‘We defy you to stare into this face’
The Masque of the Red Death is a 1964 British horror film directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price, Hazel Court and Jane Asher. The screenplay, written by Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell, was based upon the 1842 short story of the same name by American author Edgar Allan Poe and incorporates a sub-plot based on another Poe tale, Hop-Frog. A further sub-plot is drawn from Torture by Hope by Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam.
Satan-worshiper Prince Prospero invites several dozen of the local nobility to his castle for protection against an oncoming plague, the Red Death. Prospero orders his guests to attend a masked ball and, amidst a general atmosphere of debauchery and depravity, notices the entry of a mysterious hooded stranger dressed all in red. Believing the figure to be his master, Satan, Prospero is horrified at the revelation of his true identity…
Roger Corman later said he always felt The Masque of the Red Death and Fall of the House of Usher were the two best Poe stories. After the success of The House of Usher (1960) he strongly considered making Masque as the follow up. However he was reluctant to make it because it had several elements similar to The Seventh Seal (1956) and Corman was worried people would say he was pilfering from Ingmar Bergman.
AIP had a co-production deal with Anglo-Amalgamated in England, so Sam Arkoff and James H. Nicholson suggested to Corman that the film be made there. This meant the film could qualify for the British government’s Eady levy and increase the budget – normally an AIP film was filmed in three weeks, but Masque was shot in five weeks.
Corman later expressed dissatisfaction with the final masque sequence, which he described as “the greatest flaw” in the film, feeling he did not have enough time to shoot it. He filmed it in one day which he said would have been enough time in Hollywood but that English crews were too slow.
British censors removed a scene where Hazel Court’s character imagines a series of demonic figures attacking her while she lies on a slab. Corman recalled years later:
“From the standpoint of nudity, there was nothing. I think she was nude under a diaphanous gown. She played the consummation with the devil, but it was essentially on her face; it was a pure acting exercise. Hazel fully clothed, all by herself, purely by acting incurred the wrath of the censor. It was a different age; they probably felt that was showing too much. Today, you could show that on six o’clock television, and nobody would worry.”
The movie was not as successful as other Poe pictures, which Sam Arkoff attributed to it being “too arty farty” and not scary enough, nonetheless, Corman says the movie is one of his favourites.
Reviews [click links to read more]:
“Some stories need to be told in a big way. More than a simple account of one man’s fall from grace, this is a mythic tale, a morality play as relevant now as it would have been in medieval times. Corman has gifted it with an intensity rarely matched elsewhere in cinema.” Eye for Film
“The settings, characters and dark themes all combine to create a Gothic, surrealistic world suitable to the Red Death’s machinations, and, of course, the pervading sense of horror and foreboding characteristic of a Gothic film. It is therefore unsurprising that The Masque of the Red Death is considered one of Roger Corman’s greatest directorial accomplishments and the high point of the Poe Cycle. It is a brilliant film, both visually and thematically…” Classic-Horror
“Atmospheric, opulent and deeply troubling, The Masque of the Red Death, while taking a few small liberties with the original source material to pad out the running time, does succeed in creating an uncanny and macabre atmosphere and tone that is unmistakably Poe through and through.” Behind the Couch
“The flawlessly crafted film is hypnotic and lands a final crushing blow, which there is no hope of judging. Masque of the Red Death is beauty and beguilement at its darkest and most macabre.” Mike “McBeardo” McFadden, Heavy Metal Movies
Prince Prospero: “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.”
Cast and characters:
- Vincent Price as Prince Prospero
- Hazel Court as Juliana, his mistress
- Jane Asher as Francesca, a peasant girl
- David Weston as Gino, Francesca’s lover
- Nigel Green as Ludovico, Francesca’s father
- John Westbrook as The Red Death
- Patrick Magee as Alfredo
- Skip Martin as Hop Toad, a dwarf jester
- Verina Greenlaw as Esmeralda, Hop Toad’s dwarf lover