An Actor’s Revenge: Theatre of Blood (1973)

“It was a marvelous role because I got to play eight Shakespearean parts in it, which is a feast for any actor. And I got to knock off eight critics. It was a story dear to the heart of any old actor. It was a dream to make and very real to me. I really understand the man who is doing his very best and yet is unrecognized.” – Vincent Price, discussing his starring role in Theatre of Blood (1973) from The Price of Fear: The Film Career of Vincent Price, In His Own Words by Joel Eisner

In 1970 Vincent Price became discouraged by the state of his career. He was acting regularly, writing cookbooks, appearing on stage and in a variety of television programs while generously supporting the arts as a member of the Royal Society of Arts, the Arts Council of UCLA and the Fine Arts Committee of the White House, but he agonized over his reputation. According to his daughter Victoria Price and author of Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography, her father worried that he wasn’t taken seriously by his fellow actors due to his career choices. The lack of respect from his peers encouraged the 60-year-old actor to embrace the monstrous roles he had made famous. From mad doctors to witch hunters and a plethora of Poe villains and antiheroes, Price had perfected the role of a sympathetic scoundrel.

To nurture his waning pride, Price embarked on an impressive college lecture tour titled “The Villains Still Pursue Me” where he discussed the various literary villains of Shakespeare, Poe and Shaw along with his film roles. He approached the subject as a Yale scholar (Price graduated from Yale with a degree in art history in 1933) and a fan, praising the type of characters that had made him a household name while analyzing their appeal. Price hoped his lecture would cultivate critical admiration for his unsung talents, particularly among youth who were more generous in their attitudes towards horror cinema. It might seem gratuitous for an aging actor to launch what was basically a self-promotional tour as he reluctantly marches into his twilight years but it illustrates how significant and influential criticism can be. If critics had lavished praise as well as awards on the Grand Guignol films made by Universal Studios and creatives like William Castle, Roger Corman and Michael Reeves, would Vincent Price have felt the need to go on tour to salvage his reputation? Probably not. For better or worse, critics wield power and they’ve never been particularly fond of horror movies. In turn, many of our best filmmakers, as well as the actors they work with, have had to fight for respect in an industry that too often neglects them.

A few years after his lecture tour, Price challenged critics in a much more direct and amusing way while making Theatre of Blood (1973). In this pitch black British horror comedy currently streaming on FilmStruck as part of “The Lives of Actors “ theme, Price plays a Shakespearean actor named Edward Lionheart. When a critic’s group refuses to acknowledge Lionheart’s talents, the aggrieved thespian seeks revenge with help from his daughter (Diana Rigg) and a band of vagrants called “Meths Drinkers.” Together they dispatch of the critics by enacting gruesome scenes inspired by the Bard’s plays.

Continue reading “AN ACTOR’S REVENGE: THEATRE OF BLOOD (1973)” at the FilmStruck official blog: Streamline