Among the Roger Corman adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s various works, The Masque Of The Red Death stands out as one of the best, featuring superior production values (they flew over to England for a tax break and apparently ended up re-using the sets from Beckett), an appropriately vile performance by Vincent Price as Prince Prospero, and a story that was more than the standard old dark house with degenerate families story that seemed to permeate these productions like the stench of a corpse moldering in a secret chamber somewhere in the living room walls. It didn’t hurt this movie any either when this midget burned alive a guy in a gorilla suit.
Prince Prospero is one of those royal pieces of trash who gets off on torturing and humiliating not only the dirty villagers who don’t help their cause any by being so dang lippy to him, but also his own friends. He’s the sort of guy who is always looking to have his annual feast and masquerade ball be the talk of the countryside and thus is in a continuous quest to get the most cutting edge entertainment he can find.
This guy is so dedicated to providing his guests something new and exciting that he even goes out into the dirty towns with all his dirty subjects and conducts the auditions himself! This time around he settles on two guys who get particularly smart mouthed with him. One is Gino, the young stud who is Francesca’s boyfriend and the other is Ludovico, Francesca’s dad. Prospero immediately sees the possibilities of the good times his party would have if he could get these two to fight to the death in front of Francesca and hauls all three back to his castle.
However, just because you booked the hottest act in all of Wherevershire, doesn’t mean that your big party is going to go off without a hitch. Somewhere out in the surrounding countryside Death is relaxing and playing with his Tarot cards under a shade tree!
And not just any old Death. This one’s all decked out in red and announces to some scuzzy villager who happens by that their deliverance is at hand!
When she gets back to the village and spreads the word, it doesn’t take long for her to croak from the Red Death. Uh, thanks for that, Red Death. I was sort of hoping that when you said my deliverance was at hand that you meant I was going to win the lottery or that Prospero was going to slip in the bathtub and break his neck, but dying of the plague, that’s okay, too I guess.
Prospero is determined not to let a little pesky Red Death get in the way of his annual blow out though. Ordering the village to be burned to the ground, he returns to his castle and settles in with all his guests for the impending shindig.
He’s got problems on the home front though. His old lady Juliana (Hazel Court from The Premature Burial and Devil Girl From Mars) doesn’t appreciate him making eyes at Francesca and suddenly decides that she will become Satan’s bride after all!
Huh? Yep, Prospero has been nagging her to join up with his Satanic church, but she’s been a bit reluctant until now. Prospero sees through this and tells her that she’s just doing it to secure her spot as his hoochie mama! Well, sheesh! If you can’t trust the word of a gal who says she wants to be a Satanist, who can you trust?
The movie maintains a nice balance between Prospero’s obsession with having a really nice party and with Gino’s efforts to rescue Francesca while peppering things with interesting subplots such as Juliana’s efforts at keeping her man and the midget named Hop Toad’s efforts to mete out a little justice of his own.
Vincent Price really delivers in his role as the matter-of-factly evil Prospero. There’s none of this wimpy or wispy crap from him in this one that so many of these movies seemed to require he do. He has no problem explaining his alternative religious beliefs to Francesca who is always trying to shove her Christianity in his face by bad mouthing Satan.
I mean, it’s like Prospero says: she has her god of love and he has his god of reality. The world is pain and suffering and it just takes a few guys to keep it running. Guys like Satan! Take that, Jesus! In your God of Love face!
Putting aside the fact that the movie is practically a Satanic recruitment video, director Corman really shows that he isn’t the quick and dirty hack that his resume of 863 films would have you believe. Using fluid camera shots as well as inventive angles and interesting shot composition over all these high class sets, he’s able to make it look like a first rate picture which is a pleasant surprise after seeing some of his earlier efforts such as She Gods Of Shark Reef and Last Woman On Earth.
Throw in the full-bodied script (except for the midgets of course) and the fine performances of all involved and you end up with not only with a great Corman Poe adaptation, but a great horror movie period. (I just hope this isn’t Satan talking!)
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