Before John Doe lethalized The 7 Deadly sins in Se7en (1995), before Eric Binford killed people as his favorite movie characters in Fade To Black (1980), Edward Lionheart was already offing people according to the guidelines set forth by Shakespeare himself.
I’m talking, of course, about Douglas Hickox’s 1973 Theatre Of Blood. Lionheart, schmaltzed to the gills by Vincent Price, was an actor, y’see, whose Shakespeare roles were, shall we say, not up to the critics’ standards. This culminates in two things (revealed via flashback some time into the story).
First, the Theatre Critics Guild spurns Lionheat for their annual award. Second, he shows up at their party and commits suicide by jumping off a high-rise balcony into the Thames after reciting The Big Obvious Bit from Hamlet. As one does. Except Lionheart survives. As one does.
The result is that Lionheart exacts his revenge by eliminating his critics using deaths from each of the plays from his under appreciated season of Shakespeare. As one does. Here’s a list:
- Julius Caesar– George Maxwell hacked to death by a crowd of Lionheart’s followers
- Troilus And Cressida– Hector Snipe gets dragged by horse (like, appropriately, Hector) during Maxwell’s funeral
- Cymbeline– Horace Sprout is decapitated, his body left in bed next to his wife
- The Merchant Of Venice– Trevor Dickman (nice word choice as he’s a pervy womanizer) has his heart cut out
- Richard III- Oliver Larding is drowned in a barrel of wine
- Henry VI Part I– Chloe Moon gets burned up with electrified curlers (for those of you scoring at home, the burned up part is Shakespeare, not the curlers)
- Titus Andronicus– Meredeth Merridew is force fed a pie made from his two poodles
There’s also a couple of non-lethal encounters. Lionheart replicates the fencing match from Romeo And Juliet but does not kill Peregrine Devlin, promising to make him suffer for who knows how long. The other is Solomon Psaltery who strangles his wife out of jealousy as in Othello, then goes to prison.
The final victim is intended to be Devlin whom Lionheart plans to blind like King Lear’s Gloucester. For reasons I won’t go into (cuz spoilers), it’s fitting that Lear is the last role Lionheart’s Shakespeare season as it plays nicely into the movie’s final act.
Now, if any of this seems familiar, I refer you to The Abominable Dr. Phibes two years prior. That’s the one where Vincent Price visits the 10 biblical plagues of Egypt upon the doctors and nurses who could not save his wife. I don’t know how much influence Phibes had on Theatre Of Blood, but I’m willing to speculate that someone did not keep his eyes off his neighbor’s paper.
Also of note is my favorite of Steed’s Avengers partners, Diana Rigg, who plays Lionheart’s daughter Edwina. For reasons that are never really made clear, other than obvious initial misdirection, she’s often in disguise as a sunglass wearing, flamboyant, bearded, ginger who acts as Lionheart’s assistant. Your guess is as good as mine.
In general, it’s a fun ride, especially the more you know about Shakespeare. Lionheart provides numerous speeches from the plays along with lotsa dad-joke level one-liners. Price brings the over-the-top theatricality, the methods of execution are kitschy, and when you put them together, you get that perfect combination: ham and cheese. It’s the movie for you if you like both Vincent Price and your slashers with a high camp factor. And really, who doesn’t?
BODIES- 10 onscreen, 1 off, & French cuisine/2 poodles in a pie
Streaming- Flix Fling, Hoopla, Inde Flix, Tubi, YouTube
Rent- Apple TV, Prime, Vudu