Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Masque of The Red Death (1964) with Vincent Price

The Masque of the Red Death is a 1964 British horror film starring Vincent Price in a tale about a prince who terrorizes a plague-ridden peasantry while merrymaking in a lonely castle with his jaded courtiers. The film was directed by Roger Corman; the screenplay by Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell was based upon the 1842 short story of the same name by American author Edgar Allan Poe. The film is one in a series of eight Corman film adaptations of Poe's works, and incorporates a sub-plot based on another Poe tale, "Hop-Frog." The Masque of the Red Death has been televised in America and has been released on DVD. It was made by American International Pictures.


The story is set in medieval Europe. Prince Prospero, a cruel, jaded Satanist, invites several dozen of the local nobility to his castle for protection against an oncoming plague, the Red Death. The local peasantry, or anyone that the Prince suspects of being infected by the plague, are killed by crossbow fire outside the castle walls, or their villages are burned to the ground.

Subplots include the abduction and attempted corruption of Francesca, an innocent Christian peasant girl, the revenge of the dwarf jester Hop-Frog upon the brute who abuses his beloved mistress, and the Satanic self-initiation and downfall of Prince Prospero's consort Juliana. The film includes one of Corman's distinctive psychedelic dream sequences.

Prospero orders his guests to attend a masked ball, with the stipulation that no one is to wear red. At the ball, amid a general atmosphere of debauchery and depravity, Prospero notices the entry of a mysterious hooded stranger dressed all in red. Believing the figure to be an ambassador from his master, Satan, Prospero addresses him as "your Excellency." As the ball is transformed into a danse macabre, the red-masked figure asks why Prospero keeps calling him "your Excellency," declaring "I have no title." Realizing his error, Prospero rips off the figure's red mask, revealing Prospero's own blood-spattered face.

The figure is not an emissary of Satan, but the Red Death himself, declaring that "There is no face of Death until the moment of your own death ... Each man creates his own God for himself — his own heaven, his own hell."

Prospero attempts to flee through the now-infected crowd, but his red-cloaked self is always in front of him. The Red Death finally corners him, asks him, "Why should you be afraid to die? Your soul has been dead for a long time," and strikes him down.

In an epilogue, the Red Death is playing with his Tarot cards with a young child, laughing as he shows her a card. He then picks up the cards and puts the deck in his robes as other similarly cloaked figures gather around him, each wearing a different colour: the "White Death," the "Yellow Death," the Golden Death, the Blue Death, the Violet Death and the "Black Death." They discuss among themselves the numbers of people each of them had 'claimed' that night, each accepting of their endless terrible task. When asked of his work, the Red Death says to them, "I called many ... peasant and prince ... the worthy and the dishonored. Six only are left." Among the six are Francesca, her fiance Gino, Hop-Toad, the dancer he loves, the little girl the Red Death played cards with and an old man from a nearby village. The Red Death then says "Sic transit gloria mundi" (Latin for "Thus passes tha glory of the world") and the cloaked figures then file offscreen in a grim procession. Over the procession are Poe's final words from the story itself: "And darkness and decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."


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

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