The Masque of the Red Death (1964, American International Pictures, Dir. Roger Corman)
It's a new work out video, Bleedin' to the Oldies.
As with most of the AIP movie versions of Edgar Allan Poe's works, this movie only uses the story as the merest basis of the plot. In many cases, it's because the stories are just too short. Much of those works have only a few scenes or sometimes even a single scene, so expansion becomes necessary. In fact, Corman has said a few times that they often treated the meat of the story as the third act and made the first two acts the lead up to the story. That being said, I always find some elements added to this story to be a little silly. If you can ignore that bit though, you should be able to do just fine. I find all of Corman's Poe movies to be enjoyable, and this one has much better use of color than any of the others.
Pimpin' ain't never been easy.
The movie is an expanded version of the story, with a few deviations. In this version Prospero brings a young woman from a village near his castle into the celebrations with them. Besides simply setting up the short story, there is story of this young woman and Prospero's attempt to seduce her out of her innocence and into his kind of opulence. The side bit with satanism is surprisingly well thought out and actually seems to be drawn from reading a few Luciferian books or at least having a 30 minute conversation with one or two of them. Not a 45 minute conversation you understand, but a half hour which is more than most would have given.
Vincent Price plays the main character of Prospero, who controls a group of followers and keeps them in his castle. Instead of being a simple hedonist, as he is in the book, Prospero is a Satanist and more or less evil. Sometimes you might see him as simply capricious, but I always thought he was supposed to be deliberately evil in this movie. That's not to say that Price is being wacky or over the top, at least not too much. I always found Price's performances in these movies to be very serious and straight forward. There is a feeling of evil fun in the performance, but it's much more because that's the character. Prospero is something of a sadist and enjoys his sadism.
Yeah, this is where I come to think dark thoughts and write poetry.
Along the way, we actually pick up another Poe story. To add a little flavor the tale of Hop Frog is added to the mix. This time though, it's just the end that they use really. The story is greatly changed in order to fit into Prospero's hedonistic court. The insult to Trippetta (called Esmeralda here) is delivered by one of Prospero's buddies and the vengeance is meted out singularly to him for that reason alone. Also, the character for some reason is called Hop-Toad instead.
Suddenly, Prospero couldn't remember what to say next. A problem made worse because the teleprompter wouldn't be invented for centuries.
As I say, much of the story revolves around Prospero's attempts to seduce young Francesca into his dark world. That involves a bit of a side plot with her father and boy friend having to fight to the death and having said fight delayed until the middle of the movie when Prospero has them duke it out as a bit of dinner theater. They're given training by a guard who I figured out was Robert Brown who became M in the James Bond movies in Octopussy. It reminds me of why I like some of these movies so much. Particularly Red Death is good because there are dozens upon dozen of British actors who I recognize from episodes of The Avengers and other British productions.
Wow, you sure like yellow, huh?
I think one of the reasons that I keep coming back to this though is the use of color in the movie. As cheep as these productions were, color was still being used as something of a novelty at this time. Particularly for B-movies, and all the AIP films were B movies, to have something like color was really a big deal. As a result, they use color in a wonderfully garish fashion. Some something like Red Death, it's even better. When they go through the colored rooms it really leaps out at you. Sadly there are only four chambers instead of the seven from the story, but they manage to make the point quite nicely. The black room doesn't come off very well, but that's to be expected. The way color is used in the rest of the movie though makes it look like a series of the sort of paintings they put into books on glossy paper every twenty or fifty pages. Simplistic single color palates, high contrasts, the use of color is really something brilliant.
In a white room...
There are a few places where this movie seems to come close to feeling Bergman's The Seventh Seal. It's partly in the images, but more in the themes. In interviews Corman admitted an awareness of the comparison, and that it bothered him a little. It seems that he even held off making the movie for a little while because of those fears. I like it though. It passes the time when I need it to. I can recomend this movie for people who like their horror to be fun, but only a little on the campy side. It also delivers on the not slasher and not monster angle that I like. I like a good monster movie, but sometimes I need more than that and slasher movies have never really done a thing for me one way or another.
So... let me get this strait. The Red Death was just one of many singularly colored deaths? Is this some sort of Mighty Morphin' Power Death team?
My DVD is a Double Feature with Red Death on one side and The Premature Burial on the other. It comes with very little in the way of special features. Just an interview and a theatrical trailer. Still, it's very cheep.
Side note: clearly I need to shrink these pictures down more, they sure are taking up a lot of room.