Though not officially part of the same series, Theatre of Blood shares some obvious stylistic and plot similarities with two earlier UK productions staring the American actor Vincent Price, The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972). But it is the 1973 film, along with his earlier turn as Matthew Hopkins in Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968), that remains dominant in the memory of fans of his UK-based work.
That’s partly down to the evident relish with which Price attacks the role of the under-appreciated Shakespearian thespian, Edward Lionheart, but it also reflects the superior quality of the supporting cast (including a number of memorable cameos among the spouses of the unimpressed theatre critics), as well as the imaginative use of London locations, including the now-demolished Putney Hippodrome which stood in for Lionheart’s lair, the long-abandoned ‘Burbage Theatre’.
Though presented as a serial narrative with common characters, the film is structurally an anthology of tales, each enacting a famous scene from a Shakespeare play. There was a vogue for horror and supernatural anthologies in the 60s and 70s, both on screen and on the page (e.g. The Pan Book of Horror Stories), but the pleasures of Theatre of Blood owe as much to the relationship of the critics circle as to their common nemesis. As such, the film is more in the older tradition of Ealing’s Dead of Night (1945), where the framing story ultimately proves the most important, rather than contemporary shockers like The House That Dripped Blood (1971) where the frame is merely a convenient location.
“Arguably Price’s finest single performance, certainly the one that called on all his varied talents as a comedian, aesthete, mellifluous speaker of verse, old-fashioned barnstormer and exponent of horror.” Philip French, Guardian (2014)
“It’s not too much to say that if horror pictures were taken seriously Price would have been a 1973 Oscar contender.” Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times (2005)