Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Masque of the Red Death (1964) * * *

Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) is an evil aristocrat in semi-mythical 12th century Europe. The local peasants are devastated by a deadly plague called "The Red Death", but Prospero terrorizes them even more and has their village burned to the ground. When he discovers a beautiful young Christian woman Francesca (Jane Asher) in the village, he is determined to corrupt her soul. Francesca begs for the lives of her father Ludovico (Nigel Green) and Gino (David Weston), the young man she loves. Prospero tells her she can choose who will live and who must die. He stabs her father to death, then takes Francesca to his castle. This is just a prelude to the main part of the film where Prospero and his court are holed up in his castle.

Prospero: That cross you wear around your neck--is it only a decoration, or are you a true Christian believer?
Francesca: Yes, I believe. Truly.
Prospero: Then I want you to remove it at once! And never to wear it within this castle again! Do you know how a falcon is trained my dear? Her eyes are sown shut. Blinded temporarily she suffers the whims of her God patiently, until her will is submerged and she learns to serve--as your God taught and blinded you with crosses.
Francesca: You had me take off my cross because it offended...
Prospero: It offended no one. No--it simply appears to me to be discourteous to... to wear the symbol of a deity long dead. My ancestors tried to find it. And to open the door that separates us from our Creator.
Francesca: But you need no doors to find God. If you believe...
Prospero: Believe? If you believe you are gullible. Can you look around this world and believe in the goodness of a god who rules it? Famine, Pestilence, War, Disease and Death! They rule this world.
Francesca: There is also love and life and hope.
Prospero: Very little hope I assure you. No. If a god of love and life ever did exist... he is long since dead. Someone... something, rules in his place.

The "Red Death" is spreading around the countryside so Prospero invites several dozen of the local nobility to his castle for protection against the oncoming plague, and orders his guests to attend a masked ball with the stipulation that no one is to wear red. He find ways to keep himself amused with a series of sadistic games and actions.

The peasants are virtually wiped out by the plague, and six lonely survivors, including a very young girl, come to the gates of Prospero's castle, begging sanctuary in his castle which is still uncontaminated by the "Red Death". He orders his archers to kill them all, but he spares the little girl. It is things like this that change Francesca forever and make her realize just how cruel and merciless Prospero is. Prince Prospero's consort Juliana (Hazel Court) brands her breast for his bored amusement. Subplots include the revenge of dwarf entertainer Hop-Toad (Skip Martin) upon the brute who abused his beloved miniature mistress, and the damnation and death of Juliana. The film includes one of director Corman's distinctive psychedelic dream sequences.

Francesca: Juliana betrayed us.
Prospero: She betrayed me.
(Juliana has been killed)
Prospero: I beg you do not mourn for Juliana. We should celebrate. She's just married a friend of mine.
Scarlatti: Sir, at least spare my wife. I give her to you to do what you please.
Prospero: I've already had that doubtful pleasure. I don't corrupt, I inform. The way is not easy, I know, but I will take you by the hand and lead you through the cruel light into the velvet darkness.
Francesca: Forgive them!
Prospero: Forgive them? If my hound bites my hand after I have fed and caressed him, should I allow him to go undisciplined?

At the ball Prospero insists that his guests indulge in numerous depraved games, most of them ending with someone's death. Only two innocents are permitted to escape intact, but they go through the torments of the Damned to do so. Alfredo (Patrick Magee) is horribly burned to death by "Hop Frog" (Skip Martin), Prospero's demonic flunky. Then amidst a general atmosphere of debauchery and depravity, Prospero notices the entry of a mysterious hooded stranger dressed all in red (John Westbrook). Believing the figure to be an ambassador from his master, Satan, Prospero addresses him as "your Excellency". As the ball is transformed into a danse macabre, the red-masked figure asks why Prospero keeps calling him "your Excellency", declaring "I have no title". Realizing his error, Prospero rips off the stranger's red mask, revealing his own face--and is horrified at the revelation of his true identity.

Prospero: But I made a pact with Satan!
Man in red: He alone does not rule the universe.
Prospero: No! There is no other ruler, God's dead!
Man in red: Man creates his own God, his own devil, his own heaven and his own hell. This is your hell.

The figure is not an emissary of the devil, but the "Red Death" itself, declaring that "When you look into the face of Death, you see yourself." Prospero attempts to flee through the now-infected crowd, but his red-cloaked self is always in front of him. The Red Death finally corners him, and asks him, "Why are you afraid to die, Prospero? Your soul died a long time ago", and strikes him down.

In the epilogue, the "Red Death" is playing with his Tarot cards with a young child, smiling as he shows her a card. He then picks up the cards and puts the deck in his robes as other similarly cloaked figures gather around him, each wearing a different colour: the "Green Death", the "Yellow Death", the "Black Death", etc. They discuss among themselves the numbers of people each of them had "claimed" that day, each remorseful of their endless terrible task. When asked of his work, the Red Death says to them "I claimed many, only six remain." The cloaked figures then file offscreen in a grim procession.

THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is an American International Pictures horror film based on an 1842 short story of the same name by American author Edgar Allan Poe, and incorporates a sub-plot based on another Poe tale, "Hop-Frog". This movie is one in a series of 8 Roger Corman adaptations of Poe's works. Filmed in just five weeks, this gothic horror classic is one of Corman's best films and is also one of his most stylish. Corman had been given a bigger budget than usual and it really shows. From the beautiful photography of England to Juliana's nightmare sequence, this classic is a visual feast. The film uses costumes and sets from the historical film BECKET (1964).

Vincent Price, the master of the horror genre, gives a truly outstanding performance in one of his most evil roles. He is wonderfully sinister as Prince Prospero, who is relatively restrained, even when he is ordering people garroted or tossing a woman a dagger so she can kill herself. Price's performance is superbly complemented throughout by the crimson-dominated cinematography of Nicholas Roeg. Prospero's equally evil wife worships Satan with even more passion than he does. One of the best performances comes from Skip Martin as Hop Toad, who does a lot with the sadistic subplot. Finally justice in the form of the "Red Death" prevails and Prospero's reign of terror comes to an end.

The cast also includes: Paul Whitsun-Jones (Scarlatti), Robert Brown (Guard), Julian Burton (Señor Veronese), David Davies, Gaye Brown (Señora Escobar), Verina Greenlaw (Esmeralda), Doreen Dawn (Anna-Marie), Brian Hewlett (Lampredi), Sarah Brackett, David Allen, Dorothy Anelay, Gerry Atkins, Jill Bathurst, Julian Bolt, Norris Boyd, Ricky Clarke, Ronald Curran, Alan Dalton, Gladys Davison, Robert de Warren, Rosemarie Dunham, Jane Evans, Dorothy Fraser, Edith Gey, Terry Gilbert, Sally Gilpin, Bertie Green, Harvey Hall, Janet Hall, Janet Kedge, Brigitte Kelly-Espinoza, Joanna Kubik, Seraphina Lansdown, Gale Law, Delia Linden, Jean Lodge, Tony Manning, Len Martin, Norman McDowell, Stanley Meadows, Hugh Morton, Bill Owen, Joan Palethorpe, Fred Peters, Maureen Sims, Roy Staite, John Stone, Angela Symonds, Caroline Symonds, Stanley Tiller, Jenny Till, David Wishart, and Selina Wylie. David Leeco composed the original music. Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell wrote the screenplay adapted from Edgar Allen Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" and "Hop Frog". Roger Corman directed.

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