THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH gets high marks from fans of legendary producer Roger Corman and devotees of the unfailingly interesting, often campy actor Vincent Price.
Italy, the Middle Ages. Casually evil ‘Prince Prospero’ (Price) worships Satan and amuses himself by humiliating guests at his castle, tormenting prisoners and preparing for a Hellish afterlife down below. With plague decimating the area’s poor folk, Prospero thinks to avoid the pestilence behind his walls, while partying with debauched nobles and captive peasants.
Usually cited as the best of Corman’s Poe (as in Edgar Allan) adaptations, with Corman making sure in the credits to twice let people know he produced and directed it, luxuriating at both the opening and ending credits to have “produced by” and “directed by” given separate stand-alone significance. Shot in England over a five week stretch, the vivid look of this entry benefits from being able to use sets left over from Becket and by having Nicolas Roeg as cinematographer. Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell wrote the literate script, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s 1842 short story, with other subplots added from Poe’s “Hop-Frog” and “Torture by Hope”, written by August Villiers de I’Isle-Adam. From 1964, it was the 7th of eight Poe fests arranged by Corman, seven of them starring Price.
Exuding insinuation, Our Prince Vince has a good bad time relishing morsels of malevolence. The women in limbo are played with energetic distress by Hazel Court (scream queen fave) and Jane Asher (17, already a veteran performer, at the time she was Paul McCartney’s fiancée). A measure of class is added by having secondary roles filled by hardies Patrick Magee, Nigel Greene and Robert Brown.
“Believe? If you believe, my dear Francesca, you are… gullible. Can you look around this world and believe in the goodness of a god who rules it? Famine, Pestilence, War, Disease and Death! They rule this world.”
112th in the States that first year of LBJ’s disaster-plagued rule, grossing $2,000,000. With David Weston, Skip Martin (as ‘Hop Toad’), Verina Greenlaw (the “toy” dancer).