January 21, 2021
Roger Corman’s 1964 cult classic about a medieval pestilence closing in on a decadent count played by Vincent Price has uncomfortable resonance
The Masque of the Red Death review – horribly apt Poe adaptation
Roger Corman’s 1964 movie The Masque of the Red Death is taken from Edgar Allan Poe’s eerie tale from the medieval mist, about a plague closing in on the castle of a cruel and wealthy sensualist. Disease is the implacable god. It’s a horribly appropriate moment for this film’s reappearance.This is an expressionist horror-ballet, extravagantly shot by cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, and for all its theatricality and Grand Guignol, there is really nothing absurd in it. In fact, Corman’s formal artistry and conviction on a limited budget look more impressive than ever, and with his iconic Poe adaptations he did more than anyone in academe to establish the author’s position in the literary canon. That disturbing red-clad figure, and the villain’s horror of the colour red, are surely a premonition of Roeg’s later masterpiece Don’t Look Now, and the mysterious cowled figure and final apocalyptic procession make it almost an indie-pulp American equivalent of Ingmar Bergman.Sonorous Vincent Price plays Prince Prospero, an Italian nobleman with the power of life and death over the poor villagers who are already terrorised by the “red death” pestilence, foretold or caused by a mysterious figure in a red cloak who sits in the bleak forest, his back against a gnarled tree, impassively dealing out tarot cards. On a vicious whim, Prospero orders a beautiful, pious peasant girl called Francesca (Jane Asher), together with her betrothed Gino (David Weston) and father Ludovico (Nigel Green), to be brought back to his castle, where he is preparing to host a magnificent masquerade ball for all his cringing courtier-sycophants, including the resentful Alfredo (Patrick Magee). To Francesca’s horror, Prospero reveals that he and his favoured mistress Juliana (Hazel Court) are satanists, and that this gruesome festival will be an orgy of indulgence climactically offered up to the evil one, in the very midst of poverty and sickness.
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