June 17, 2011
"Theater of Blood," the 1973 horror classic heralded as the best movie of his career by star Vincent Price, did see a DVD release in the late 1990s. But it was never released in any format in anamorphic widescreen. In short, you couldn't enjoy it on a widescreen TV -- until now.
MGM never saw fit to give the film a proper DVD release in anamorphic widescreen or anything even close to resembling decent picture quality for the new HDTV sets we are all using. Thankfully, MGM has released the film via Netflix streaming in an exquisite looking transfer that looks better than DVD. Heck, it almost looks HD.
It's another reason for vintage horror fans to sign up for Netflix. Netflix has been really revving up its library of titles on its streaming service. Although many viewers complain that their selection isn't up to snuff with the new release library at Blockbuster, for horror fans, it's actually a treasure trove of classic and not-so-classic horror titles -- many of which aren't even available on Blu-Ray.
And if you have a Netflix-friendly piece of hardware like a Roku player, you can watch these films on your HDTV. If you don't, you can still watch them on your PC -- which you can hook up to your HDTV if you know what you're doing.
So, at long last, the picture quality of "Theater of Blood" looks great -- better than it ever has on home video in any format, so good that it looks like it was filmed yesterday. So how does this movie stack up?
Well, it's phenomenal. Vincent Price as a frustrated Shakespearean actor who kills the critics who pan his plays. Rigg is his fiercely loyal and equally homicidal daughter. Price's character -- a ham actor who attempts suicide before being dragged from the Thames River by a group of schizophrenic homeless people, who become his followers -- obviously inspired the Penguin character in "Batman Returns." As we all know, Tim Burton is a big Price fan.
After faking his death, Price begins murdering London's theater critics using plot points from the Bard's own plays. Good for him! The best scene has Price posing as a hair stylist with an afro, before disposing of his client, one of the uppity critics who had blasted his work a year earlier.
Despite its now-old age, the film is so good that even modern, bone-headed mainstream viewers should love it. Price starred in a lot of great horror films, but this was easily the funniest and most polished. It borrows the style and tone of another Price vehicle, "The Abominable Doctor Phibes," but its killings are more gruesome. Rigg, original star of "The Avengers" TV series, is also marvelous.
Director Hickox went on to direct some excellent, non-splatter films, including the marvelous "Zulu Dawn," which, despite its respectability, had its own gore effects. "Theater of Blood" is an absolute must see, particularly for fans of 1970s schlock. One of the best British fear films of the '70s and Price's all-time favorite too.
And, on Netflix instant streaming, it looks better than it ever has on home video before.
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