In a part he was born to play, Vincent Price is classically trained actor Edward Lionheart, who – having faked his own death – murders eight theatre critics using famous death scenes from Shakespeare’s plays as payback for being dismissive of his talents.
Horace Sprout (Arthur Lowe) suffers the same fate as Cloten in Cymbeline and has his head cut off, George Maxwell (Michael Hordern) is stabbed to death, as was Julius Caesar, Chloe Moon (Coral Browne) is electrocuted at the hairdresser’s to parallel the burning of Joan of Arc in Henry IV Part I, Oliver Larding (Robert Coote) expires in a barrel of wine like Clarence in Richard III, and Hector Snipe (Dennis Price) dies dragged by a horse, echoing Hector in Troilus and Cressida.
Aided by his faithful and devoted daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg) – who appears most of the time disguised as a male hippy complete with wig, sunglasses and a droopy moustache – and a group of tramps, Lionheart plans each killing with elaborate inventiveness and cunning disguise.
Among Price’s nearly dozen masquerades is a gay hairdresser – showing us that there’s a big difference between his ‘normal’ flamboyancy and camping it up.
Detective Inspector Boot (Milo O’Shea) finally has to accept the only logical explanation: Hambone actor Lionheart, a presumed suicide, isn’t dead and is killing them all off in diabolically clever ways. And Sergeant Dogge (Eric Sykes) and the London police are unable to provide proper protection.
Price does a superior job portraying an inferior actor and mines every nuance of tragedy and comedy with triumphant brilliance and delicious gusto.
The magnum opus of Price’s film career, this stylish, witty comedy horror boasts an irresistible premise, an inspired ensemble cast, fabulous music and first-rate production values.
The supporting roll call also includes Harry Andrews, Diana Dors, Ian Hendry, Robert Morley and Jack Hawkins. Still recovering from throat cancer, Hawkins is dubbed by Charles Gray.