Blood Fiend / Theater of Death (1967)

We all know that setting a horror movie in the midst of a macabre theatre troupe offers up great opportunities for… well, horror.theatreofdeath

VoilĂ .

Set in Paris (but with very British actors), the film follows the friendship and rivalry between Dani and Nicole, lead actresses in the Grand Guignol (specialising in gory and supernatural vignettes). Philippe Darvas, played by Christopher Lee, takes Nicole under his wing artistically (and, presumably, amorously), while Dani starts up a relationship with a former police surgeon, Charles. When a series of murders begins, with bodies conspicuously drained of blood, the theatre of murder and gore comes under police scrutiny. Lines are blurred between horror theatre, and gruesome murder! (insert ominous drum crash)

Playing with creepiness on several levels, featuring voyeurism, mise en abime, female rivalry and cannibalism, this film is a lot better than I was expecting out of the usual suspects on the Hammer Horror team. This movie is a lot of fun. It’s really more of a murder mystery than a horror film. The gore is gloriously unconvincing and a gentle pacing keeps things moving without resorting to gimmicks; in short, a Miss Marple sort of horror film. There is a lot of artistry to the production – the sets are luxurious and well-lit, and I feel like they were really trying to make it feel like an old theatre. The final chase scene is really impressive, inter-cutting scenes at the theatre with the police chase to a background of drums. The only downside is that seeing a handsome, smouldering young Christopher Lee may make you uncomfortable the next time that you see Saruman…

Theatre of Death Lee