|Theatre of Death|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 09 October 2001|
Back when he was making anywhere from two to five movies a year, Christopher Lee seemed to be everywhere; now that he's one of the continuing characters in "Lord of the Rings" and will appear in next year's "Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones," he seems to be everywhere again -- but in bigger, more lavish productions. However, of course, it's because he made so many movies (hardly all horror) back when that directors fondly remember him today, and cast him in these big movies.
His role in the interesting, if peculiar, "Theatre of Death" was a little unusual for Lee at this time, but it's not fair to the story to explain just how. He's quite good as Philippe Darvas, who has just taken over the Grand Guignol-like theatre founded by his late father. Darvas is imperious, dictatorial, pretentious and egotistical, bound to have his way at all times. Dani Gereaux (Lelia Goldoni) has been a headliner at the theater for some time, but he's beginning to brush her off, paying a great deal of attention to the green Nicole Chapel (Jenny Till), whom he occasionally hypnotizes to get a performance.
Dr. Charles Marquis (Julian Glover) is attracted to Dani and irritated with Darvas for his cruel treatment of her. Meanwhile, there's a killer at large; three women have already been murdered, but there was so little bood at the murder scenes that the press -- and others -- are already describing the killer as a vampire. We see a couple of these killings, learning graphically that the murderer is not confined to women.
Eventually, it seems as though there's a connection between the killer and the theatre, and Charles suspects Darvas of the crimes. But then Darvas vanishes, leaving behind a cloak smeared with blood, and Dani still in thrall to him.
Director Samuel Gallu, apparently an American had a short-lived career but did cowrite James Whitmore's one-man movie as President Truman, "Give 'Em Hell, Harry." His movies as a director are undistinguished, but there are enough good moments in "Theatre of Death" to suggest that he had some talent. For example, at a party, our interest is on the scene in the foreground, but we can hear and occasionally see Lee ranting and raving in the background. Late in the movie, he makes good use of sound; while Charles and Dani are in the living room of the vanished Darvas' house and Nicole plays a guitar, we see the killer creeping into the house and using its numerous secret passages. The scene is quite suspenseful; using just the guitar music was an excellent touch.
On the other hand, Gallu pointlessly uses hand-held cameras from time to time in a particularly confusing manner, especially irritating because otherwise Gil Taylor's wide-screen cinematography is elegant and stylish. Also, it really wasn't necessary for screenwriters Ellis Kadison and Roger Marshall to fill Darvas' house with those secret passages, even including the hackneyed device of a portrait with removable eyes, so Darvas can spy on his guests and workers.
Although the movie is set in Paris, it looks like not a frame of film was shot there, and everyone in the cast (except Dani) is a standard British type. There's one scene by the river (the Seine, I suppose) accompanied by accordion music, which I guess is supposed to establish the very Parisianness of it all.
The Anchor Bay DVD is scant on extras -- a trailer, some radio spots, poster and still gallery and a biography of Christopher Lee -- but this is a minor film from more than 30 years ago; justifying the cost of tracking down extras would have been very difficult. There is, however, an 11-minute interview with Christopher Lee; although he rarely refers to "Theatre of Death," he's well-informed and talkative. The print Anchor Bay used is excellent; the film actually looks better on video than it did in American theaters.
For those who like Christopher Lee, the disc is a must purchase; those interested in British mysteries might also like to pick it up.