Let's get something straight. If I needed to, I could probably write a post entitled Top 100 Reasons Why I Love Theater of Blood and not really have to strain too hard. The 1973 Vincent Price classic is one of my all-time favorite horror films, and a movie that remains an endless source of joy for me since I first discovered it in the discount bin several years ago. It's an unqualified pleasure from start to finish, and the reasons for this are nearly limitless. However, for the purposes of this post, I will confine my reasons to ten. Here goes:
10. Robert Morley in a Pink Leisure Suit
For a generation of Americans in the '60s and '70s, the effete, rotund Morley represented the ultimate British stereotype, and he is put to such good use here as the ridiculous Meredith Merridew, meeting his demise dressed as if he should be hanging out with Jack Tripper at the Regal Beagle. Glorious.
9. The Hamlet Speech
I know the idea is that Edward Lionheart is a hack, and an inside jab at Price himself, but I'll be damned if his "To be or not to be" soliloquy isn't genuinely powerful and moving. It's perhaps the most famous speech in the English language, and Price breathes new life into it, delivering it just before he takes the Nestea plunge into the River Thames.
8. Gore Galore
I can't be totally sure, but I feel as if this has to be Price's most graphically violent film. From excised hearts and impaled chest cavities to beheaded poodles and Kentucky fried critic, we get it all. It's a far cry from the more reserved Hays Code days that first set Price on the road to horror immortality in the 1940s and '50s, that's for sure.
7. Michael Hordern
Plain and simple, I love watching this man work. I've always admired him as Jacob Marley in the 1951 British version of A Christmas Carol, and his voice remains iconic thanks to his turn as Gandalf in the legendary 1978 BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. He's one of those old school English character actors, for whom every word or expression is memorable. If only his appearance wasn't so brief...
6. Shakespearean Murder Theme
It almost goes without saying that this would be one of the main things to love about this movie. Lionheart is a disgraced stage actor on a vendetta against his worst critics, basing each murder around a different play by the Bard. How could the English Lit geek inside me be anything but tickled pink by this concept?
5. Richard III Costume
Price has quite a number of costume changes throughout the film, but his Richard III getup is truly breathtaking. Combining the classic hunchback accoutrements with some really impressive makeup, it's the perfect ensemble to showcase some particularly hammy acting on Vincent's part--so much so that he even references it as such within the scene itself!
4. The Music
The Welsh composer Michael J. Lewis is one of film's most underrated tunesmiths, and this score is a prime example. His notes are the first thing you hear as the movie begins, and you're instantly hooked. A haunting woodwind theme, almost Renaissance in its flavor, it is perfectly evocative of the era of Shakespeare, and provides a counterintuitive juxtaposition to the unfolding grisly mayhem.
3. The Utterly Transparent Diana Rigg Subplot
Needless to say, sweet Diana is always fun to watch on screen, but here she finds herself involved in one of the most strangely developed character arcs I think I've ever seen. Her role in the plot is telegraphed from a mile away, with almost zero attempt at concealing it prior to the supposedly "shocking" revelation at the end. This should be a negative, but for some reason I find it all the more reason to enjoy the movie. It could be the abject silliness, not sure.
2. The Fencing Scene
"Alive in triumph! And you thought me slain!" Could this be Price's finest moment on screen? I would submit that it is. So grandiose, so over-the-top, relishing every moment of it as he leaps into action, rapier in hand, chasing the startled Devlin across the gymnasium with glee, the score kicks into high gear. Of course, this is intercut with some really obvious stunt double work, but I think that only makes it all the more excellent.
There are really no words for this. Vincent Price, sporting a gigantic white man's fro, prancing about as an overtly stereotypically gay hairdresser. This is camp of the highest order, and something that each time I watch it, I honestly marvel that it actually happened. Price truly was a great sport, and he clearly was having the time of his life making this movie. And thanks to scenes like this, that pleasure and joy is transferred over to me every time I pop it in the DVD player. Mr. Price, I salute you.
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