1973 was a vintage year for horror. The Exorcist, The Wicker Man, Don’t Look Now – all undisputed classics.
One film often over-looked by some more high-minded critics is the Vincent Price movie, Theatre of Blood, which has now been given the special edition treatment by leading UK indie label Arrow.
Price stars as Shakespearian actor Edward Lionheart, who, after a series of humiliating reviews from a group of critics, vows to take his revenge on them all, one by one.
What follows is fantastic slice of British black comedy – a great mix of scares, squirms and laughs, as the critics are bumped off by a range of methods, all inspired, of course, by the works of Shakespeare, including King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, and, in one particular highlight, Titus Andronicus.
The supporting cast is a veritable who’s who of British acting talent, including Robert Morley, Michael Hordon, Arhure Lowe, Ian Hendry, Diana Rigg, Madeline Smith and Eric Sykes, but this really is Price’s film; indeed it was one of his personal favourites.
While classically trained, Price was all too often typecast in horror movies of varying quality, but here, as Lionheart recites passages from Shakespeare before each murder, you see that he really was the real deal, with a talent often far above the material he was given. Theatre of Blood should leave no-one in any doubt of Price’s acting ability, even though it is within the confines of the ‘ham’ actor Lionheart.
Anthony Greville-Bell’s screenplay strikes a great balance between the horror and comedy, with just the right amount of camp thrown in, while director Douglas Hickox (father of Hellraiser III director Anthony Hickox, fact fans), stages the deaths with some very inventive visuals.
If, like me, you first saw this film at far too young an age on TV, this is a great opportunity to re-visit it. If you haven’t seen it before, then please do check it out – you’ll be treated to one of the best British horror films ever made.
Over all this is a great transfer. Taken from a new 35mm interpositive, this new HD transfer is about as good as the film is ever likely to look.
There are still a few blemishes here and there, with the occasional speckle or scratch, but the image is clean, with strong, vibrant colours and nice, deep blacks. It’s a little soft in places, but maintains a nice ‘filmic’ look, and there’s a nice lack of any apparent edge enhancement.
Another great Arrow presentation.
As with the video, the soundtrack here is a fine effort. This mono track will never win any awards, but the dialogue is clear and always audible, while the music is very nicely reproduced.
Arrow have a well-earned reputation for great extras, and this release only re-enforces that.
First up, and the highlight for me, is a brand new audio commentary from Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Jeremy Dyson, aka The League of Gentlemen. Anyone who’s seen the League’s TV series, Pemberton and Shearsmith’s Psychoville and Inside Number 9, or Mark Gatiss’s History of Horror and Horror Europa documentaries will know what huge horror fans all 4 members of the team are.
The influence of movies like this and from studios like Hammer and Amicus are clear in their work, and one thing that stands out on this track is the genuine love they have for Theatre of Blood. The track is by turns informative, affectionate and very, very funny, and it’s great to hear the gang back together again.
Thank you, thank you to Arrow for including this track – please get them back for more!
Next up is a series of interviews, kicking off with ‘A Priceless Pot-boiler’ featuring Price’s daughter Victoria talks about her memories of the making of the film, and of her father’s life at the time.
Next up, ‘A Fearful Thespian’ sees film historian David Del Valle talk about Price and his work. Del Valle conducted an indepth interview with Price some years ago, and he proves to be a wealth of information here.
In ‘Staged Reaction’ Madeline Smith recalls her time on the production, with plenty of anecdotes and some nice behind the scenes details.
‘A Harmony for Horror’ gives composer Michael J. Lewis a chance to talk about his work on the film. Lewis is a real character, and the years have certainly not dulled his memories or enthusiasm.
Lastly, we get the original trailer for the movie.
As well as the on-disc extras, Arrow have also produced a really nice collectors booklet, which features a new essay by critic Cleaver Patterson, along with a reproduction of the original press book material, and some nice archive stills.
Theatre of Blood comes in both steelbook and Amaray packaging.
The steelbook reproduces the original UK ‘quad’/landscape poster art, while the Amaray features a reversible sleeve, giving you option of the original poster art or newly commissioned art by Sam Smith.