Right, stop me if you have heard this before – a sinister Christopher Lee, a handful of vampire murders, a gaggle of glamorous leading ladies and even a bit of hypnosis.

You could well be forgiven for thinking I was penning a piece about another of Hammer Horror’s conveyor belt of Dracula movies that dominated the British horror scene between the late 50s and early 70s.

But no, Theatre of Death is in fact something entirely different altogether, and all the better for it.

Lee plays Phillipe Darvas, a short-fused theatre impresario who runs, along with writing and directing the output of the Paris-based theatre of the film’s title – an establishment that revels in recreating scenes of murder and mayhem up on stage.

Lee prods, pushes and punishes his cast, which include Dani (Lelia Goldoni) and the fresh-faced Nicole (Jenny Till).

However, alongside the colour and excitement of the theatre’s sell-out productions, a series of murders (where the victims have been drained of their blood no less) rock the French capital.

Could one of the theatre cast and crew be responsible?

Well, Julian Glover certainly thinks so, playing a police surgeon (Charles Marquis) eager to get to the bottom of the mystery.

What follows is a catalogue of red herrings, some neat ‘foggy back street’ murder sequences and a host of garish (but entertaining) on-stage scenes.

Although not a Hammer production (Pennea Productions to be precise), this has all the hallmarks of the output of the venerable British studio, from the cast, to the assured direction of Samuel Gallu and even the score of Hammer veteran Philip Martell.

But Theatre of Death also has some of the pitfalls of that ilk, with some sluggish pacing, a couple of strange plot twists and the disappearance of the leads for a chunk of the running time.

But that cannot detract from seeing Lee tear up the screen as Darvas, a maelstrom of menace and charisma that could comfortably sit alongside his most memorable roles.

Backed up by strong performances from Glover and both Goldoni and Till, the flick looks and sounds good throughout, and the decision to set the action in Paris is a neat (and welcome) touch.

Theatre of Death may not be the most well-known horror film of the time (a quick check of IMDB will confirm that), but this works as a very capable companion piece to the better-known efforts of the decade.

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.