When any horror fan hears the names Roger Corman, Vincent Price and Edgar Allan Poe, mentioned in the same breath, a few films come to mind, this year of 2019 marks 55-years since this creation first graced the screens, a film that put Satan in the forefront. In addition, this production suffered through one of the greatest tragedies in American History, unsure what that is just read onward to find out as well as other many tidbits. Now Corman (The Tomb of Ligeia ), well known for his keen talents in making a buck on every production of his and the genius of b-movies, however his work as director on Poe stories conversion to gothic tales of horror remain among his best work, which started with The House of Usher (1960). While the debate rages on, and quite likely never to end, as which Corman’s Poe tale starring Vincent Price remains the most cherished and favorite one cannot deny this classic tale known as The Masque of the Red Death, though others lean to Pit and Pendulum (1961). The entire movie contains a heavy coating in gothic essence all displayed in top form, along with the sweeping cinematography all capturing the fictitious Red Death, overall though the film’s rich dialogue gives a qualified examination of the religion, but from a philosophical standpoint, which embroils audiences long after the film ends. In fact, it found itself on the gothic metal band Theatre of Tragedy’s Velvet Darkness They Fear album from 1996 namely the track “And When He Falleth” featuring voices of Vincent Price and Jane Asher.
One should note that this is not the first time this topic graced the screens, Die Pest in Florenz (1919) was presented to the audiences, and certainly not the last time the stories of Poe, who passed-on in October of 1849, were made which clearly showed his influence upon the horror genre, he was the Stephen King of his lifetime, his film credits as a writer so far at 250 (Yes, King has more at 376). However, most agree his most popular tale comes from The Tell-Tale Heart.
Aside from Poe’s great story, screenwriters Charles Beaumont (The Haunted Palace ), who worked previously on three other Corman films, but this was his last with him and R. Wright Campbell (a long-time writer with Roger, but this was his only horror film script contribution) delivers a mixture of a gothic, gloom subtext and Shakespearean tones. In addition, the movie entwines Poe’s other tale “Hop-Frog”, which is something for the fans to discover for themselves. Although, his story is based on a true incident in history; in 1393 Charles VI of France dressed as wild beast along 5 lords of nobility, a freak accident caused four of them burn to death.
The film obviously stars Vincent Price in one of his darker and more sinister roles, layering his character of Prince Prospero, a Satanist, and ruler of his entitled lands with a thick creepy dripping voice owning each frame he was in, and richly generating the entire story. Quickly the audience learns of Prospero’s disrespect for the peasants on his land, the only comparison for those do not witness this performance, think Braveheart (1995). In fact, an opening scene when his guards ride in on their thundering horse’s hooves, followed by Prospero’s carriage, almost crushes a child rescued by another serf. Soon he takes prisoners, a peasant Christian girl Francesca for his future debauchery, and then her father Ludovico (Nigel Green) and her love-interest Gino (David Weston (Witchcraft )), they’ll find themselves in his future sadistic games, while his men torch the village. They flee back to his castle, and bar the gates to keep the Red Death at bay, as if a plague respects a door, but for the movie recall the naïve manners for understanding diseases, nobility immune. As Price may dominate much of the screen, two others balance the scenes, first Francesca (Asher), who shows an innocent and pure of heart demeanor) and the Hammer studio fans notice Hazel Court as Juliana, who later pledges her love and soul to Lucifer, adoring herself with the blessed mark of an inverted cross on her breast. The guests venture forth and test their convictions, pledging loyalty to Prospero, regardless of his sinful desires, gluttony and cruel mistreatments to everyone; all of it to escape the growing threat the Red Death. At the banquet everyone is encouraged to dress in costumes, but choosing what they see themselves as, the wonderful actor Patrick Magee (The Monster Club ) engages in playful banter and as Skip Martin (Vampire Circus ) as Hop Toad, the scene is very memorable. A solid horror film set in the confines of a castle, with Price’s Satanist Prospero madly mocking the righteous and innocent Asher’s character, Francesca, however it dives more deeply as a theology fencing duel, one side dealing with free will to indulge man’s basic instincts and the other caring and love for each other. Price’s explanation of Satan’s greatness, extol his virtues, expressing his alternative religious views while the character of Francesca speaks from a purity position.
Corman’s film had a tremendous and solid storyline dealing with effective set construction and exquisite design, including the assortment of colors throughout the film but especially the Satanic Chapel Room, a Black Mass marriage illusion, continues to hold their incredible wonderment for the viewers all thanks to the legendary cinematographer Nicolas Roeg. The film does contain a lengthy and wordy dialogue segment but the scenes pure a seductive tone to connect visually with the viewers. The production started in England on November 11, 1963, and lasted 15 days for nearly the typical shooting schedule of a Corman movie however, it included delays, such as a day to mourn the burial of President John F. Kennedy, on November 25th, the original last day of filming. After much discussion, a close-out scene shows seven figures each representing a different disease from the Middle ages, and one hears them speak, as to whom they left behind, the Red Death equal Rabies, breakdown of the rest found at the end of this article.
I like many others are big fans of Vincent Price, and this movie ranks in my top five when it comes to this one actor, in this role he devilishly played his character in a tongue and cheek manner, but in this movie like that of The Witchfinder General (1968) he showed his dramatic ability to play the role straight with excessive sinister drippings. The movie received much praised, from critics, and gained a larger audience thanks to the distribution by AIP (American International Pictures), even though it contains artistic moments that some would akin to an arthouse movie, as it has an intriguing set-up, fluid scenes, effective horror movie, wrapped inside a mystery, a lasting tribute to the stars and creators, all for us the viewers to thoroughly enjoy for another 55-years and reign forevermore as Testament of Horror.
- LOOK INTO THIS FACE – SHUDDER… at the blood-stained dance of the Red Death! TREMBLE… to the hideous tortures of the catacombs of Kali! GASP… at the sacrifice of the innocent virgin to the vengeance of Baal!
- We defy you to stare into this face.
- Look into this face
- .. at the blood-stained dance of the Red Death! TREMBLE… to the hideous tortures of the catacombs of Kali! GASP… at the sacrifice of the innocent virgin to the vengeance of Baal!
- Stare into this face and count if you can the orgies of evil….
- Horror has a face.
IMDb Rating: 7.1/10
Baron’s Rating: 7.5/10
Disease Robes Meaning at the of the Film:
Black Death – Black Death.
Golden Death – Leprosy.
Violet Death – Porphyria.
Blue Death – Cholera.
Yellow Death – Yellow Fever.
White Death – Tuberculosis.
Red Death – Rabies.