans for his long running ads for British Airways and his phrase ‘We’ll take good care of you!”) , Michael Hordern (Senex in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM; UA 1966),Diana Dors (the former UK answer to Marilyn Monroe ,MAN BAIT, Exclusive,1952),Jack Hawkins (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI,Columbia,1957, who sadly, due to throat cancer, had lost his ability to speak and was dubbed) -the list goes on and on .
The original film was known as MUCH ADO ABOUT MURDER until Price pointed out that he did a film called COMEDY OF TERRORS(AIP ,1963)whose clever word play on Shakespeare had flopped and thus the title change .The original story idea was by Stanley Mann and John Kohn ( who were co- nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay of THE COLLECTOR (Columbia,1965)),with the final screenplay credited exclusively to Anthony Greville-Bell (who had co-written with John Kohn the bizarre THE STRANGE VENGEANCE OF ROSALIE(20TH Century Fox,1972).
The lush photography was by Wolfgang Suchitzky, who had lensed Hickox’ ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE as well as the classic GET CARTER (MGM ,1971). The memorable and lush score is by Michael J Lewis, who scored JULIUS CAESAR (AIP,1970) as well as Hickox later tele-version of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES(Mapleton,1983). Sadly, director Hickox died way too young, at age 59 from a heart attack. The British Independent Film Awards present The Douglas Hickox Award, given to a British Director on their debut feature. Notable past winners included Steve McQueen (later director of 12 YEARS A SLAVE (20th Century Fox,2013).
The producers (which included Kohn & Mann) were Gustave Berne (who had produced Amicus’ ASYLUM (1972) and AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS (1973) and former Hollywood agent (The Marx Brothers, Peter Lorre,Humphrey Bogart, ) as well as producing films like BORN FREE (Columbia ,1966). The film got more on screen due to the dollar to pound exchange as well as taking advantage of the Eady Act. ***
The film did fairly well theatrically, making about $1 million in the U.S. and Canada. The critics at the time, perhaps fearful of the wrath of Lionheart, gave the film acceptable to positive reviews. MGM of course made money through its releases on television as well as cable T.V. in the 1980s, and it released the film on VHS and DVD in various forms and collections over the years, though the colors seemed a bit muddy.
The Twilight Time Blu Ray is a visual delight. They seemed to have gone to the original negative for their 1080p High Definition 1.66:1 Color transfer. The images are razor sharp and the colors are vibrant. The English SDH subtitles follow the action and dialogue fairly closely. This upgrade is well worth getting.
-The Original Theatrical Trailer (you can see how the film used to look like before it’s Blu Ray clean up).
–MGM’s Anniversary Trailer
–Julie Kirgo provides another wonderful fact filled booklet
-Audio Commentary Track by documentary filmmaker and film historian Nick Redman & Vincent Price’s friend and film historian David Del Valle. The two keep a running dialogue throughout the whole run of the film, full of information and personal remembrances of Coral Browne and Price.
Some small cons:
The English 1.0 DTS-HD MA audio is a bit low, but easily corrected by increasing the volume. Oddly, the commentary track is better balanced and you may need to lower the volume should you switch over.
Del Valle seems stunned that while making an earlier film, Morley refused to be filmed in a suggestive scene with another man, though had no such compunctions of his very camp portrayal of Meredith Merridew. Del Valle forgets that The Sexual Offences Act decriminalized homosexual acts between two men over 21 years of age in private in England and Wales, but that it was still illegal in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man . In 1936, Morley had also been restricted by the Lord Chamberlain due to the subject matter from performing OSCAR WILDE except for a six week run at the private club London’s Gate Theatre Studio. ****
Also, they describe Lionheart as a bad actor. That is not so. He would not have had such a long career had he been. What he was in fact was an old style Actor /Manager that had all but faded from the scene. Think of Sir Donald Wolfit, the inspiration for Sir in the play and film THE DRESSER. He was a barnstorming performer who refused to accept that acting styles had changed, and thus was larger than life what is now usually accepted.
I wish that another audio commentary track had been added, using a Shakespearean and theatre historian to point out the tiny Shakespeare references in the film (for example, the painting of Caesar’s assassination in Michael Hordern’s apartment, foreshadowing his own demise or that Erik Sykes’ Sgt. Dogge is a reference to thewatchman Dogberry in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING), as well as pointing out how theatre in England had changed /was changing in England at the time. For example, the National Theatre ‘s 14-year journey from the Peter O’Toole’s Hamlet in 1963 until the multi million Pound and long delayed official building opening in 1976. Plus, how Censorship was abolished with the 1968 Theatre Act, Fringe Festivals appeared everywhere and new writers used a rawer language and nudity to tell their tales, while actors began to utilize a perceived more realistic (or the “twitching, mumbling” as Lionheart refers to it. All of this sets the world that Lionheart now resides and performs in.
Also, ARROW FILMS had some extras on their U.K. Blu Ray (Region B Only) that would have been welcome on this release, including interviews with Madeline Smith, Victoria (daughter of Vincent & Mary Price), Michael J Lewis, and -Gasp-David Del Valle! Plus, the commentary audio features Mark Gatiss and the rest of his League Of Gentlemen (1999-2002, BBC) colleagues .
Neither the Arrow nor the TWILIGHT TIME provide info on the filming locations then and now, which for those interested, can be found at
and on YouTube
Also, for those interested, here is the dialogue from the film
Still, this is quibbling on what is such a beautiful release of such a classic horror film.
Get you copy quickly as it is limited to a pressing of only 3,000.
-Kevin G Shinnick
*- by the way, has anyone seen “Une Journee Bien Remplie” (A Full Day’s Work) -(Cinetel,1973) it’s a French variant of Phibes, wherein a father plan to kill in the same day the 9 members of the jury who had condemned his son to the death sentence.
**- The Putney Hippodrome was a 1641 seat variety hall theatre built in 1906. Like many theatres, it became a movie house in 1924, closing in 1961. It remained derelict except for its use in Hickox’ films until it’s demolition in 1975. Today it is a housing project. The photo of the Hippodrome is from http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Putney.htm
***-The Eady Act was a tax on box office receipts to create a fund to stimulate British Film Production. To qualify as a British film a minimum of 85% of the film had to be shot in the United Kingdom or the Commonwealth, and only three non-British individual salaries could be excluded from the costs of the film, ensuring the employment of British actors, technicians and film crew. The Eady Levy was dissolved in 1985.
****-When he brought the same show to Broadway in 1938, it ran for 247 performances
Madeline Smith comments on THEATRE OF BLOOD : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9Lo4Uul7hU