The Masque of the Red Death – 1964
Director – Roger Corman
Starring – Vincent Price
Despite it’s lofty source material, and it’s pedigree of themes, this Roger Corman directed version of The Masque of the Red Death seems more interested in cheap spectacle than it is in characterization and story-telling. This isn’t necessarily bad, as sometimes cheap spectacle, gratuitous cleavage, and gaudy thrills is just what the doctor ordered.
The Masque of the Red Death stars Vincent Price as Prince Prospero, a sadistic and cruel ruler of a castle overlooking a small town. As the story begins, he is verbally attacked by one of the towns people who are sick of the mis-treatment, and abuse they receive from him. Prospero sentences the man and one of his compatriots to death, but before this can be carried out, the wife and daughter respectively of the two men, pleads for their lives. Seeing a game, and some amusement in all of this, Prospero brings them all to his castle. On their way out of the small town he discovers a kind of plague called the Red Death in the village, and orders the town burned to the ground. From here, the story takes place completely at Prince Prospero’s opulent castle.
Not having seen a Roger Corman film before, I didn’t know quite what to expect. The sets were bargain basement. They consisted of a couple of shoddy props dressed up with strong lighting and color, and this ended up being the true star of the show. The craft of the film was, at best, shoestring, and at worst, threadbare. The acting was hammy and overwrought, and the motivation of the characters seemed cartoonish and exaggerated.
That being said, I can understand the motivation for making something like this. I have to imagine the goal was to spend as little time and money on a feature film, quickly edit it and get it out there, and try to make as much money with it as humanly possible. I can understand the attraction of audiences wanting to see a movie like this. I enjoyed myself, after all. It was full of campy hilarity, and it kept me busy for an hour and a half. And I understand the historical significance that Roger Corman and Russ Meyer played in the movie industry. Each man brought film-making a step closer to the people, and a step further from the studio’s control. They gave the first chances at directing to some of those who would be considered the best of the best from the 70’s through the present (Scorsese, Cameron, Bogdonovich, etc..), and allowed them the creative freedom to get their feet in the door. What I don’t understand is why this film deserves to be on the list of 1001 movies that someone should see before they die. Again, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it seemed like they wanted to represent a specific genre of film, but didn’t feel that any one in particular could be singled out, so they just picked it out of a hat.
These movies are fun. I really like Vincent Price, and he lives up to his reputation as a ridiculous, over-the-top personality in this film, but it is easily replaced by any number of campy horror themed classics, from this era. Too bad, I thought it was gonna be awesome.