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Film / Theatre of Blood

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A 1973 comedic horror film starring Vincent Price, regarded as one of his personal favorites. Also stars Diana Rigg and an impressive coterie of British character actors, including Ian Hendry, Harry Andrews, Michael Hordern, Coral Browne, Jack Hawkins, Arthur Lowe, Robert Morley, Dennis Price and Diana Dors, to name just a few.

Years prior to the start of the film, Edward Lionheart (Vincent 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.

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.
  • The Alcoholic: Larding.
  • Alien Lunch / Exotic Entree: One critic is forcibly fed his beloved poodles, mimicking a scene from Titus Andronicus.
  • 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).
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart. A given, considering it’s a combination of two of the kings of England.
  • Black Comedy: Lionheart acts positively goofy throughout the movie, using various disguises and 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."
  • Camp Gay:
    • Meredith Merridew.
    • Lionheart disguises himself as a campy Chatty Hairdresser for one of the murders.
  • 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: A Camp Gay version 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 a burning building to recite a part from King Lear.
  • Crazy Homeless People: Lionheart uses the methanol-drinking homeless people who saved him as his minions to carry out the murders.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Critic Solomon Psaltery is quite easily manipulated into re-enacting the murder scene from Othello.
  • 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.
  • Disney Villain Death: Lionheart falls through a burning roof in the finale, his body not seen.
  • The Dragon: The 'Stage Manager'.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome:
    Devlin: He was madly overacting as usual, but you must admit he did know how to make an exit.
  • Electric Torture: To death, mimicking Joan of Arc's elimination in Henry VI Part 1.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The vagrant henchmen did not expect for Devlin to set fire to their hideout, prompting them to bash his daughter to death and make a run for it.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 death 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.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Merridew discovers partway through consuming what he thinks is a special meal that he is actually eating his beloved dogs.
  • 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.
  • 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 life depends 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."
  • Mad Actor'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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 a drugged, sleeping critic... 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.
  • Poetic Serial Killer: Lionheart's kills mimic the deaths of various characters in Shakespeare's plays.
  • 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 glases, 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.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Lionheart. Not exactly 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 one critic'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') 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 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.


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