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B-Movie Cult Classics "the Masque of the Red Death"

Teo Marcelo is art geek from Ukraine. He is a passionate rock- and movie-lover since childhood and has a profound knowledge in this topics.


King of low-budget and exploitation movies

As the title suggests, my very erudite readers, this film is nothing more than a film adaptation of the eponymous story of the neo-Gothic writer Edgar Allan Poe. The film is part of a series of the Gothic classics film adaptations by Roger Corman, created on the basis of the film company American International Pictures. This company was specialized in the production of low-budget films in the genre of horror and science fiction, aimed at adolescents. Its heyday came at the time of collaboration with Corman and his classic works of American Gothic adaptations. It should now be noted that Corman's films, although aimed at a mass audience, were created according to the time-tested classic scheme of Hollywood cinema, with many of its advantages and good traditions. The canons worked, the tickets were bought, and the critics were mostly satisfied. Both the wolves have eaten much and the sheep have not been touched!

The plot of the picture is Corman's expanded vision of the embodiment of Poe's work on the screen. Due to the fact that the material in Poe's short stories was enough only for a good short film, Corman, as a rule, expanded the films due to his author's vision of this story. He also periodically managed to combine several of the writer's stories into one film. For example, most of his film adaptation of "Well and Pendulum" is occupied by material from another work by Poe - "Ligeia", and only the final section corresponds to the theme of the work with the same name. In the case of "The Masque of the Red Death", the script for which was written by the American science fiction writer Charles Beaumont, there is also a borrowing from the story of Edgar our Allan "Jump", in particular the side storyline of the court dwarf. But the main plots storyline with the epidemic of the deadly disease "red death", named by analogy with the plague of "black death", which is spread by an unknown man in red clothes and Prince Prospero, who arranges a masquerade ball in the middle of the plague, remained unchanged.

MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH - Newly restored in 4K - Trailer

From a director's point of view, "The Masque of the Red Death" is a very conservative film, shot according to all the rules of commercial cinema of the 60's. Editing and camera work recede into the background, giving way to scenery, costumes and acting. The film really looks more like a costume drama than a horror movie. On the other hand, what frightened people then is unlikely to look convincing now. Therefore, the picture is easily reclassified from a horror film into a mystical drama with a symbolic connotation.


And this is Vincent Price in person!

Well, if I already mentioned acting, I will not torment you with a long wait. An incredible achievement of the director and the main ace up his sleeve in this film is the acting of the main star of the films based on the Poe works - Vincent Price. In these films, he laid the foundations of such a phenomenon in Hollywood cinema as the "charismatic antagonist." There is no comparison between his Prince Prospero and short-spoken original. The screenwriter and actor did a great job of endowing the prince with his special manner of behavior and perverted philosophy inherent in the main villains of adventure-superhero-fantasy films. The approach to creating the image of the main antagonist will then be traced in other Hollywood fiends like Khan from "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" or the Joker from Tim Burton's first "Batman". Add more love to classical music and another mannered Hannibal Lecturer is ready to appear in your film. In "The Masque of the Red Death", Prince Prospero is a powerful, cruel, supreme Satanic-Nietzschean aristocrat of spirit. His speeches are full of Byronic God-fighting appeals and aesthetic admiration for the forces of darkness. If you tried to imagine the superman of a half-mad German philosopher with a cool mustache in a colorful version of cheap horror from the 60's, it would definitely be Prince Prospero. Vincent Price's exquisite charm and charisma are a perfect match for a character who, in every conversation, does not forget to splash his interlocutor in the face with caustic cynicism and obsessively proclaims the "death of God" and the lifelong reign of Satan. The costumers further emphasized the demonic nature of the character with his clothes, which are full of East Arabic motifs, which people have always subconsciously associated with the forces of the Devil. Against the background of Price, who generates charisma and charm in each frame in just kilotons, I don't even want to say anything about the roles of Jane Escher and Patrick Maggie, who look just pathetic next to His Majesty Prince Prospero. Here he is, in some caricatures, in some ways vulgar, and in some ways unsurpassed, ruthless Prince Prospero, who does not put in anything, neither ordinary French serfs, nor equal in status freaks from the world of aristocracy. And the death of this character also ends in a Byronic way, being victorious by the dispassionate force of fate.

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So what does that leave us?

So what does that leave us? In my opinion, it is not necessary to be in the history of cinema to be Sergei Eisenstein or Ingmar Bergman, it is enough to do your job well, with taste and to hit the main thing in the generation of future directors - their childhood and youth. It will be hard for me to believe that the directors of the Italian horror school Mario Bava or Dario Argento were not inspired by films from the Roger Corman series. The influence is especially noticeable in the use of grotesque scenery and bright contrasting colors, as, for example, in "Suspiria" (1977), which is not typical for the genre. However, the most important admirer of Corman's films and Vincent Price's art in particular is Tim Burton, who raised his childhood love for B-movie horror films to a much higher level, turning it into a cult. It was Price who voiced Burton's first short cartoon, not surprisingly called Vincent, and it was his modern Gothic fairy tale master who invited Edward Scissorhands to play the professor-fathers role. With this gesture, he seems to demonstrate who his real ideological father is. And I, in turn, offer my readers, in the manner of the heroes of the film, to find time during the current pandemic and watch some of the most outstanding works of such a good craftsman of low-budget horror as Roger Corman.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

© 2021 Bogdan Marchenko

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