The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
the masque of the red death | roger corman | charles beaumont | r. wright campbell | vincent price | hazel court | jane asher | based on | short story | edgar allan poe | satan | ritual | cult | united states | united kingdom | david weston | nigel green | patrick magee
Film: The Masque of the Red Death
Director: Roger Corman
Writer: Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell
Starring: Vincent Price, Hazel Court and Jane Asher
This was a film that I had interest in seeing when I was younger, but didn’t get the chance. I did now since a podcast I listen to chose this for a Movie Club that I participate in. I’m a big fan of Edgar Allan Poe as well as Vincent Price, who stars in this film. My second viewing was pretty special as I was able to see it in the theater as well. To get into this one, a European prince terrorizes the local peasantry while using his castle as a refuge against the ‘Red Death’ plague that stalks the land.
I want to state that this film falls into that era where Roger Corman, the director of the film, was taking a lot of Poe stories and adapting them to film. I believe a lot of this was due to how cheap the stories could be obtained since he was known for the films he produced with smaller budgets.
This film kicks off with an old woman coming upon a man in a red outfit. He produces a white flower that blood drips on to and turns it red. He gives it to her to take back to her village, also letting her know that the prince that rules the area’s time is almost up as being in charge.
The prince is named Prospero (Vincent Price). He comes to the village to take food back to his castle. His carriage almost runs over a little girl, but she is saved by Gino (David Weston). He is defiant of Prospero as is as Ludovico (Nigel Green). Ludovico’s daughter Francesca (Jane Asher) comes to their aid. Prospero comes up with the idea that she must decide of the two men who will die, her father or her lover. One of Prospero’s guards calls him into a hut to find the old woman from earlier. She has died of the red plague. He then decides to take the two men and the daughter back to his castle while he burns the village.
It is at the castle that we see Prospero is a worshipper of Satan. He has taken a liking to Francesca and is trying to convert her. In doing so he shows and tells her the different forms of torture they do to people. She is devout in her love of God. Prospero’s interest upsets his wife, Juliana (Hazel Court), who performs a ritual to give her soul to Satan. It is also during this time that we also see Alfredo (Patrick Magee) and the sins he is willing to commit as well.
The masked man makes another appearance later in the film, before the large party Prospero is throwing while those outside the castle walls are dying of the plague. They are living lavishly during all of this.
This film had an interesting premise behind it. There is a part of this that really intrigued me about Prospero being punished for what he is doing. He assumes that because he is worshipping Satan and is rich, that he can do all of the things that he is doing. He eventually is punished for this. The reveal of the face behind the masked man in red I liked. I don’t really think that the person beneath it is the person we see, I think it is more of you see what you think it is underneath it. Being wicked in this film is punished and we see that with what happens at the party and especially to Prospero and Alfredo.
The plague that is spreading is interesting though, because it is killing the villagers as well. It would make sense that when the villagers that comes to Prospero for his aid, they should probably be killed off by it, but it is sweeping through the village of those that are being oppressed by him. I just found this a bit odd. The only way that I can reconcile it would be that it is a more merciful way for them to do then to die from the elements or starving.
I would have to say that the pacing of the film is solid. It has a runtime of 87 minutes and it really doesn’t waste any time getting into it. We are introduced to the man in red, then to our main characters. To really get to know Prospero is done with him kidnapping Francesca and having her see the depraved things that he does. I do like the climax of the film and the reveal. After this second viewing, I do feel there is a slight lull between Francesca trying to escape with her father and love to when the party actually starts. We do get some important scenes during this, but it is something I noticed during this viewing.
The acting is something that was good. I thought Price was amazing as this villainous role. Court I wanted a bit more from. We don’t get much of her and she plays this role in such a subdued way. She seems to be in a dreamlike state for the film, which I thought was an odd way to play it. Asher was good though. I actually thought that Juliana should have been much angrier with Prospero due to jealousy. It would also violate her living the way that Satan would command as well. Asher as I alluded to is interesting in that she is so devout in her faith of God that Prospero is intrigued. It ruins his character which I liked. Weston and Green were fine in their roles. I also liked Magee. I have seen him in a few things and he has such a villainous way about him that I liked. The rest of the cast round out the film well.
There’s not really a lot in the way of effects for the film. I do find it interesting that anyone who gets the red plague just gets blood painted on their face. It is definitely an interesting concept for the film. With that said, this film is interesting that it is from 1964, because it really has such lavish colors. There are rooms that are one specific color that I liked. It was interesting to hear that they were used for torture. This film does seem to set the stage for films like The Abominable Dr. Phibes which stars Price and would come in the next decade.
Score for the film really didn’t stand out to me, aside from the climax scene where they had a ball going. It definitely fit that scene for what they needed and I think it also fit the rest of the film in much of the same way. I didn’t have anything negative to say about it.
Now with that said, I thought this was an interesting film for sure. I’m a big fan of Poe and so far I have been with the Corman adaptations that have seen. I like the story and concept behind it of punishing the wicked and being devout in their faith. The acting I thought was really good and it is paced well. There’s really not in the way of effects, but the ones we get are solid. The use of color in this film was great. The score really didn’t stand out or hurt the film. I would definitely recommend giving this one a viewing as I thought it was a good film.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10