It was a movie you could only make in the 1970s, and seeing it again on the big screen on Hallowe'en a few years back at FilmForum with some good friends, I realized how much all that 1970s stuff shaped me, in ways I didn't realize at the time. There is a part of me that will always assume that Jon Pertwee was well dressed. No man was more elegant than Major The Hon. John Wickham Gascoyne Beresford Steed MC, OM, no woman more elegant than Emma Peel (unless it was Cathy Gale--tough call, that.) And horror movies meant the cultured, sinisterly-chucking maestro, Vincent Price. All of his movies have their charm; some, such as The Raven almost overdose on it. (I mean, come on--this is a movie where Price--who certainly looked the part--basically gets to play Doctor Strange:
Seriously, the whole scene, but especially 7:17 on, is a classic Doc-Mordo throw down.)
But Theater of Blood is his classic. Occasionally crass, sometimes stereotyped and even nasty, it is also funny, intelligent, and stars a cluster of Britain's finest character actors.
In a review of Theater of Blood, Kim Newman wrote:
he crowning glory of Vincent Price’s career as the screen’s horror-comic bogeyman, this develops the ‘body count’ plotting of his Dr Phibes pictures as he slaughters his way through an almost-embarrassingly distinguished supporting cast while tossing off Shakespearean soliloquies even Sir Donald Wolfit would have found overblown and doing a series of in-disguise ‘turns’. Among the most priceless Price moments: got up in fab gear as gay hairdresser ‘Butch’, promising client Coral Browne ‘ash with flame highlights’ before setting fire to her head; in enormous false nose as Shylock carving chunks out of Harry Andrews, prompting Ian Hendry to muse ‘it must be Lionheart, only he would have the temerity to rewrite Shakespeare’; dressed as Richard III, haranguing tippling critic Robert Coote for drunkenly falling asleep during one of his greatest performances and then dumping him headfirst in a barrel of wine; as a TV celebrity chef, forcing bouffant-haired fusspot Robert Morley to choke on his beloved poodles in a crime derived from Titus Andronicus.Price met and married actress Coral Browne through Theater of Blood (he kills her in the move); they were together until her death in 1991; he died in 1993.
Price is partnered wonderfully by the equally versaitile Diana Rigg, who brings a moment of poignance to the fiery finish as the murderer’s Cordelia-like daughter, and among the acting greats siezing a welcome opportunity to caricature hateful critics and be bloodily despatched are Arthur Lowe (severed head), Dennis Price, Michael Hordern (stabbed like Caesar) and Jack Hawkins (duped Othello-like into strangling wife Diana Dors). With Milo O’Shea and Eric Sykes (who gets a funny death) as the plodding plods, and ‘70s pin-up Madeline Smith as pompous, foulard-wearing hero Hendry’s girl Friday. It’s a key influence on later gimmick serial murder pictures like Se7en.