JULY 30, 2010
Possibly my favorite joke from Austin Powers (the 1st, and only good one) is when he lists how his old friends died: "Janis Joplin, deceased... drugs. Jimi Hendrix, deceased... drugs. Mama Cass, deceased... ham sandwich." And ever since, the mere mention of the food makes me laugh, which is one of the many reasons I really enjoyed Theatre Of Blood, because at one point Lionheart (Vincent Price) reads one of the critics' review of his performance in Titus Andronicus:
"Mr. Lionheart's rendering of the role can only be described as villainous. Placed between the delicately underplayed performances of Tamora and Lavinia; one is irresistibly reminded of a ham sandwich."
Hahahaha, awesome. It's a funny line anyway, but Price's usual inimitable delivery makes it all the more hilarious. In fact, the film as a whole is very humorous, albeit in a dark, morbid way that might turn some folks off. The concept itself is funny - a Shakespearean actor (Price) decides to kill all of the critics who denied him an acting award - but there are a number of terrific lines, and even some of the killings are sort of funny in how they are executed. Despite being a card-carrying dog lover, even I had to laugh when the prissy critic discovers that his prized poodles have been baked into a pie, after he has eaten several bites. And the final line is wonderfully cynical, as the remaining critic gives his "review" of Lionheart's final "performance" (i.e. what he was saying before he fell to his death), offering faint praise while admonishing his usual "overacting". It's so good.
I also loved how the film inadvertently (I assume) makes the London police force look like the most incompetent law enforcement agency in history. It doesn't take long for the critics AND police to figure out not only what the pattern was (i.e. that the killer was targeting this particular group of critics), yet they still manage to allow 4-5 more to get killed after that, even with some of them under police protection. Granted, Price wears disguises and has an army of homeless folk helping him out, but still, they never find anything suspicious. At one point a cop escorts the lone female critic to her hair appointment, and despite the fact that her usual dresser has been replaced by a weird guy, the cop doesn't think anything of it. Actually the critics come across as kind of dumb too (why doesn't SHE think something might be amiss?), but I'm pretty sure that's sort of the point, as if they were smarter they would have given him the award in the first place. But I didn't mind this, I actually found it kind of funny, even though by any reasonable logic I should be siding with the critics. Power of Price!
In fact, my only problem with the film was my own: I really haven't read/seen enough Shakespeare. Each death is sort of inspired by a particular Shakespeare tale (the aforementioned dog-baking, for example, is a riff on Titus baking the Queen's children and feeding them to her). The ones I DO know best: Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, do not provide the backdrops to any of the death scenes (though both get minor "shout-outs"). I suspect I would enjoy the movie even more if I knew enough about the source material to appreciate Price's interpretations.
Also, it's a bit too similar to Dr. Phibes at times - the films have practically identical structures, and both seem to have been an influence on the Saw films (particularly the final "trap", in which an emptying bag of sand allows a cart with two hot pokers to roll toward the victim, from which he can save himself by sacrificing something, in this case his pride). There are enough differences for it not to be TOO noticeable, but you will definitely get some deja vu at times. In fact, the 2nd Phibes film and this one were originally released with less time between them than the time between my watching them, and I'm guessing original audiences didn't watch almost 1000 movies in the meantime that would reduce their memories of the earlier film, so for them it might have been even MORE familiar.
But eh, so what? Anytime you have Price in this sort of role, you're almost guaranteed gold. And the somewhat sad bit of meta-irony makes this one even more significant, historically, as Price had longed to play these characters for real, but found himself typecast in horror films. So that he was able to satisfy his fans with one of his meatiest roles, while also (hopefully) scratching that Shakespearean itch for himself, makes this sort of a perfect Price vehicle (indeed, according to the IMDb, this was his personal favorite of his movies).
Speaking of Price, I have to wonder if the reason why the remake machine has largely left his films alone is because no modern actor has that perfect blend of being sinister and yet charming, and thus it would just be an unwinnable battle. If you look at today's sort of regular "odd" actors, none of them can really match up - Crispin Glover is too creepy, Christopher Walken is too much of a punchline at this point, Johnny Depp is too movie-star handsome, etc. Hell, in the lone Price vehicle remake I can think of (House on Haunted Hill), Geoffrey Rush seemed to be channeling James Woods more than Price. I'm sure someone, somewhere, is trying to launch a Phibes or Theatre update, but I really can't see anyone that could pull off what came so effortlessly to Price. MAYBE Nic Cage, but even that would be tricky, as he carries so much baggage from so many "crap" (general consensus, not my own) movies, everyone would be against it from the start. Then again, casting Cage as a guy who kills his critics might be wonderfully cathartic for him. I'd see it, that's for sure.
What say you?