“To slay or not to slay? That is the question!” Vincent Price, that immortal king of terror, delivers one of his finest performances in this dandy little film. It’s filled with as many laughs as it is with screams and it’s a jolly good time for everyone involved. You won’t want to be late for this performance. You better hurry to your seat now. People are simply dyingto get in.
Edward Lionheart, a vigorous if somewhat hammy Shakespearean actor, confronts a group of pompous and cruel critics who have ridiculed him for years. Deprived of the theatrical award that was to be his after his flawless season of the Bard’s best work, the distressed Lionheart hurls himself over a railing to his watery death. Or so it would seem. Unfortunately for all the critics who penned their scathing reviews, Lionheart has returned with a bitter taste for vengeance. Seeking inspiration from the plays he so loves, Edward formulates a complex plan to murder all his critics using the gory deaths that highlighted Shakespeare’s famous tragedies…
Just from that plot alone you know that you’re in for a good time (this would be a great introduction to William Shakespeare for a high school English class!). All the killings are inventive and spirited, and they never shy away from the red stuff. Price delivers an awesome spear to the chest for one poor bloke and then has his corpse dragged along by the tail of a rollicking horse. And who can forget that rib-tickling moment when Edward and his accomplice are beheading a sedated chap in his bed to the sweet melody of beautiful orchestra music. Edward even rolls his eyes at his partner’s incompetence as blood spurts up in the air like a fountain. Pure ghoulish delight, ladies and gentlemen.
The film itself is very reminiscent of the Dr. Phibes movies, another vehicle that Price starred in as a cackling villain. Both they and “Theatre of Blood” have Price playing wronged men who seek to destroy a group of less-than-admirable individuals with unique methods (in the first Phibes movie it was death by the biblical Ten Plagues of Egypt). But this film can very well stand on its own, no doubt due to the beautiful artistry of Vincent Price. He can be force feeding a pie made out of poodle flesh to a squirming victim and make it look like an Academy Award winning performance. The man is simply game to do anything and his enthusiasm for the role shines in every scene. If for nothing else, watch this movie just for the scene of Vincent Price masquerading as a homosexual hair dresser, afro included. You’ll be thanking me for quite some time.
Only an actor like Price can transfer from a hilarious moment like this to a completely solemn, eerie scene where he cryptically delivers haunting lines of Shakespeare. His fiery passion permeates even the dank and rotting atmosphere that shadows the entire movie. Like Edward Lionheart, Price delivers an outstanding performance of a man who is past his glory and lives out every actor’s dream by distributing cold, poetic justice to those damn critics! Your eyes will be glued to the screen from the thrilling opening ala Julius Caesar to the somber, fiery climax. When the curtains close for the final act of this tragedy, don’t be surprised if you catch yourself shouting “Encore!”
– Jose Cruz (March 28, 2010)