Theatre of Blood is a 1973 horror film starring Vincent Price as vengeful actor Edward Lionheart and Diana Rigg as his daughter Edwina Lionheart. It was directed by Douglas Hickox.
Edward Kendall Sheridan Lionheart (Vincent Price), who thinks he is a great Shakespearean actor, is, in fact, a hammy, over-the-top actor. Aided by his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg), Lionheart sets about murdering, one by one, a group of critics who individually had ridiculed his acting throughout his career, and ultimately declined to present him the "Critic's Circle Award" for his acting in a season he believed to be his best, which had driven him to attempt suicide. The critics are played by a distinguished cast of British actors, including Harry Andrews, Coral Browne, Robert Coote, Jack Hawkins, Michael Hordern, Arthur Lowe (Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army), Robert Morley and Dennis Price.
The manner of Lionheart's revenge on each critic is inspired by deaths of characters in the plays of Lionheart's last season of Shakespeare. In most cases the critic is first duped by Lionheart's acting initially to "play the part" before Lionheart's murderous intentions are revealed, followed by a forced recantation and an ironic, humiliating and grotesque dispatch of the critic. The first victim is butchered by a group of tramps on March 15 (the Ides of March), in a re-enactment of the death of Julius Caesar. The next is speared and then dragged behind a horse, Hector's fate at the hands of Achilles in the Trojan war play, Troilus and Cressida. The Merchant of Venice is reworked so that Shylock gets his pound of flesh as the critic's steaming heart. Other murders include: a drowning in a butt of wine, based on the murder of the Duke of Clarence in Richard III; the wife of one critic awakens to find her husband decapitated, as Imogen awoke to find the headless body of Cloten in Cymbeline; quasi-cannibalism - the effeminate Meredith Merridew is tricked into eating his "babies" (his beloved poodles) just as Queen Tamora was fed the flesh of her two sons, baked in a pie, in the climax of Titus Andronicus; one critic is tricked into believing his wife has been unfaithful, driving him to smother her in a jealous rage (like Othello); a female critic (played by Coral Browne, shortly to become Price's third wife) is electrocuted by hair curlers as Lionheart recites a passage in which Joan of Arc is burnt at the stake, "Spare for no fagots [bundles of sticks], let there be enough..." (from Henry VI, part 1). Many of the deaths are patterned to the weaknesses of the critics - the one that got his heart ripped out showed lusty behaviour earlier, the one drowned in wine is an alcoholic, a rigged hair curler killed off a vain woman and a gluttonous person choked on pie while being force-fed. Each critic can be seen to represent one of the Seven Deadly Sins, with punishment fitting the particular sin.
Somewhere in the middle of all this is a "duel" scene, which features Lionheart and the chief critic Devlin bouncing around on trampolines while slashing at one another with rapiers, after the swordfight between Tybalt and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Lionheart uses this appearance to establish that he did indeed survive his suicide attempt, and thereby get his daughter released from police custody. Lionheart spares Devlin, who has recognized him, and whom, as head of the Critic's Circle, he intends to save for last.
The audience and sometime-participants in the mayhem are methylated spirit drinking tramps, who have saved Lionheart from drowning after his attempt at suicide by leaping into the river. As the cheap but toxic methylated spirits have damaged their senses, Lionheart finds them easy to manipulate to help him murder the critics. After the principal series of killings, one of these meths-drinkers is disguised as Lionheart as a diversion to lure the police away while the remaining critic Devlin is kidnapped. Police capture the drunk and using the lure of hard alcohol, get him to divulge the whereabouts of Lionheart.
The film ends following Lionheart's attempt to force the remaining critic, Peregrine Devlin, to present him with the "coveted" Critic's Circle Award for Best Actor. Taking the blinding of the Duke of Gloucester in King Lear as inspiration, Lionheart has arranged a contraption containing two red-hot daggers, which are poised to blind the critic should he fail to see things Lionheart's way. Unlike all of the other critics, however, Devlin stands his ground despite the menace and refuses to change his original choice for the award. The slow-moving contraption is released; however, police sirens are heard outside and the device becomes stuck temporarily. Lionheart sets fire to the theatre to thwart the police, who save Devlin just in the nick of time. The group of tramps who helped Lionheart turn on him and one kills Edwina, hitting her over the head with the award. Lionheart retreats, carrying Edwina's body to the roof and delivering Lear's final monologue just before the roof caves in and plunges, flaming to his death. To this, Devlin comments "A remarkable performance. He was overacting as usual, but he knew how to make an exit."
Lionheart's fictional hideout, the "Burbage Theatre", was actually the Putney Hippodrome in London, which had been built in 1906 and was vacant and dilapidated for over a decade before being used in the film. It was later demolished in 1975 to make way for housing units. The Hippodrome was also used in director Hickox's previous film, Sitting Target (1972) with Oliver Reed and Ian McShane.
Lionheart's tomb is an actual monument in Kensal Green Cemetery, London. It belongs to the Sievier family, and shows the sculpted figures of a seated man, one hand placed on the head of a woman kneeling in adoration, while the other holds the Bible, its pages opened to a passage in the Book of Luke. This monument was altered for the film by plaster masks of Price and Rigg substituting for the statue's real ones, the Bible became a volume of Shakespeare and there is a suitable engraving at the front with Lionheart's name and dates.
Peregrine Devlin's impressive Thames-side apartment was in reality the penthouse flat at Alembic House (now known as Peninsula Heights) in Lambeth. The property became the London home of novelist, convicted perjurer and Conservative politician Lord Jeffrey Archer.