Theatre Of Blood | 1973
This gloriously tasteless black comedy, filmed entirely on real locations around London, gives Vincent Price one of his best roles as Edward Lionheart, the barnstorming Shakespearian ham, killing off theatre critics who had lambasted his performances.
The twist being that the critics, a cast of great British thesps, are bumped off in a series of murders inspired by the goriest scenes from Shakespeare.
First to go is George Maxwell (Michael Hordern), who unwisely accepts an invitation on the Ides of March. His flat is in Digby Mansions, Hammersmith Bridge Road at Lower Mall overlooking Hammersmith Bridge (just alongside the rowing club and pub seen in Sliding Doors), W6. The mansion block seems to be a screen favourite, having previously been home to Gloria Grahame, where she’s visited by German spy Stephen Boyd, in 1955 WWII drama The Man Who Never Was.
The members of the Critics’ Circle gather before the chapel at Kensal Green Cemetery, Harrow Road, Kensal Green, W10, for Maxwell’s funeral.
Lionheart’s loyal actress daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg) tends his memorial in the cemetery. The startlingly appropriate sculpture is the (self-designed) monument to sculptor Robert William Sievier in the mausoleum’s colonnade, with Sievier’s face craftily disguised to resemble Vincent Price.
Along with Highgate and Brompton Cemeteries, Kensal Green is one of the city’s great 19th-century necropolises. Among the elaborate grave monuments are the last resting places of such Victorian luminaries as engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, writer Anthony Trollope, Lady ‘Speranza’ Wilde, the mother of Oscar Wilde. Playwright and screenwriter Terence Rattigan also rests here, unmarked, in the family memorial.
On screen, the cemetery was also seen in Cliff Owen’s 1972 film of the British TV sitcom Steptoe and Son; Neil Jordan’s 1999 The End Of The Affair and the screen version of groundbreaking stage play Look Back in Anger.
The Pergola Restaurant, from which Trevor Dickman (Harry Andrews) is lured to participate in a (slightly rewritten) performance of The Merchant Of Venice, was the Serpentine Restaurant, which stood opposite the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park. The airy 1964 classic of hexagonal concrete ‘umbrellas’ was shockingly demolished in 1990 to make way for, of all things, a car park.
Bibulous old soak Oliver Larding (Robert Coote) can’t resist the invitation to a wine-tasting. He gets a police escort but, as a theatre critic, the name of the establishment – ‘George Clarence & Sons’ – might have alerted him that something nasty is afoot. The entrance to the party is a 'cellar door' alongside 7 Justice Walk, Chelsea SW3, a narrow little road running between Upper Cheyne Row and Cheyne Walk, just a couple of minutes’ walk away from Uncle Monty’s place from Withnail & I.
The candle-festooned 'wine cellar' itself, where Larding finds himself in a horribly real version of Richard III, used the arched cellars beneath London Bridge Station, on Tooley Street SE1. The gloomy space was fittingly developed as the original London Dungeon. Opened in 1974 as a joyously gory 'Chamber of Horrors' attraction, it metamorphosed into an animatronic and actor-led presentation of the city’s bloodier history. In 2013, the proposed redevelopment of London Bridge Station saw the cellars closed and a new London Dungeon opened in the old County Hall building, near the London Eye. Sad to say, this family-friendly attraction has disappointingly toned down the stomach-churning carnage that made the original so popular.
With Lionheart believed dead, the police question Edwina on the set of a movie in which she’s appearing at the Long Walk, the avenue which leads from Windsor Great Park to Windsor Castle, Windsor in Berkshire.
Solomon Psaltery (Jack Hawkins), who must be an extremely successful critic, is tricked, Othello-like, into strangling his wife Maisie (Diana Dors) at a swanky Chelsea Embankment house, 8 Cheyne Walk at Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea SW3, overlooking Albert Bridge (another location for Sliding Doors). It’s only a few minutes away from the exterior used for the wine-tasting.
Blue Plaque spotters might notice that the house is sandwiched between the former homes of poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti and writer George Eliot.
It was while working on Theatre Of Blood that Vincent Price met, and later married, Coral Browne. She plays the imperious Chloe Moon, who gets her ash highlights well and truly lit at (now gone) hairdresser Robert Fielding Salon, which stood opposite the famous Harrod’s department store on Knightsbridge, SW7. The whole block has since been redeveloped.
The home of extravagantly camp bon viveur Meredith Merridew (Robert Morley), who’s disgustingly forced to eat his ‘babies’ in a murder inspired by Shakespeare’s bloodiest revenge-fest Titus Andronicus, is 19 Charlwood Road at Lacy Road, only a couple of minutes away from the location of the theatre itself in Putney, London SW15.
Peninsula Heights (formerly Alembic House), a tower block on the Albert Embankment between Lambeth and Vauxhall Bridges becomes both the apartment of Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry), and the meeting place of the Critics’ Circle.
It’s from one of the building’s balconies that Lionheart plunges into the River Thames after the surprisingly moving rendition of Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy.
Home of writer and disgraced peer Lord Jeffrey Archer, the tower’s unparalleled views over the Thames and the Houses of Parliament make it irresistible to film-makers. Michael Caine organises The Italian Job here; George Segal works in the building – although the entrance is clearly in the City of London – in the 1973 romantic comedy A Touch of Class; and the Heights became the HQ of ‘Media Incorporated’, where Barry Foster operates as a sinister PR man in the big-screen version of the TV series Sweeney!
And now the disappointment. The old ‘Burbage Theatre’ itself was Putney Hippodrome, which stood on the corner of Felsham Road at Weimar Street, just off Putney High Street, Putney SW15. It was demolished in 1975, and there are now houses on the site. Towards the end, you can clearly see the Hippodrome sign which ran down the front of the building.
Built in 1906 as a vaudeville variety house, the Hippodrome was converted into a cinema in the Thirties but had been closed for 14 years when it was chosen as Lionheart’s hideout. The proscenium was specially built for the film, a chandelier added and 500 seats were bought (at 50p each) from Croydon Odeon to fill the decrepit stalls.