Theater of Blood + Scream of Fear
Time Out New York Project: Issue #735, October 29-November 4, 2009
Dir. Douglas Hickox. 1973. N/R. 104mins. Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry.
Dir. Seth Holt. 1961. N/R. 81mins. Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee.
Film Forum’s self-proclaimed “Gruesome Twosome” double feature should give fright seekers and gorehounds plenty of bloody mutton to chew on. Theater of Blood is the more sanguine offering, featuring a wonderfully hammy Vincent Price as British thespian Edward Lionheart, who plots grisly revenge against his reviewers.
The trick is that he murders his victims in the style of William Shakespeare’s plays: One has his poodles fed to him à la Tamora her children in Titus Andronicus; another is drowned in a vat of Malmsey wine like George Plantagenet in Richard III. For anyone who’s ever wished ill on a pundit (we know you’re out there), Price’s merciless antics should strike a gleeful chord.
Scream of Fear, meanwhile, is a superb bit of Hammer hysteria. The British studio famous for its Lee-and-Cushing vampire sagas tried its hand at psychological horror with this tale of a crippled girl, Penny Appleby (Strasberg), who comes to the French Riviera to meet her estranged father. Penny’s stepmother (Todd) informs her that Dad’s away on business, but if that’s true, why is she seeing him (his dead body, actually) in every shadow?
Strasberg’s doe-eyed dedication to her role and Douglas Slocombe’s brilliant black-and-white cinematography counterbalance the film’s increasingly ridiculous plot turns, which nonetheless have a crude, jaw-dropper effectiveness. The initial reveal of the troublesome corpse—posed by candlelight in a vaguely Bates Motel–like sitting room—is particularly memorable, though keep in mind that nothing in this spine-tingler is as it seems.—Keith Uhlich