The Masque of the Red Death

Roger Corman is often considered a maker of B-movies.  His name is on tons of movies, but among his most notable works are his films based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe.  Most of these films featured the incredible Vincent Price, including today’s film…1964’s “The Masque of the Red Death.”

The film takes place in medieval Europe where the local Satanist, Prince Prospero (Price) lives in his castle while fears of the dreaded “Red Death” begin to spread among the villages nearby.  While visiting one of the villages, Prospero kidnaps a young Christian woman, Francesca (Jane Asher), as well as her father (Nigel Green) and her fiancée Gino (David Weston).  Prospero is determined to have Francesca determine which one of them he should kill.

Prospero is also hosting a group of his hoity-toity friends at his castle, promising to protect them from the Red Death that is ravishing the countryside.  A costume ball is on the agenda, but the guests have been ordered not to wear red.

Various strange things happen as the night continues…Prospero’s mistress Juliana (Hazel Court) engages in a bizarre wedding to Satan, the dwarf Hop-Toad (Skip Martin) exacts revenge on one of the party guests who was abusive to his pint-sized mistress (burns the guy alive in gorilla suit), and villagers who come to the gate are executed via crossbow.  That Prospero knows how to throw a party!

Things come to a strange conclusion when Prospero and Francesca encounter a strange red-cloaked figure wandering around the party.  Prospero, at first, believes it to be Satan himself, but it turns out to be “The Red Death.”  The entire party starts to become infected as Prospero tries to escape.

“The Masque of the Red Death” is a strange movie!  There is a lot going on and not all of it pays off.  The storyline concerning Francesca’s lover Gino looks like it’s going to be a major part of the story, at first.  But the character is pretty much abandoned after a while, and there is really no resolution to his story.  The subplot concerning Hop-Toad is interesting, but it feels tacked on.  Considering that it actually comes from another short story by Poe, it’s probably pretty accurate to say that.

However, the movie has great atmosphere and is incredibly creepy.  I’ve always said that atmosphere is, to me, the key to an effective horror movie.  Corman does a fantastic job of setting the tone. But then, Price takes it even further.  He is just plain evil in this film.  I mean, Price is an iconic horror movie star…as creepy as they come, but there is often just a tinge of humor in him.  Here he is EVIL!  It’s a very scary performance.  Add to it all that movie is pretty brutal…definitely not for the faint-of-heart.

For Corman, this is a very big production.  The sets are lavish and Corman makes great use of the them….creating some truly striking visuals.  Many think of Corman as a penny-pincher, you’d never know it watching this film.  At the same time, I’m sure Corman got all this stuff for a price that most movie producers only dream of.

Though I struggled with the somewhat disjointed feeling of the story, “The Masque of the Red Death” is, ultimately, a satisfying horror flick.  A perfect film to save for Halloween night, but who wants to wait that long!?!

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