Thursday, August 4, 2011

The (Vincent) Price of Admission

Vincent Price spent many decades in the business of terrifying audiences in low budget horror on the silver screen. With his unmistakable one of a kind voice and that devilishly wicked smirk, which could mean you were seconds from death or just that he found something gruesomely funny, he was a staple of my childhood horror diet.

My top three Vincent Price horror flicks in order? Easy

-The House on Haunted Hill

-The Last Man on Earth

-The Tingler

Oh sure, one of the Dr.Phibes films would be a more popular choice. And there’s room for Phibes love in my heart still, along with all the roles that Price has played. He was a rare actor who could captivate the audience and win them to his side despite the foul deeds he may committing frame by frame in the dark of the matinee.

Have grown up in the 80’s, I’ve seen a good number of Vincent Price schlock films. They were the purview of my Saturday afternoons and my USA Up All Nights. However, I won’t sit here and tell you I’ve seen even half of his films, there’s just so many. This is an excellent gift though as a fantastic number of them are available to stream from Netflix (I call out anyone who says there is nothing good to watch on Netflix instant streaming, you’re either a liar or a fool and Vincent Price does not suffer fools!).

It was thus that I stumbled upon a new Price gem to check out last night: Theater of Blood. From the description, I was expecting a little bit of Dr.Phibes meets equal parts Frederick Loren from House on Haunted Hill with a dash of Professor Jarrod from House of Wax. Oh man was I wrong and it couldn’t have been better.

Theater of Blood focuses on Edward Lionheart (Price), a renowned London Shakespearean actor, who has been unceremonious snubbed for an award by a circle of critics. A year after he supposedly takes his life, members of the critics’ circle begin to die gruesomely and in line with famous deaths from within Shakespeare’s works, spectacularly staged. If this sounds like a lot of Price’s other work, it should come as no surprise. He crafted a career in the Macabre. This is not at all what you would expect though.

There is a sense of black humor infused in Theater of Blood. Many of the murders are played for laughs and Price really gets a chance to stretch his acting chops and get outside of his normal tropes as he moves seamlessly from world renowned Shakespearean actor to sleazy masseuse, shock television show host and even an effeminate hair dresser equipped with an enormous red perm. His character does this all in the name of enacting very elaborate plans for vengeance but even so it’s too much for one man to hope to do alone.

Enter Lionheart’s loyal band of drunk homeless misfits (Every believed dead, vengeance seeking, wounded pride, Shakespearean actor needs one). In what has to be one of the oddest quirks in an already quirky story, there is a group of a dozen or so drunks who follow Lionheart’s orders and don costumes to assist in murdering these critics. They even participate in some of them. He does keep them heavily supplied with booze but it’s still quite strange that they would be complicit in these killings.

If you’re looking for more Phibes or some of Price’s earlier gothic experiences, Theater of Blood will confuse you. But look, if you can relax a bit, withstand the onslaught of outrageous puns, enjoy watching snooty critics get their comeuppance or just really like combat scenes which include fencing whist on trampolines, then you will really enjoy the madcap and irreverent Theater of Blood.

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