Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Edgar Allan Poe inspires an impressive horror film from Roger Corman, starring Vincent Price. MGM USA R1 DVD.

The Film

"The "Red Death" had long devastated the country.
No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous.
Blood was its Avatar and its seal — the redness and the horror of blood.
There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores..."

Edgar Allan Poe - The Masque of the Red Death

In Medieval Europe, the wretched nobleman Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) is extracting his rent from the local villagers and takes affront to insults from two men, ordering them to be killed - he is stopped when a young woman Francesca (Jane Asher) begs him to save their lives. With the discovery of the feared Red Death in the village, Prospero flees, taking the girl and the two men as prisoners with him. Safely inside his castle, Prospero and his assembled guests are safe from the ravaging plague and the Prince makes a move to corrupt the young girl, but Juliana (Hazel Court) is jealous and goes to extreme lengths to prove that she is a more than willing disciple of the devil...

AIP were on to a winning formula with their horror films, Roger Corman's strong direction, Edgar Allan Poe for inspiration and superb lead performances from Vincent Price had lead to a number of popular titles - but the producers had tried to change things a little to keep the series varied and their all out comedy title Comedy of Terrors (1964) had proven rather less sucessful than normal, so for the ninth entry to the series, AIP returned to their classic formula - but in the process created a very different film.

The writers, Charles Beaumont (who had proven himself with the previous entries Premature Burial (1962) and Haunted Palace (1963)) and R. Wright Campbell (a Corman regular but working on his first horror film) provide a solid script, as usual, taking inspiration from Poe's text but creating a new and original story around them that effectively captures the atmosphere of the original work. A second Poe work also makes an appearance in the form of Hop-Toad which is very closely adapted and provides the film with a clever and well integrated little subplot, culminating in a disturbing set-piece. Quite unusually the rest of the film is heavy in philosophy not horror with Prospero detailing his faith in the power of Satan and the death of God. Most startling however is the film's dramatic climax which instead of divulging into a mere massacre becomes genuinely surreal and bizarre - a strong contrast to most of the Anglo-American horror films from the same era which despite their fantasy settings were particularly traditional in their linear formats - Hammer in particular rarely even used dream sequences.

The first of the series to be filmed in Britain, Masque of the Red Death took advantage of sets left over from the historical film Becket (1964), filling them with a plentiful cast of extras to give the production a uniquely opulent feel among the Poe works, the earlier titles of which are noted for their tiny casts and oft-recycled sets. Corman works away from his usual cameraman Floyd Crosby and instead with Nicolas Roeg who certainly captures the atmosphere of the earlier productions and helps to present the unreal atmosphere of the film's climax in a way that hints at some of his well known future works.

Vincent Price is utterly masterful in the lead role, looking every bit comfortable in his surroundings and 15th Century dress with what is certainly one of his best performances. Something of a horror star for a few years following the sucess of Hammer's Curse of Frankenstein (1957) the buxom Hazel Court gives a fine performance as a willing disciple of the devil, while the young and rather more petite Jane Asher plays very effectively the village girl kidnapped by the Prince - they are both treated to some superb outfits throughtout the film. Being a British helmed film, a variety of familiar local faces crop up in the supporting roles, including Nigel Green and Patrick Magee fresh off their appearances in Zulu (1964).

Delving into the beautifully surreal at its climax and boasting an all round fine cast and splendid direction, Masque of the Red Death is rightly hailed among the best of the 1960s horror films and is certainly the highlight of the AIP horror cycle and of Corman's own directoral œuvre. Highly recommended to fans of Price, Corman and Poe it makes a great starting place to explore the AIP series and is of interest to all fans of classic horror films.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Vincent Price- One of the great icons of horror who got his start in the Universal Horror Tower of London (1939)
Hazel Court - the British actress who also appeared in Corman's The Raven (1963) and Premature Burial (1962)
Directed by anyone interesting? Roger Corman - made his start in directing with a series of low budget pictures including Swamp Women (1955), he later moved into production, responsible for hundreds of low budget horror, sci-fi and war movies.
Is it scary? Some effective atmosphere and a couple of jump shocks
Any gore or violence ? Some blood in several scenes.
Any sex or nudity? None.
Who is it for? Highly recommended to all fans of Poe, Price and Corman and of interest to all classic horror fans.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print quality is decent with good colours but the bitrate seems quite low. A couple of noticable but brief instances of print damage.
Audio English language original mono sound. Notable crackling and hiss throughout.
French dub track.
Subtitles French and Spanish.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Interview with Roger Corman about this film and the Poe cycle in general, lots of interesting information (18 minutes)
  • Original Theatrical trailer - lots of spoilers.
Availability Only available in a double-bill pack with The Premature Burial DVD on a dual-sided disc.
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? A British R2 release from Optimum, lacks the extra features - (note: an earlier British disc from WB, still available in some places, is in fullscreen). The print is the same as the US release.
Cuts? The print used is the US theatrical print which avoided the heavy cuts required in the UK but does lack a brief dialogue scene that has been seen in other prints. The print is English language.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 23rd April 2008.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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