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The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
“At a 12th-century masked ball from hell, dissolute satanist Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) torments his guests, forcing them to participate in a variety of gruesome lethal games in this Roger Corman-directed horror flick based on two stories by Edgar Allen Poe. While most of the games end in someone’s death, those who survive Prospero’s amusements must endure the nightmare of torture and unthinkable depravity.”
“You promised me entertainment, I never expected this. Have such eyes seen sin? ” – “They will.”
The Masque of the Red Death is Roger Corman’s most sumptuous Poe adaptation. There were a lot of reasons for this. The film was shot in England to take advantage of a government subsidy by using a British cast and crew. Corman also allowed for a five week schedule as opposed to three weeks for the previous Poe adaptations.
Masque was filmed using sets leftover from Becket (1964). The costumes are simply lavish and amazing, especially at the masque itself. Screenwriters Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell should be applauded for squeezing in Poe’s short story Hop-Frog as a subplot.
Vincent Price does not play a dual role here – he is simply evil…grandiose evil as Prince Prospero. His performance is nuanced, hammy (in a fun way) but nuanced. He lusts after Francesca but not for her flesh, he just wants to corrupt her.
The delightful Hazel Court is Juliana, Prospero’s consort. It is clear that while Juliana is evil, her motivation is to keep the eye of Prospero, who has been fascinated by the innocence and beauty of the young Francesca. Court had 72 roles but is best remembered for her handful of horror movies: The Curse of Frankenstein, The Man who Cheated Death, Doctor Blood’s Coffin, The Raven, Premature Burial, and Masque. Masque would be her last speaking role in a movie.
Patrick Magee makes a great foil as the evil Alfredo. He spends much of the time being the butt of Prospero’s humor. Magee would go on to be a veteran of Hammer and Amicus productions appearing in The Skull, Tales from the Crypt, Asylum, And Now the Screaming Starts and Demons of the Mind.
The Masque of the Red Death naturally has the hallmarks of a Corman Poe adaptation: Castle, dungeon, torture devices, lots of cobwebs, even more candlelight, and wonderful sets. It is the best of the Poe adaptations and that is saying something since all eight are enjoyable – only Juliana’s dream sequence stood out as unnecessary.
People Watch: Nigel Green has a small part as Francesca’s father. He had his best role earlier that year as Colour-Sergeant Bourne in Zulu, stealing the movie from leads Michael Caine and Stanley Baker. Patrick Magee also did a wonderful turn in Zulu as Surgeon Reynolds.