Masque of the Red Death
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
The 303rd review!
My vacation is starting to come to an end and I STILL haven’t hit the lottery yet, so I think I’ll be coming back to work kicking and screaming. Seeing as how we’re in the middle of a pandemic that refuses to be cool and leave, I decided to check out some disease horror and watched...
The Masque of the Red Death (1964). Shudder.
I was told it seemed like I was avoiding any pandemic-related horror and that was a correct statement. At my job I spend about eight-hours reading about it and when I’m off the clock, I need a break. Since I’ve been on vacation and have been on a news blackout, I decided it was OK to expand my selection a bit, and it was nice to watch and review a film that hasn’t come out in the past five years.
Let me start off by saying this movie is super weird. It’s based off an Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name, but with some other stories merged in to pad out the runtime a little bit. Vincent Price plays Prince Prospero, a Satanist and a really big asshole. The first time we see him he orders two people strangled for having the audacity of talking back to him. After the unpleasant business he publicly invites only the nobles in that village to his castle to wait out the Red Death disease laying waste to the country. Problem is, the castle walls aren’t enough to keep out a plague.
Poe never came out and said what exactly the Red Death was, but most people believe it was tuberculosis as many of his family members died from it and his wife was fighting a losing battle against TB at the time he wrote it. The story is really good and haunting and the way he describes the moment everyone starts to succumb to the Red Death is pretty awesome and grotesque in all the right ways.
The movie, sadly, isn’t quite as good, but it’s like 100-times weirder. The whole Satanic subplot kind of comes out of nowhere and leads to some REALLY weird scenes. While going through a ceremony to join the club, a woman, Prospero’s side piece, burned an upside down cross on her chest. Then she has... well... her dream sequence is kind of hard to describe. It’s the trippiest thing I can remember seeing in a movie, that is until about 30 minutes later.
These people in the castle with Prospero are almost entirely full of horrible people. They’re partying and debasing themselves for Prospero’s amusement while people are dying outside. And to make matters worse, none of them are given any opportunity to stand out from the crowd. They’re a faceless mob of laughing mouths that you’re waiting to see get infected. And when do succumb... well... it gets really trippy again. It’s just such a weird stretch in the movie that I’d love to discuss more but it’s so weird that you kind of have to see it for yourself. It’s not that gruesome, that type of horror is coming in the next decade, but it has some disturbing sights and moments.
It’s not the greatest movie in the world. Vincent Price hamming it up as the Satanic prince/super asshole is fun to watch, but I spent my House on Haunted Hill review praising him, so I don’t think I need to rehash that. Director, Roger Corman, agreed with a critic who said the movie was a little too “arty farty” (critic’s quote, not mine) and I think it subtracted from the story. I’m a midwestern male, interpretative dance or whatever that was is not high on my list of things I enjoy in horror movies. I’m watching a certain scene near the end and it goes exactly like things I saw from plays back in high school.
Still, it’s entertaining enough, mainly for Price playing a truly despicable character and to see Poe’s wonderful work come alive on the silver screen. It made the list of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and while I agree it’s worth a watch, I don’t think it’s THAT good. But if you want something pandemic-related, this isn’t a bad way to do it.
5.5 Dr. Chainsaws!
The Masque of Red Death
Directed by Roger Corman 1964
Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is a lavish production from legendary cult director Roger Corman. Vincent Price stars as the evil Prospero, a Prince who has sold his soul and who counts on the promises of the Devil for protection. He hosts incredible, opulent parties for the privileged while the poor die in hovels, starving victims of the Red Death, a devastating plague that is sweeping his lands. Prospero takes a perverse pleasure in the pain and suffering of his supplicants and his friends alike. Cast: Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher