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Film / Theatre of Blood

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"It's him all right. Only Lionheart would have the temerity to rewrite Shakespeare!"

Theatre of Blood is a 1973 British Horror Comedy film directed by Douglas Hickox and starring Vincent Price, who regarded it as one of his personal favorites. Also in the cast are Diana Rigg and an impressive coterie of British character actors, including Ian Hendry, Michael Hordern, Coral Browne, Robert Coote, Jack Hawkins, Harry Andrews, Arthur Lowe, Robert Morley, Dennis Price, Eric Sykes, Diana Dors and Madeline Smith, to name just a few.

Years prior to the start of the film, Edward Lionheart (Price) was one of the self-styled stars of the Shakespearean stage, decidedly unloved by the critics of various papers. His performances in his final year, though playing to packed theatres, were panned at each and every opportunity, until finally they unanimously gave the Critics' Award to a new, uprising actor. This pushed Lionheart to the depths of despair, and in a singular act, he ended it all, jumping off a building while clutching the award which he felt was rightfully his, with his horrified daughter Edwina watching and the critics being amused at his fate.

The film opens with one of these critics being informed that a number of vagrants have begun squatting on a condemned building of his. Despite being warned by his wife that she had a dream of a pack of lions descending upon him, and the horoscope (for March 15th) claiming that it wasn't a good idea to be incautious, he runs off to the building, where he's confronted by the same vagrants who he was about to forcibly remove - and stabbed twenty two times, while the local constabulary looks on.

The perpetrator, of course, is Lionheart, who - having survived his suicide attempt, thanks to a kindly bunch of methanol-drinking homeless chaps - has decided to revisit his last run in the theater... and provide a very special command performance for each of the critics in turn.

In 2005, a stage adaptation was produced in London by the British company Improbable, starring Jim Broadbent as Lionheart and Rachael Stirling (Diana Rigg's daughter) as Edwina (renamed Miranda).

Theatre of Blood contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: One of the eight Asshole Victims is played by Dennis Price (no relation to Vincent) who played a Villain Protagonist out to kill eight Asshole Victims himself twenty-four years earlier in Kind Hearts and Coronets.
    • Vincent Price was a talented chef in real life, making his performance as Lionheart playing the role of a fake chef all the more amusing.
    • Vincent Price had previously played a non-Shakespeare version of Richard III in the remake of Tower of London. In the original, he played Clarence. Thus, this is the third movie in which he has a role in Clarence's murder, at least symbolically.
  • The Alcoholic: Larding loves his spirits. Lionheart lures him to a wine testing session to drown him in a vat of wine like the Duke of Clarence in Richard III.
  • Asshole Victim: Each one of the critics, except Devlin (who might be an Asshole Survivor depending on what you think of his reaction to Lionheart's death).
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Lionheart not only kills people, but he kills and chops up two cute dogs, and feeds them to their initially unwitting owner, Merridew.
  • Big Bad: Edward Lionheart, a spurned actor pursuing vengeance on the critics who mocked him.
  • Black Comedy: Lionheart acts positively goofy throughout the movie, using various disguises and hammily delivered Shakespeare quotes along the way.
  • Bloody Hilarious: The decapitation scene.
  • Bond One-Liner:
    • Two from Lionheart: "I wonder if he'll travel well" (after sealing a man in a barrel of wine) and "Pity; he just didn't have the stomach for it" (after choking a man to death with a poodle meat pie).
    • One from Devlin: "He was madly overacting as usual, but you must admit he did know how to make an exit."
  • Bungled Suicide: Lionheart jumps into the Thames taking the critics' prize with him and ends being saved by the methanol-drinking Crazy Homeless People. Though in this case he was unconscious in the water in such a position that he would have inevitably drowned had the homeless people not taken him out of the water.
  • Camp Gay: Meredith Merridew. He dresses mostly in pink, talks effeminately and has two poodles. His murder places him in the role of Tamora from Titus Andronicus, and there's a joke made about both characters being "queens".
  • Can't Take Criticism: Lionheart is an actor who kills the critics who gave him bad reviews, each murder in the theme of a Shakespeare play he was in which the reviewer panned.
  • Chatty Hairdresser: One of Lionheart's many guises is a Camp Gay version of this trope, with an afro hairstyle to boot. He plays Abhorrent Admirer to the attending policeman to keep him out of the salon— and away from his charge.
  • Climbing Climax: When Lionheart climbs up to the top of his burning theatre building to recite a part from King Lear.
  • Crazy Homeless People: Lionheart uses the methanol-drinking homeless people who saved him from drowning as his minions to carry out the murders. That drink has the expected effects on their brains.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Critic Solomon Psaltery is quite easily manipulated into re-enacting the murder scene from Othello.
  • Cultured Badass: Lionheart is a Shakespearian actor, a highly intelligent and scheming criminal, and pretty good with a sword (not to mention surprisingly agile for a man his age, managing some impressive leaps during the swordfight), able to defeat Devlin who apparently fences regularly and has done for some time.
  • Daddy's Little Villain: A more sympathetic example than some, but no less dangerous for it. Edwina genuinely loves and is devoted to her father...and assists him in his crimes. While her love for him, and anger at how cruelly the critics treated him, is presented somewhat sympathetically, she's also just as willing to kill people as he is if not more so, casually reading a magazine while one of the critics gets electrocuted and showing no remorse for her murderous actions.
  • Deadly Euphemism:
    • "Pity, he didn't have the stomach for it."
    • "He did know how to make an exit."
  • Death by Gluttony: Lionheart feeds the extremely overweight Merridew his two pet poodles (who he regards as his children) baked into a pie, as a revenge based on Titus Andronicus. He then finishes Merridew off by Force Feeding him the rest until he chokes to death.
  • Death by Irony: All critics bar Psaltery and Devlin.
  • Death by Transceiver: An early example Played for Laughs shows up: a cop hiding in the trunk of a car in an attempt to follow Lionheart ends up parked on train tracks. We hear him over the walkie-talkie to the other cops:
    Cop: I can hear a train whistle... (rumbling sound) I can definitely identify it as a train... (sound grows louder) T-R-A... KERRRR-UNNCH.
  • Desecrating the Dead: After murdering Snipe, Lionheart ties his body to the tail of a horse and sends the horse galloping into Maxwell's funeral.
  • Disguised in Drag: Lionheart's hippie Number Two, who assists him in the murders, is actually Edwina, with a male Wig, Dress, Accent disguise.
  • Disney Villain Death: Lionheart falls through the burning roof of his theatre in the finale, and crashes on the ground.
  • Dirty Old Man: Trevor Dickman is this, eyeing woman and inappropriately touching the young actress several times.
  • The Dragon: The 'Stage Manager'.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Lionheart's eventual death, climbing on the roof of his theatre carrying the body of his dead daughter and reciting King Lear, then falling to his death in his theatre that went up in flames.
    Devlin: He was madly overacting as usual, but you must admit he did know how to make an exit.
  • Electric Torture: To death, loosely mimicking Joan of Arc's elimination in Henry VI Part 1.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Lionheart and his daughter are very close and genuinely love each other. She is clearly angry at how the critics have treated him, and her death breaks him completely.
  • Exotic Entree: One critic is forcibly fed his beloved poodles, mimicking a scene from Titus Andronicus.
  • Eye Scream: Devlin is threatened with this.
  • Familial Cannibalism Surprise: Lionheart feeds Merridew his two pet poodles (who he regards as his children) baked into a pie, as a revenge based on Titus Andronicus. He then finishes Merridew off by Force Feeding him the rest until he chokes to death.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The aforementioned Crazy Jealous Guy goes to jail 'til the end of his days, having killed his wife. (It's implied, though, that his age and health won't let him survive prison for long. note )
  • Finger in the Mail: After cutting out Dickman's heart (and ensuring that it weighs exactly one pound), he mails it to Devlin in a gift-wrapped box.
    • Lionheart somehow obtains Sprout's severed head and puts it on a milk bottle on Devlin's doorstep.
  • Flynning: The Sword Fight, lovingly stolen from Romeo and Juliet, which contains trampolines and a balance bar just for the hell of it.
  • Force Feeding: Mr. Merridew is forcibly fed until he dies of suffocation... with pieces of his beloved poodles.
  • Foreshadowing: At the opening critics' meeting, Larding goes for the wine bottle. He meets his death later, by wine.
  • Funny Afro: A fake one is worn by Lionheart when disguised as the very camp hairdresser "Butch". The "stage manager" also has one as part of her crossdressing disguise.
  • Giftedly Bad: As part of Lionheart's Large Ham status... but he knows his Shakespeare, and did know how to make an exit...
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The part where a heart is cut out is very carefully blocked by the head of one of the vagrants; the decapitation scene does this, too.
  • Gratuitous Iambic Pentameter: Lionheart sometimes slips into this even when not acting.
    The whole world knows that it is mine by right
    But you deliberately withheld it from me!
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: When Lionheart's gang of tramps rise to attack Maxwell, one of them smashes a bottle to stab him with.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Used for a joke in one of the murders. Lionheart commits the Henry VI inspired murder (specifically, based off the death of Joan of Arc) in his Camp Gay hair dresser disguise:
    "Spare for no fagots, let there be enough..."
  • Hero Antagonist: Devlin and the police since they're opposing Lionheart's murder spree.
  • High-Voltage Death: Miss Moon is electrocuted underneath a hairdryer by Lionheart posing as a hairdresser, sort of parodying the death (by being burned at the stake) of Joan of Arc in Henry VI Part 1 since it leaves her body with burns.
  • Hollywood Police Driving Academy: The police think they see Lionheart driving by, and immediately scramble into a traffic jam reminiscent of the Keystone Kops.
  • Honor Before Reason: Devlin has a choice between a horrible blinding and granting Lionheart a Critic's Award that wouldn't be considered legitimate by anyone. He still won't do it because Lionheart just plain doesn't deserve it.
    • Lionheart would have likely blinded or killed Devlin anyway, once Devlin gave him the award.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The Ides of March.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Snipe's fate.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Lionheart and the Stage Manager pose as constables to lure Maxwell into the ambush at the squat.
  • Informed Flaw: For all Lionheart is supposedly a terrible actor, he is played by Vincent Price, who while characteristically hammy is clearly giving his all to the many Shakespearean soliloques he quotes in the film.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Lionheart is described as an "aging matinee idol"—i.e. an actor who, in his younger years, was popular for his looks and had a large number of Fangirls. While not treated as ugly exactly by the time of the film, he's getting old and now seems to play mostly villains rather than romantic leads. It's unclear how many of his fans have stuck around, but the critics treat him as a laughing-stock and past his prime.
  • Jerkass: Each and every one of the critics, who mock Lionheart and his daughter whilst they are in the room, proceed to mock Lionheart's death, and really don't seem to care much for each other. When the first critic is murdered, one of them remarks that they've finally a headline, not a byline. Even Devlin, largely the Only Sane Man of the critics, refuses to admit to Lionheart's genius when his sight may depend on it, and openly mocks Lionheart when he dies for real.
  • Large Ham: Oh, yes. One can tell that Price had far too much fun throughout the movie. One critic describes one of Lionheart's performances as putting him in mind of a ham sandwich. (And Lionheart's reaction to that line is just precious.)
  • Last Disrespects: Lionheart disrupts the funeral of his first victim Maxwell, by tying the body of his second victim Snipe to a horse and having it gallop into the funeral.
  • Literal Metaphor: "I am sorry to miss the meeting, but my heart is with you."
  • Loony Fan: Lionheart might not have been terribly sane to begin with. It's mentioned at one point he only ever exclusively did Shakespeare plays.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Edwina Lionheart who's really Daddy's Little Villain and is basically The Dragon to her father.
  • Master of Disguise: Lionheart and the Stage Manager. Every victim is fooled unless Lionheart shows up as himself to them right away.
  • Maurice Chevalier Accent: Lionheart affects one when posing as a cook (certainly because French Cuisine Is Haughty) to murder Merridew.
    • Lionheart also uses a French accent when acting as a masked fencer in Devlin's gym.
  • Meaningful Name: True for several characters:
    • Dickman is a lech.
    • Snipe is a Caustic Critic.
    • Larding likes a consumable (although he's a drunk rather than the glutton suggested by the name).
    • Devlin is a subversion. While his name implies an evil, Louis Cypher type, he's a fairly decent guy.
    • And finally, who can forget Edward Lionheart himself, named after two kings of England? No wonder he had a huge ego.
  • Missed Him by That Much: The police only get to where one of their targets is just after he's been lured away by Edwina.
  • Missing Mom: Nothing is said about Edwina's mother.
  • Mr. Muffykins: A pair of the little buggers belong to Meredith Merridew, though they're at least not too yappy. They meet a suitably awful end.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: In the flashback, Edwin says this about Edwina when she tells him not to give his critics the satisfaction of seeing him humiliated.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: "Hey, just go about your normal life, and leave the rest to us."
  • Offscreen Crash / Sound-Only Death: A cop hiding in the trunk of a car in an attempt to follow Lionheart ends up parked on train tracks. We hear him over the walkie-talkie to the other cops:
    Cop: I can hear a train whistle... (rumbling sound) I can definitely identify it as a train... (sound grows louder) T-R-A... KERRRR-UNNCH.
  • Off with His Head!: Done to Sprout... all while Lionheart was dressed as a surgeon.
  • The Ophelia: Sort of, in that Lionheart's daughter is pretty scarred from the supposed death of her father. Or, at least, appears to be.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Edward Lionheart has to witness the death of his daughter, in a parallel to King Lear.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Diana Rigg is very obviously the young actress who approaches Dickman. He might not know her, but the audience does.
    • Lionheart's disguises don't disguise Price's distinctive face, either.
  • Pastimes Prove Personality: Devlin is a fencer; this characterises him both as well-off and intellectual, and (since despite its posh image it is based on fighting) as having more courage than the rest of the critics. When facing his own death he goes for Honour Before Reason while most of the others plead and beg. The only other character in the film to fence is Lionheart (who claims not to be very good at first, but then goes on to defeat Devlin—though they're not exactly following the normal rules of fencing, instead leaping around with sharp swords), which characterises him as Wicked Cultured and dangerous, and sets up Lionheart and Devlin as intellectual equals and Worthy Opponents in a way that the other critics are not.
  • Poetic Serial Killer: Lionheart's kills mimic the deaths of various characters in Shakespeare's plays.
  • Police Are Useless: The finest officers of the Met repeatedly fail to stop a crazed actor and his homeless flunkies killing all but one of their targets. When they try to do a stakeout, their entire unit scurries off after one guy, allowing Lionheart and his people to break into Merridew's house, then kill and cook his dogs and set up the props of a fake TV show.
  • Punk in the Trunk: A policeman tries to follow Lionheart by hiding in the trunk of his car. Lionheart just parks the car on a train track and walks off. Death by Transceiver ensues.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: Played for Laughs of a very dark kind, combined with Death by Transceiver: a cop hiding in the trunk of a car in an attempt to follow Lionheart ends up parked on train tracks. We hear him over the walkie-talkie to the other cops:
    Cop: I can hear a train whistle... (rumbling sound) I can definitely identify it as a train... (sound grows louder) T-R-A... KERRRR-UNNCH.
  • Same Language Dub: Jack Hawkins (Solomon Psaltery) had to be dubbed by an uncredited Charles Gray as his larynx had been removed in 1966 following throat cancer (which makes the fact that he was still acting— with dubbed voices— all the way up to 1973 rather remarkable!).
  • Samus Is a Girl: Lionheart's lead henchman, the British accented guy with the hippie glasses, afro, and beard turns out to be his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg).
  • Shoutout To Shakespeare: Every death is staged to re-enact a famous play by the Bard. It helps (or hurts) that Lionheart desired to be known as a Shakespearean actor.
  • Sleek High Rise Apartment: The circle of theatre critics held their meetings in such an apartment until Lionheart jumped from it.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Lionheart. Averted in that he doesn't have a small name though.
  • Sole Survivor: By the end of the film, Devlin is the only critic who's not dead or jailed for life.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: A lovely, calming theme plays while Lionheart and his main flunky surgically remove Sprout's head.
  • Stealth Pun: Inspector Boot notes that one of the murders in Titus Andronicus involves "an old queen" being forced to eat her children baked in a pie. When Lionheart re-enacts this scene, he chooses the Camp Gay Merridew for his victim.
  • Straw Critic: The critics are generally this, although their reviews of Lionheart appear to have been pretty accurate.
    • The film implies that Lionheart might be Critic-Proof, as his theatrical productions generally draw audiences (he doesn't seem So Bad, It's Good). invoked
  • Sunglasses at Night: The 'Stage Manager'.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Lionheart's lead henchman with the hippy glasses, afro, and beard is actually his daughter Edwina in disguise.
  • Tempting Fate: "Oh, there's only three of us left, surely the might of the British police force can protect us all."
  • Theme Serial Killer: Lionheart kills theatre critics in the manner of various deaths from Shakespeare's plays.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Despite knowing that there's a murderer out there who's following Lionheart's last season on stage, one decides to go into a wine tasting, asking the officer to wait outside. It gets even more foolish from there.
  • Villain Protagonist: Lionheart.
  • Villain Has a Point: When Lionheart and Devlin spar during their fencing battle Lionheart chastises Devlin for the damage a critic can do to a production. As self centered as Lionheart is he must have seen how careers can be destroyed by flippant critics, and arguably has seen many friends and colleagues suffer at the hands of cynics like Devlin.
    How many actors have you destroyed as you destroyed me? How many talented lives have you cut down with your glib attacks? What do you know of the blood, sweat and toil of a theatrical production? Of the dedication of the men and the women in the noblest profession of them all? How could you know you talentless fools who spew vitriol on the creative efforts of others because because you lack the ability to create yourselves! No Devlin, no! I did not kill Larding and the others. Punished them my dear boy, punished them. Just as you shall have to be punished.
  • Vorpal Pillow: When Psaltery thinks his wife is guilty of adultery, he smothers her with a pillow.
  • What a Drag: After murdering Snipe, Lionheart ties his body to the tail of a horse and sends the horse galloping into Maxwell's funeral.
  • Wicked Cultured: Lionheart, of course.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: The most obvious, hippy-esque flunky (the 'Stage Manager', actually Edwina) manages to disguise himself as a hairdresser, a wine tasting host, a masseur, a policeman; Lionheart does even more.

Tropes found in the theatre adaptation:

  • Actor Allusion/Casting Gag: Rachel Stirling takes the same role her mother did in the film.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Edwina is renamed Miranda for a Shout-Out to The Tempest.
  • Adapted Out: The deaths based on Othello and Cymbeline are omitted since they involve people other than Lionheart, his crew, and the critics. The subplot with the police is also omitted (see Closed Circle below).
  • Balloon Belly: Merridew gets the hose of a large sausage grinder jammed down his throat, and Lionheart proceeds to dump the pies and poodles in, causing his stomach to bulge grotesquely (one of the many death stage illusions created by Paul Kieve). It's possible that this happened in the original film too, but if so it's very downplayed as 1) the food is shoved in manually; 2) we only see a shot of Merridew's corpse at the end; and 3) Robert Morley is pretty dang round to begin with.
  • Closed Circle: The play is set entirely in a derelict theatre (or, on a meta-level, the actual theatre made to look derelict).
  • Death by Adaptation: Devlin offers to pay off the Tramps, thinking they will free him however they check to see he can't escape the chair he's stuck in and leave him with the bodies of the Lionhearts and the award statuette as they lock him in the theatre with no chance of escaping or being found.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: Miranda goes to stab Devlin however he manages to get the tramps on his side and they stop her only for her to stab herself.
    • Lionheart doesn't die from falling he still quotes Lear but he instead either has poisoned a communion wafer or has a heart attack lying next to Miranda. note 
  • Period Piece: The 1970s setting is kept, probably to avoid dealing with Cell Phones Are Useless. The camp fun of 70s fashion might have been a factor as well.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: The play differs from the film in that the critics are from British newspapers (examples including The Guardian and The Times) and is entirely set in an abandoned theatre. The play remains set in the 1970s, rather than being updated to contemporary times. Most of the secondary characters were excised including police and the number of deaths reduced. The killings based on Othello and Cymbeline are omitted as they would have to take place outside the theatre and rely on secondary characters, such as the critics' wives. The name of Lionheart's daughter is changed from "Edwina" to "Miranda" to enhance the Shakespearean influence. The adaptation ran in London at the National Theatre between May and September 2005 and received mixed reviews.
  • Skull for a Head: When Moon is killed, Lionheart has not only wired her up to a salon hairdryer but pulls the bonnet completely over her head before throwing the switch: when he cuts the juice and lifts up the bonnet, this is the result.
  • The X of Y: Theatre of Blood