Phillippe Darvas (Christopher Lee) heads The Theatre du Mort - a Grand Guignol-style theatre group, based in modern day Paris and dedicated exclusively to the production of plays and set-pieces containing a strong horror content. The charismatic but tyrannical Darvas is in the process of rehearsing his latest piece: a play based around vampirism; but his obsessive control of one of his leading ladies, the young and impressionable Nicole Chapelle (Jenny Till), as well as his combative attitude to his cast, begins to cause friction with her friend and roommate Dani Gireaux (Lelia Goldoni) who is also an actress with the playhouse and who has recently recovered from a nervous breakdown. Simultaneously, a maniac is stalking the streets of Paris, his victims mainly vagrants -- all of them drained of their blood! When Charles Marquis (Julian Glover), the surgeon boyfriend of Dani who has been called in by the police to examine the bodies, hears about Darvas' vampire play and his strange and obsessive behaviour, the theatre director becomes Marquis' number one suspect. But then Darvas disappears — apparently another victim of the vampire killer — and the mystery only deepens...
Director, Samuel Gallu is a bit of an enigma. After picking up the UK DVD (from Momentum Pictures) of this first class horror/thriller, in one of those online bargain sales, I looked up Gallu's entry on the IMDb - only to find that, apart from a few other non-horror films made around the same time, "Theatre Of Death" is his only major piece of work! That was rather a surprise since the film is a first class British horror movie featuring one of Britain's most accomplished horror actors in a leading role. I was expecting a fair-to-middling effort aping the style of Hammer, but instead got a classy and sophisticated-looking whodunit with Gothic undertones, that more than holds its own with Hammer's productions of the period and, in use of colour and baroque set design, recalls some of Mario Bava's most accomplished work. Although a low budget picture, the film looks amazing thanks to the excellent cinematography from Gilbert Taylor and the use of a bold and inventive colour pallet. Taylor worked on "Theatre Of Death" in between photographing "Repulsion" and Cul-de-sac" for Roman Polanski, and went on to have a long-running and distinguished career, working on such films as Hitchcock's "Frenzy" and later, "Star Wars" and "Flash Gordon"!
The script was written by Roger Marshall whose most notable piece of work besides was "Scream And Scream Again" for Amicus. He later went on to work in British TV, writing for successful series' like "The Professionals". Although, like many British horror films, it is quite talky at times, the script works in some rather effective red-herrings and a revelation near the end was a big surprise. For once, Christopher Lee is not burdened with an underwritten role (as he was frequently in his work for Hammer Productions) and is as compelling to watch as ever. Backing up Lee is Julian Glover, another accomplished actor who turns in a strong performance as the inquisitive surgeon and boyfriend of the heroine. Lelia Goldoni and Jenny Till are also great as the plucky but fragile heroine and Darvas' delicate protégé respectively; they also provide the film with some very agreeable eye candy!
The UK DVD from Momentum Pictures presents the film in its original scope 2.35:1 aspect ratio with an anamorphic transfer. It looks absolutely fantastic, with a strong sharp picture and extremely vivid colour throughout. The mono audio is very decent and free of crackles and the film's pounding score doesn't distort. Unfortunately, we don't get any extras whatsoever with this UK disc, but you should be able to pick it up quite cheaply if you look around. Also, the US Anchor Bay version features an 11 minute interview with Christopher Lee if you want more than just an excellent presentation of the movie.
Although not particularly scary, "Theatre Of Death" is a must buy for anyone who enjoys Hammer's films or Mario Bava's stylish thrillers such as "Blood and Black Lace". A wonderful blast of sixties class!