FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 25, 2023

Day 25 - "It's you!'re dead!"

While you are certainly welcome to partake in it any time you please, I tells ya: If there was ever a movie made for afternoon couch watchin', it's Theatre of Blood (1973). Perhaps the five people who voted for it in 2020 already knew that.

Vincent Price is Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearean actor who, with the help of his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg), takes Shakespearean-flavored revenge on the critics who derided his abilities and gave him countless bad reviews.

Price remarked that out of his lengthy filmography, this was his favorite. It's easy to see why: As each murder is modeled after a death in the work of Shakespeare, Price gets to deliver some of the Bard's most famous lines--and he gets to wear all manner of wigs, makeup, and putty. What's not to love?

It's a trip to watch something like Theatre of Blood and see Lionheart rail against the critics who were so powerful, they could ruin lives with their influence and think about the state of popular criticism today. There is still thoughtful writing out there to be sure, but in the mainstream it's a single sentence on social media, a number on Rotten Tomatoes, drivel on a dire. 

I actually have a lot of thoughts about all of that, but that's all for another time. Or maybe for never, because who cares! 

Edward Lionheart is a fascinating character in that perhaps those critics were almost right about him. It's not that he's a "bad" actor per se. It's more that he was a man trapped in another era, given to over-the-top, melodramatic performances that had fallen out of favor decades before his time. He's a silent movie actor in the world of Talkies, you know? An Actor, a man who is nothing without the theatre, a man with enough ego to name his daughter after himself and mark the significant moments in his life (someone's death, his own...uh, suicide attempt) with Shakespearean monologues. He is the quintessential ham, and it's wonderful watching Price go full flourish, but also find small moments to imbue this character, for whom all the world is a stage, with some kind of real humanity.

It's also fitting that his daughter and cohort Edwina, who learned everything in life from her dear father, dons terrible drag throughout most of the movie. These two live in a fantasy world, fully dedicated to their dubious crafts. 

The murders are often exceedingly bloody and brutal, but completely fantastical, much like the grand guignol theatre of yesteryear. Lionheart must have spent a pretty penny on some of these elaborate set-ups, and I can only imagine what it was like trying to wrangle his troupe of vagrants, vagabonds, and vveirdos. It's Shakespeare by Jigsaw and it's quite a bit of fun, even if Theatre of Blood is a bit overlong at almost two hours. But there are far worse things you could do for that much time than watch Vincent Price in what is essentially a variety of roles, each one more outré than the last.

As Lionheart and his Shakespearean performances were holdovers from a bygone era, so too were Price and Theatre of Blood. By 1973, horror was truly entering a new phase: out were the likes of Vincent Price in his Corman-produced Edgar Allan Poe films, and in were the pea-soup antics of The Exorcist. The exceedingly white and demure houses of Hammer and Amicus were barely holding on, while Blaxploitation horror was thriving. Leatherface was just around the corner, revving up his chainsaw. Price would go on to focus more on his other interests, such as cooking and art, making occasional appearances in things like The Muppet Show or Michael Jackson's "Thriller," where he could bank on his well-earned legacy and simply be himself. Edward Lionheart wishes!


Nicholas Kaufmann said...

Such a fun movie! I like it even more than THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, which has a lot of elements in common with this one.

Matt said...

I just saw this for the first time this year - in a theater with an audience, even! So much fun, and Vincent Price chews the scenery in the best possible way.

Kristina said...

This is Cinema. Delightfully mean-spirited and everyone looks like they’re having a ball. “One is reminded of a ham sandwich”

Glen said...

"it's wonderful watching Price go full flourish, but also find small moments to imbue this character"

The more I watch of Price (and I'm no expert - maybe I've seen like 8 or 9 movies, including this one), the more I learn I always had the wrong impression about him. I'd always thought his appeal lay in how over the top he could be, in how he would chew the scenery (which he does a ton of, of course, and it's great), but what has really come to impress me is the nuance.

There's always something going on inside - a thought, a doubt, a toothache - we don't see what it is, but we can see it's there, and it bubbles up in surprising ways. Some moments another actor might play small, he dials up to eleven, and then some text that on the page would read as melodramatic, he plays so small and delicate.

Have you seen him in "The Haunted Palace" (of the Poe cycle, but actually based on a Lovecraft piece)? His villain is so often tender and gentle - and not in an obvious, sinister way. In every moment, I feel he consistently makes the most 'interesting' choice as an actor.

He was a treasure.

Stacie Ponder said...

I have not seen The Haunted Palace! In fact, I really need to beef up my Poe Cycle education--I haven't seen many and it's been forever since I've watched any at all. Hmm, mayhaps an event some time!

I think maybe Price's voice is part of what has left him woefully unrecognized as an actor, particularly in a post-"Thriller" world. He's been relegated to camp, which is great an applicable for plenty of his work, but it's certainly not even close to all he was or did.

Glen said...

I've been meaning to finish the Poe cycle. I watched three of them for the first time back in January, and The Haunted Palace when it showed up on Shudder this summer. I think they're great rainy Saturday afternoon viewing - it's best if you're not in any kind of hurry and you can just vibe on the little details. Of the ones that I've seen, Price really impressed me in House of Usher - again, he does so much so small. I think he was really special. (and of course I love the campy, over-the-top, savoring every syllable stuff too - like his cameo on the Alice Cooper song "Black Widow")