“It’s Lionheart all right. Only he would have the temerity to rewrite Shakespeare.”
Edward Kendall Sheridan Lionheart (Vincent Price) is a Shakespearean actor. According to the Theatre Critics Guild he is not a good one. For years Lionheart has coveted the Guild’s “Critic’s Circle Award” but has been denied what he feels he is rightly due by his critics. When he is overlooked for a younger actor, Lionheart has had enough. He flamboyantly commits suicide spouting the ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy from “Hamlet” and then jumping into the Thames River from the top of a penthouse railing. In reality he survives. Lionheart is rescued by a clan of vagrants.
Behind the scenes he plots his revenge on those he feels have ruined his career. Two years later he is ready for his next performance.
Each of his victims is murdered in a manner that is similar to murders from scenes in various Shakespeare plays. The first to go is George Maxwell (Michael Hordern). He is murdered by a group of homeless men on the ides of March. The relevant Shakespeare play being Caesar’s murder from “Julius Caesar”. The case is assigned to Inspector Boot (Milo O’Shea). Before he can garner any suspects the second murder is committed. Hector Snipe (Dennis Price) is stabbed with a spear. His body is then tied to a horse’s tail and dragged. This is reminiscent of the murder of Hector from Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida”.
One by one the members of the Critics Guild are killed. Each murder is more gruesome than the last and each one depicting a scene from one of Shakespeare’s plays. Horace Sprout (Arthur Lowe) is Cloton in “Cymbeline”; Trevor Dickman (Harry Andrews) is Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice”, although with a minor change in the outcome of the play.
From then on; number five is Oliver Larding (Robert Coote) representing the Duke of Clarence in “Richard III”. The next critic on the list is Solomon Psaltery (Jack Hawkins), then Miss Chloe Moon (Coral Browne). As the only woman in the guild she is Joan of Arc in “Henry VI, Part 1”. Number eight is Meredith Merridew (Robert Morley). Lionheart has something special in store for him.
Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry) is awarded the pleasure of appearing in two of Shakespeare’s plays. Surviving the duel scene from “Romeo and Juliet” he is then cast as Gloucester in “King Lear”.
Lionheart’s daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg) is assisting him in his retribution.
“Theater of Blood” was released in 1973 and was directed by Douglas Hickox. It is a British horror/comedy film. This is that movie that you remember seeing years ago that reminded you of those Dr. Phibes movies but you couldn’t remember the name. All you could remember was that Diana Rigg was in it and it was good.
There are a lot of things about this movie that are great. For one thing, all those wonderful ways in which Lionheart’s foes are dispatched. Each one more imaginative and intricate than the last. Another is the over the top soliloquies that Vincent Price gets to recite. A Shakespearean actor at heart, Price was type cast as a horror movie star most of his career. Here he gets to do both. And he does them both with flair, a ham to the end. Price himself maintained that it was his favorite movie.
One thing I learned about “Theater of Death” is that William Shakespeare wrote a lot of horror stories. I can almost guarantee that there will be at least one murder that may make you at least a little queasy.
The movie was filmed entirely on location in and around London. This is the film where Price met his third wife, fellow actor Coral Browne.