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 was interested 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 The Podcast Under the Stairs’ Movie Club Challenge that I take part in. I’m a big fan of Edgar Allan Poe as well as Vincent Price, who stars in this film. My second viewing was special as I was able to see it in the theater as well. I’ve now given it a third watch as a Foray through the Fours.
Synopsis: 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 say that this film falls into that era when Roger Corman, the director, was taking Poe stories and adapting them to film. I believe this was due to how cheap the stories could be obtained since he was known for producing works 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.
The prince is named Prospero (Vincent Price). He comes to the village to take food back to his castle as tribute. His carriage almost runs over a little girl, but she is saved by Gino (David Weston). He is defiant of Prospero as is 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. Since the daughter won’t decide, Prospero takes both men and her back to his castle while he orders the village be burned. He is hoping to halt the plague here.
It is at the castle that we see Prospero is a worshipper of Satan. He has taken a liking to Francesca and tries 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 as his bride. It is also during this time that we also meet 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 decadently during all of this, showing their disregard for humanity.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that this has an interesting premise. There is a part of this that intrigues 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 these things without repercussions. He enjoys corrupting his guests and living a lifestyle of excess. There’s an interesting commentary here about the rich and how they live, while the poor are left out.
There’s another bit that is now interesting to have lived through a pandemic. The red death seems like a variation of the black plague. It is killing the villagers and Prospero flees to hide behind his walls. It makes sense when the villagers come to him for aid. They are working for him since he’s the local nobility. My issue is wondering why they’re also punished here. It makes the hooded figure we see problematic and not as just. He does seem apathetic so that is part of it.
I will give credit though that Prospero is eventually punished for his actions. He’s so cocky, even up to the climax of his party. I love the reveal of the face behind the masked man in red. I have looked this up and I’m not sure that I fully understand what this is trying to say. What I’ve gathered is that there are different forms of death, this one being Red Death. The others kill humanity in different ways. The commentary here though about being wicked and eventually being punished is good. We see that with what happens at the party and especially to Prospero and Alfredo.
There’s not more that I want to go into for the story so over to the acting. This was good across the board. Price is amazing in this villainous role. He plays evil so well. Court as his wife is someone that I wanted a bit more from. We don’t get much of her. I did like how she plays her role in a subdued way. She seems to be in a dreamlike state, which is fitting for a sequence with her in it. Asher was also good. What is interesting about her is the duality against Prospero. She is devout in her faith of God and that intrigues Prospero. He wants to corrupt her and see if that is possible. Almost like his ultimate conquest. This seems to ruin him, which is a fitting commentary. Weston and Green were fine in their roles as characters who keep Francesca going. I also liked Magee. I have seen him in things and he has such a villainous way about him that works. The rest of the cast round out the film well.
All that is left then is filmmaking. I’ll start with the cinematography is great. I also love the setting of this castle. There are a series of rooms that are one color that translated well to the screen. These were set up for torture. How this was shot and framed were good, especially since those popped. There’s not much the way of effects, but it also isn’t that type of movie. This is playing more with the psyche. I do like what they did with those afflicted with the red plague. Their faces are painted red, like they are covered in blood painted. It is a good touch. All that is left is the soundtrack. It was solid the era it is set with more orchestral style. It fit what was needed.
In conclusion, I thought this was an interesting take on the Poe story. This is one of Corman’s better adaptations. There’s an interesting premise here of this Satan-worshipping prince who is doing wicked things and being punished for it. There’s noteworthy commentary now watching this having lived through a pandemic. The cinematography here is great, especially the use of color. There are bits of the story that I think could be fleshed out a bit more, but overall, this is solid. There’s also a great cast led by Price with solid support from Asher and Magee. I’d recommend this if you like movies of the era or the works of Corman or Price.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10