Night #25: The Masque Of The Red Death (1964)

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Why should you be afraid to die? Your soul has been dead for a long long time.”

Directed By: Roger Corman

And welcome finally to Roger Corman. Arguably the most successful producer of all time, Corman has worked in the industry for a staggering 60 years and gave a start to names such as Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, James Cameron and Ron Howard. His list as a producer outweighs that of being a director, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t make some excellent movies. This, happily, is one of them.

Prince Prospero (Vincent Price, relishing the role) is a cruel man and on his way to his castle he kidnaps local woman Francesca, along with her father and betrothed, whom he’s decided to punish after she can’t decide which one should be executed. Once at his castle we get to witness the usual debauchary that people who own castles usually get up to, with Prospero and others relishing the idea of corrupting innocence (For real, there’s a scene where Prospero and another watch a child dancer, and their conversation is loaded with not-to-subtle insinuations).

For some reason I kept thinking of Game Of Thrones, there’s a few characters who would easily fit in there, and at times the particular cruelties inflicted on characters is reminiscent of those in George RR Martin’s unfinished tale of woe. The only real difference is that of a philosophical nature, with Francesca and her God loving ways in direct contradiction to Prospero and his satanist beliefs (Seriously, this whole month might as well be satan themed). The red death of the title is sweeping across the countryside beyond the castle, and Prospero believes that a loving God died centuries before, leaving just depravity and woe behind, as well as people like him.

It’s a more faithful adaptation of Poe than something like The Black Cat was, even though it is largely extended (And includes characters from a different Poe story) and to be honest if you weren’t familiar with the Poe story then you wouldn’t think something was amiss. It has a touch of 60s surrealism about it too. The child dancer you see Prospero and his friend drooling over is dubbed with an adult’s voice. I don’t know if the intention was that it was supposed to be a dwarf (As her handler/partner is), or if she’s just a child with a voice problem. Regardless, it’s a nice touch.

Also, the movie looks gorgeous. I know I’ve said this a lot about some of these movies recently, but it’s true. The colours pop and the sets look great, particularly for a low budget production. There’s one almost 360 degree shot of Prospero as he talks about fear that’s gorgeous to look at. In the day and age of colour saturation, it’s great what a bit of colour can do.

My only real complaint is there’s probably a bit too much talk about how great satan is. Now, I like satan as much as anyone does obviously, but Prospero keeps calling him the “lord of flies” and all I could think was what a crappy thing to be a lord of. Why not lord of tigers, or lord of…well anything else really.

Anyway, the actually masquerade of the title only takes place in about the last 10 minutes or so, but it’s worth the wait for the psychedelic freakout. Corman does a great job as a director (He did a series of Poe adaptations) and it’s a shame he did shit like Carnasour (a hastily produced ripoff of Jurassic Park that was released just before that one made it to cinemas) instead of more like this.

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