Theater Of Blood

Theater Of Blood (1973)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry, Milo O’Shea
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

’Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last, you spurn’d me such a day. Another time, you call’d me dog…but if I am a dog, beware my fangs’

From Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ so charges Shylock as he readies to claim a ‘pound of flesh’ due him from the scornful Antonio. Those studied in Shakespearean theater know that Shylock’s vengeful devices are narrowly foiled yet here, in this ’Theater of Blood,’ Shylock collects fully on his bond and poetic justice takes on a dreadful new meaning. By way of another exciting entry in MGM’s Midnight Movies collection, here is the wickedly gruesome yet bitingly satirical tale of a passionate thespian who has withstood the slings and arrows of his malicious critics one time too many, reducing them to unwitting participants in a most sinister encore performance.

Members of London’s snooty Critic’s Circle are being brutally murdered, oddly dispatched in similar fashion as those characters penned in the works of Shakespeare. Impossibly, it is Edward Lionheart, a devoted yet undeniably ‘energetic’ performer, who is somehow posthumously ushering in the critics’ own final acts. Following his Season of Shakespeare, Lionheart is convinced his performances would serve not only as ’the shining jewel in the crown of the immortal Bard’ but would also assure him the coveted Critic’s Circle Best Actor Award. But it was not to be, and upon being spitefully and unanimously snubbed by the Circle’s nine venomous reviewers, he takes his own life. Yet Lionheart has risen again, surviving his suicidal plummet into the River Thames. Aided by a mod assistant and eclectic entourage, he systematically serves final notice upon those who previously denied him, determined to gain his rightful acknowledgment and award.

This is a deftly executed film, full of vigorous performances, unapologetic black humor and an outpouring of gore that, though it should rightly turn the stomach, instead elicits a slight smirk of deserved retribution. MGM Home Entertainment has resurrected this early Seventies delight in an acceptable widescreen transfer framed at the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Unfortunately, this release was denied a much-deserved anamorphic transfer though, thankfully, the source print is quite clean and delivers a reasonably vibrant and detailed image. The film bears the somewhat muted look and texture of its 70s British heritage though, in this context, is quite fitting. It’s a definite step up from previous VHS and laserdisc releases and bears no visible signs of compression defects.

The audio comes by way of a rather mundane English Dolby Digital Mono mix. Though certainly confined, it again works reasonably well in this presentation. The mix is generally well balanced with sound effects and dialog always clear and understandable. A stereo mix, at the least, would have seemed more appropriate though conceivably an improbable expectation of the studio for this particular film. Pity.

The only extra is the original extended theatrical trailer, presented in full-frame format. It’s exciting and enticing though it borders on becoming a spoiler in several instances. I recommend it be viewed afterward to ensure the film’s impact will not be compromised.

’Theater of Blood’ is a stinging yet entertaining tale of vengeance delivered in a vein similar to Price’s earlier revenge vehicles, ’The Abominable Dr. Phibes’ and ’Dr. Phibes Rises Again.’ This film, however, moves at a swifter gait and its wit is decidedly more razor-sharp than its predecessors. Whether you’re partial to the genre or not, this is a film that you’ll surely applaud . . . or else.