SALUTE TO EDGAR ALLAN POE
The Masque of the Red Death, today’s Trillion Dollar Movie, is one of eight films that Roger Corman produced and directed in the 1960s based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. All but one of the films starred Vincent Price, the lone exception being Premature Burial from 1963 with Ray Milland. The Masque of the Red Death, followed closely by The Tomb of Ligeia, closed out Corman’s Poe series in 1964. Although the series remained popular at the box office, Corman felt he had run out of ideas on how to present Poe creatively, and decided after these final two features to move onto other themes and genres.
That’s unfortunate because Red Death and Ligeia rank among Corman’s best Poe’s adaptations. They certainly are the most stylish and visually impressive. Corman, for the first time, shot on location in Great Britain, rather than stateside. For Red Death, he collaborated with a dazzling, young cinematographer, Nicolas Roeg, who would later shoot Fahrenheit 451, before directing Mick Jagger in Performance and David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth.
In an artistic conceit that works amazingly well, Corman and Roeg chose to use the most brilliant, psychedelic colors for this story, rather than the drab and dark hues so often associated with films based on Poe’s tales and poems. As Irish blogger James Grancey has written, “The film unfolds within a number of opulently lit sets and thematically coloured rooms and chambers. This must surely be one of the most beautiful and lushly filmed horror movies and recalls the eerie beauty of work by the likes of Mario Bava and, eventually, Dario Argento.”
Price, as always, plays a villain, the debauched, power-mad, Satan-worshiping Prince Prospero. He not only mistreats and plunders from the peasants under his command, but also takes great amusement in demeaning the nobles who have gathered around him for protection. Prospero has claimed a ravishing, redheaded Christian girl (Jane Asher) as his latest trophy and fully intends to corrupt her soul, defile her body and then offer her up as a bride to the Master. But while he’s involved in palace intrigues, revelries and masked balls, a plague has spread across the countryside, threatening the lives of thousands, even the wayward fools inside the castle who believe they are immune to its ravages.
The Masque of the Red Death is essentially a morality tale, pitting the pious against the profane, the good versus the evil, the rich against the poor. In the end, none can escape a macabre dance with Death in a work that is as philosophically rich and symbolic as anything by Ingmar Bergman and reminiscent of his The Seventh Seal with multiple Grim Reapers imposing a swift, merciless justice.
Enjoy, and do return next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.