I saw Theatre Of Blood for the first time tonight, at a BFI Screen Epiphanies showing (you will be unsurprised to discover it was a favourite of one of the League Of Gentlemen, Reese Sheersmith). I know this is far too late in life to watch such a delightfully well made black comedy, but I enjoyed it thoroughly with the additional frisson of having the directors family sitting behind me. For those of you who have not had the pleasure, Theatre Of Blood is a wickedly dark horror comedy where Vincent Price plays Edward Lionheart, a classical actor/manager who specialises exclusively in Shakespeare who runs foul of the 1970 London Critic Circle. Thought dead from suicide, he returns to bump each of the critics off in a suitably Shakespearian fashion. Hammy, gory and with a wonderful 70’s Who’s Who cast, it is a treat – with a delightful central premise. In particular it overcomes the biggest problem in black comedies, how to balance sympathy for the central murderer without being voyeuristically complicit. Here all we meed to know is in the opening line with Michael Hordern’s critic, a pompous ass bemoaning that his best crack against an actress had been cut from his review. These are critics, and self-satisfied ones at that, who the audience have no difficulty in agreeing deserve their fates. Price is so delicious as the lead, given an extra dimension by Diana Rigg’s devoted daughter, and the critics are so grotesque, that you worry some may escape. So you get gore, imaginative deaths, and Vincent Price delivering ten of Shakespeare’s finest roles (also a bout of fencing on trampolines!*). By the end of which you appreciate the bitter irony that you still root for Lionheart even though through these performances you know the critics were actually right. He is pretty terrible.
Being of my unoriginal, gadfly, generation, and enjoying the film thoroughly, my first thought on exiting the cinema was of a remake. If you were to do a remake, who would star? Well, Kenneth Brannagh springs to mind, but its a match borne of being the only obsessive Shakespearian with a cinema career. But why remake Theatre Of Blood when the original is nigh on perfect? Still, there is something in there to be remade. And so my thoughts went to Cinema Of Blood.
Cinema Of Blood is the remake for our post Charlie Kaufmann age. It takes the fundamental idea of Theatre Of Blood: a poorly reviewed actor taking revenge on his critics in the style of those roles. But, and here is our Being John Malkovitch twist, it stars an actor playing themselves. A current actor, probably universally poorly reviewed, with enough interesting forms of death in their movies to re-enact upon their critics. And so the search is on to find that actor. If you can think of any please put it in the comments. Here was my train of thought / twitter conversation with myself.
The actor needs to be poorly reviewed and in films with interesting deaths. Whilst not an expert in his career, I’ve seen enough of his films to think of a variety of deaths in the wide ranging but mainly reviled work of Danny Dyer. Starting with Dyer brings up a hidden, but probably the most vital, ingredient necessary to make Cinema Of Blood work; some presonified in Vincent Price’s performance. Namely the charisma to have the audience root for them. And so we can happily let Danny Dyer go.
My mind then rooted around other actors with a near 100% stinker record, who had previously shown charisma in another medium. Jennifer Aniston came to mind, but not enough people die in Aniston movies. Someone could get maulled by Marley from Marley and Me, but even that’s a cheat (Lionheart does cheat in his Merchant Of Venice death, buts just one cheat). Ditto with Adam Sandler films, and Rob Schneider lacks the deaths AND the charisma. Jason Statham has the interesting deaths, and the charisma, but the his reviews are not bad enough (though it could be worth it to re-enact some of the sequences from the Crank films). I think the closest I have come to the right lead for Cinema Of Blood is Nicholas Cage: who has had enough poorly reviewed films, with some wonderfully diverse ways of killing people**. And if anyone would have the self-reflective sense of humour to make it, you’d think the current Nic Cage would.
When thinking of that Nic Cage footnote, I considered some of the ways people died in Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans. And suddenly I realised I had gone down completely the wrong line in pursuing actors. Vincent Price is an actor/manager in Theatre Of Blood, he acts the leads but also directs. So yes, Nic Cage’s Cinema Of Blood would be good. But Werner Herzog’s Cinema Of Blood – well that would have a committed central performance to rival Vincent Price’s. Herzog’s films, particularly his fiction films, have often divided critics. And there are some wonderful ways of killing people in them (drop a boat on them, get eaten by a bear…) I had my answer, with a compelling deadpan Germanic lead (and the recent Jack Reacher displayed how mesmerising Herzog can be in fiction in even a small role).
And then, that terrible part of me that often goes too far, noticed that the often poorly reviewed, often inventively violent film-maker Tony Scott committed suicide last year. Edward Lionheart seemingly commits suicide in Theatre Of Blood. And whilst it is in terrible taste to wonder: is Tony Scott’s last, greatest film, already in production? If film critics start getting shot down by jets, crashing in Nascar races, run over by unstoppable trains or shot by a gun hidden in a beaver puppet, I will know exactly what is going on.
*As a not particularly amusing bouche to seeing Theatre Of Blood, I went to see Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Expecting a lousy film that might entertain with its cheesiness, I just got the lousy film. What is telling though is for all the sheen of the slick modern digital production, there isn’t a single action sequence to match the clunkily shot but really rather thrilling gymnasium fencing sequence in Theatre Of Blood. Which is just two men over fifty (albeit their stunt doubles) fencing on trampolines and balance beams, shot with only a few cuts and complete clarity of action.
**Nic Cage’s “Cinema Of Blood” could include people having their heads set on fire (Ghost Rider), stung to death by bees (Wicker Man), have a library drop on them (Season Of The Witch), thrown out of the back of an RV (Drive Angry), death by terrible Italian Accent (Captain Correlli’s Mandolin) and that’s without getting on to some of the more obvious ones.