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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Tuesday Top 10: Reasons Why I Love Theater of Blood

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.

1. Butch
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.


le0pard13 said...

YES, YES, YES!!! I love this Vincent Price film, especially his portrayal of a bad ham actor. One has to be good to look so bad at it. He's wonderful. I also think Diana Rigg doesn't get enough credit for her role, here. Ian Hendry, too (he could have been Jack Carter in Mike Hodges' great and gritty GET CARTER film). Fine list for a film that deserves more appreciation. Thanks, B-Sol.

Wings1295 said...

Never heard of this one! Just rushed over and found it on Instant Watch on Netflix. Woohoo - Will watch it tonight or tomorrow! Thanks!

Unknown said...

I just watched it for the first time the other day, brilliant in every way! From the masterful set peice murders, to Vincet Price having more costume changes than Cher, to the eye candy I'd frankly liked to have seen more of, I loved it.

B-Sol said...

Thanks, Leopard! I'm glad we share such a passion for this film. Joe, you MUST see it as soon as possible, and let me know what you think. I envy you the ability to watch it for the first time! And JP, happy to have another convert in the fold.

surly hack said...

Theater of Blood truly is a blast. Not long ago I heard a fun 1950s Suspense radio show with Price going wild as a murderous actor who must act insane to avoid the death penalty. It's called "Rave Notice", and I believe you can find it at vincentprice.org

For the Vincentennial I'm posting limericks on Price's movies over at my own Blogger blog, Limerwrecks. We're working chronologically, and are currently up to House of Wax. Rhymes on Theater of Blood are coming soon.

Miguel Rodriguez said...

This is classically known as one of Vincent Price's favorite roles, and it shows! I don't think I've ever seen an actor have so much fun in a film as Price does in Theatre of Blood. Wonderful!

bavafan@hotmail said...

When I first saw this theatrically in 1973 (I was twelve) I was actually fooled by the Diana Rigg "reveal". I guess it only works for the kids in the audience, not the adults. (ah, to be young and innocent) And to this day, Price as "Butch" is my favourite scene (although in 1973 the implications went "whooosh" over my head). This movie is the cherry on the cake that is Price's career.

B-Sol said...

Surly, I'd love to read those limericks, send me a link!

Miguel, I couldn't agree more. Part of what makes the movie so much fun is that he's clearly having such a great time.

Bavafan, great description of the movie. I wish I was young and innocent to have been fooled by the Rigg subplot!

surly hack said...

This will get you to Limerwrecks:


B-Sol said...

Thanks, Surly!

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