Director – Roger Corman
Cast – Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, David Weston, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Paul Whitsun-Jones, Skip Martin
Release Year – 1964
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This is a flick that caught my attention solely due to its sweet title, which then became even more awesome when I saw it starred Vincent Price(House on Haunted Hill) and came directed by Roger Corman. Based on Edgar Allen Poe’s short story of the same name, we get a unique Gothic tale that comes with some of Roger Corman’s finest direction and execution to date.
The Masque of the Red Death centers around a European Prince, Prince Prospero(Vincent Price), who’s countryside is being ravaged by a deadly disease known as the “Red Death”. Prince Prospero decides to invite his fellow nobleman, friends, and a few prisoners(for entertainment purposes) to hole up in his castle and ride out the deadly plague. The guests are subjected to Prince Prospero’s cruel and demeaning festivities, but things become awry for Prince Prospero as well when a red-hooded figure appears in the castle, proving death is always inevitable.
Fans of Poe’s work and Gothic horror should be pleased with this watch. Roger Corman does a fantastic job bringing this adaptation to screen, with utterly fantastic visuals and sets that give Mario Bava(Black Sabbath) and Dario Argento(Tenebre, Deep Red, Suspiria, The Bird With The Crystal Plummage, Inferno) a run for their money. Atmosphere is everything in this film, and Corman provides a gloomy and spooky look sure to keep you visually engaged in the events going on during the film’s slower sequences. As usual, we get a fantastic performance from Vincent Price, whom I really enjoyed given this is one of his crueler roles. Watching him toy with people’s lives for his sole entertainment provides most of the horror we get in this watch, although usage of the hooded “Red Death” was very satisfying as well. It really is sad that critics normally see Roger Corman as a pioneer of sleazy B-movies, because this film is criminally underrated.
Story-wise the film mostly follows Poe’s original short story. The dialogue is fantastic, thanks much to a great job from writers Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell as they adapted the source material into the film’s screenplay. There is a fair amount of drama thrown into the film, which makes this not an entirely horrific watch. This really came as no surprise to me, given we are taking a short story and turning it into a near 90 minute film. Thankfully, the drama is good as well, coming in the form of obsession and debauchery. As far as the horror goes, the acts we are forced to endure at the hands of Vincent Price are made quite terrifying in nature, with high levels of depravity at the hands of his awesome character. His obsession with Satan, his master, makes for most of the reasoning behind this character, which ultimately leads to a sweet conclusion. Of course, the sole objective of the film plays on our inability to avoid death. Death is viewed as an all-powerful entity that does as it pleases without regard for other or negotiation, which proves very symbolic in reference to Prince Prospero, who in the end may have bitten off more than he could chew.
Overall, this is a fantastic watch that shows Roger Corman’s directing excellence, and comes with sweet elements of horror. The film has its slow moments, but a fantastic performance from Vincent Price and the film’s amazing visual tone provide an engaging watch that comes with great subject matter.