Vincent Price was adored by fans but ridiculed by critics for his out-sized, hambone theatrics in nasty horror flicks. So it’s little surprise that Price’s personal favorite of his own ghoulish filmography was supposedly Theatre of Blood. Price plays Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearean actor thought to have committed suicide who returns from the dead to bump off the critics who ridiculed him for his out-sized, hambone performances. As Lionheart employs a gaggle of homeless people and a hippie henchman who could pass for Ian Hunter to help cross the snooty, upper-crust critics off his list, there’s a whiff of social revolution about the movie. The fact that he is also criticized for only acting in ancient plays and loses an award to a young actor named William Woodstock (ba-dum!) will also help the film appeal to preservation societies.
With its gimmick murders (they’re based on the killings in Shakespeare’s plays) and copious campy humor, Theatre of Blood has much in common with another key Price film, but Robert Fuest shot The Abominable Dr. Phibes as a vibrant psychedelic hallucination. Director Douglas Hickox realized Theatre of Blood with grittier, dirtier, greyer realism, though cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky’s use of distorted, fish-eyed lenses really heightens the film’s nightmarish, stomach-churning grotesqueries.
The grungy palette of Theatre of Blood looked wretched on home video, and as much as I love Price and the film’s satirical premise, I always found Theatre to be off-putting and inaccessible because of its ugly presentation on VHS and DVD. As I was hoping it would, Twilight Time’s new blu-ray has really turned around my feelings about the film. Although white specks are constant (as they tend to be on a lot of Twilight Time releases), the picture is clear, bright, organic, and sometimes even colorful, allowing the wicked brilliance of Hickox and Suschitzky compositions to shine through. Sound is very tinny, sometimes distorted, but the picture looks so good that I was only mildly bothered by the audio issues. More importantly, I’m grateful that I can now truly enjoy one of Vincent Price’s best roles. A lively and interesting commentary by Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and journalist David Del Valle, who performed an extensive video interview with Price in 1988, completes this blu-ray, which is available from Twilight Time's official site here.