Theatre of Blood (Douglas Hickox / United Kingdom, 1973):

Two points on which this ferocious gore-satire hinges: a) critics live and die by their unkind words; and b) Shakespeare's oeuvre has more killings than Peckinpah's. Vincent Price is The Abominable Dr. Phibes at first, then Olivier in Sleuth gradually; bad reviews push the actor over the edge, now it's time for revenge on the snobby circle of scribes who dared award the Best Actor prize to someone else. Kael, Reed, Ebert, Simon and Crist were unavailable, so a flabby host of Britain's old-school thespians pop up to be eviscerated in the ways of the Bard. Dennis Price is at hand for a link to Ealing times (Kind Hearts and Coronets, mainly), before getting skewered by Achilles' lance; Michael Hordern receives the orgiastic stabbing from Julius Caesar, Robert Coote takes the wine-barrel dip from Richard III. The difference between adaptation and interpretation is taught to Harry Andrews, who is lured by a pair of go-go boots into a live-theatre version of The Merchant of Venice, while Jack Hawkins learns the weight of performance by helplessly enacting Othello with his mock-adulterous wife (Diana Dors). As Price's devoted daughter, Diana Rigg mans the stage lights and zips through almost as many costumes as daddy, one moment as Marilyn Monroe, the next in hippie drag. For his part, police inspector Milo O'Shea keeps arriving too late at the murder sites, with Coral Browne fried under hairdresser lights and twin poodles puréed into filling for Robert Morley's meal. Douglas Hickox directs with an eye for gruesome gaggery and unexpected class tensions (the disgruntled homeless huddled in the abandoned theatre aid Price's plan against the elitist aristos), yet, as befits a Shakespearean spectacle, the mise-en-scène is left to the performer -- Price romps from campy vamping to Lear grandeur. The finale has the thespian reaching for genuine fire, although, in the final jest, the critic is still unimpressed. With Ian Hendry, Arthur Lowe, and Madeleine Smith.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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