KIM NEWMAN reviews THEATRE OF BLOOD

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The members of the London Theatre Critics Circle are murdered in scenarios lifted from Shakespeare’s plays by mad matinee idol Edward Lionheart who feels he should have been given a Best Actor award.

★★★★★

The 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 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.

THEATRE OF BLOOD will screen as part of our Shakespeare on Film season on Sunday 24th April at 6.30pm with an introduction from Mr Newman.

Tickets are available here: http://bit.ly/1RBbAzl

Originally published in Empire online, 13 April 2007.

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