THEATRE OF DEATH (1967 Britain)

83ca1120c36579b4d702553bb81a26b8Now this is more my kind of thing. A modest budget, an interesting cast plus an off-beat story. The whole piece has an air of breeding and a psychologically surreal feel about it. It falls short of really satisfying the viewer but it is awfully pretty to watch. In some ways this is more interesting to watch than Christopher Lee’s usual Hammer horror efforts.

Somewhere among the foggy back streets of a city we have a figure in black skulking around. This fedora wearing person is killing ladies of the night. Meanwhile, an underground chamber is filled with cobwebs and stuffed with theatrical devices of torture. A sinister looking gentleman is spying on his subordinates through the eyes of a portrait. What is going on amidst all of these clichés?

A Grand Guignol ensemble in Paris are having some difficult rehearsals.

The cast is simply not up to it, or so the director of operations, Philippe Darvis, (Christopher Lee) believes. He bullies, threatens and even hypnotizes them to do better. They specialize in plays that are full of torture and sadism. But the real-life violence taking place just a few streets away causes a police investigation into the theatre itself. Forensic doctor Charles Marquis (Julian Glover) visits his actress girlfriend Dani Gireaux (Leila Goldoni) who has a starring role in the Theatre du Mort’s latest production.

002d3cd4_mediumAt a party Mr Darvis hypnotises another actress named Nicole Chapelle (Jenny Till). She nearly murders Dani in a trance before Charles stops her. Charles is asked by Inspector Micheaud (Ivor Dean) to help investigate several strange deaths, murders where the victims all display the same neck wounds. Charles comes to the conclusion that the killer has a vampire obsession and suspects Darvas.

But then we have a surprising twist in the plot forcing Charles to rethink…the first half is strong and compelling, but then it does lose momentum and it becomes a little artificial and tedious. The lighting and sets are very intimate and cosy. You have to admire the way the photography utilizes the colour and decor as well. Christopher Lee also gets to deliver some superb moments, dialogue-wise.

His mean-spirited dressing down of an aspiring actress, urging her to give up while condemning her looks, has to be one of the most cruel things you’ll hear in a film like this. Then there’s his assessment of a performance at the beginning: “That was about as frightening as an old woman spearing a cocktail cherry!” And if that can’t motivate you to improve then what will? He also sports a mean looking red sweater. Nice.

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