While you are certainly welcome to partake in it any time you please, I tells ya: If there was ever a movie made for afternoon couch watchin', it's Theatre of Blood (1973). Perhaps the five people who voted for it in 2020 already knew that.
Vincent Price is Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearean actor who, with the help of his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg), takes Shakespearean-flavored revenge on the critics who derided his abilities and gave him countless bad reviews.
Price remarked that out of his lengthy filmography, this was his favorite. It's easy to see why: As each murder is modeled after a death in the work of Shakespeare, Price gets to deliver some of the Bard's most famous lines--and he gets to wear all manner of wigs, makeup, and putty. What's not to love?
It's a trip to watch something like Theatre of Blood and see Lionheart rail against the critics who were so powerful, they could ruin lives with their influence and think about the state of popular criticism today. There is still thoughtful writing out there to be sure, but in the mainstream it's a single sentence on social media, a number on Rotten Tomatoes, drivel on a BLOG...so dire.
I actually have a lot of thoughts about all of that, but that's all for another time. Or maybe for never, because who cares!
Edward Lionheart is a fascinating character in that perhaps those critics were almost right about him. It's not that he's a "bad" actor per se. It's more that he was a man trapped in another era, given to over-the-top, melodramatic performances that had fallen out of favor decades before his time. He's a silent movie actor in the world of Talkies, you know? An Actor, a man who is nothing without the theatre, a man with enough ego to name his daughter after himself and mark the significant moments in his life (someone's death, his own...uh, suicide attempt) with Shakespearean monologues. He is the quintessential ham, and it's wonderful watching Price go full flourish, but also find small moments to imbue this character, for whom all the world is a stage, with some kind of real humanity.
It's also fitting that his daughter and cohort Edwina, who learned everything in life from her dear father, dons terrible drag throughout most of the movie. These two live in a fantasy world, fully dedicated to their dubious crafts.
The murders are often exceedingly bloody and brutal, but completely fantastical, much like the grand guignol theatre of yesteryear. Lionheart must have spent a pretty penny on some of these elaborate set-ups, and I can only imagine what it was like trying to wrangle his troupe of vagrants, vagabonds, and vveirdos. It's Shakespeare by Jigsaw and it's quite a bit of fun, even if Theatre of Blood is a bit overlong at almost two hours. But there are far worse things you could do for that much time than watch Vincent Price in what is essentially a variety of roles, each one more outré than the last.
As Lionheart and his Shakespearean performances were holdovers from a bygone era, so too were Price and Theatre of Blood. By 1973, horror was truly entering a new phase: out were the likes of Vincent Price in his Corman-produced Edgar Allan Poe films, and in were the pea-soup antics of The Exorcist. The exceedingly white and demure houses of Hammer and Amicus were barely holding on, while Blaxploitation horror was thriving. Leatherface was just around the corner, revving up his chainsaw. Price would go on to focus more on his other interests, such as cooking and art, making occasional appearances in things like The Muppet Show or Michael Jackson's "Thriller," where he could bank on his well-earned legacy and simply be himself. Edward Lionheart wishes!