The seventh of eight Roger Corman film adaptations based on Edgar Allan Poe’s haunting works, The Masque of the Red Death is an interesting entry in the series. Starring the inimitable Vincent Price and boasting lavish cinematography from the great Nicolas Roeg, the film was initially criticised for being too “arty farty” and not scary enough, with Corman himself saying “I think that is a legitimate statement. The fault may have been mine. I was becoming more interested in the Poe films as expressions of the unconscious mind, rather than as pure horror films.”
Based upon the 1842 short story of the same name by Poe (while also incorporating elements based on another of his tales, Hop-Frog, and Torture by Hope by Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam), The Masque of the Red Death follows a prince (Price) terrorising a plague-ridden peasantry while merrymaking in a lonely castle with his jaded courtiers. The luxurious and decadent party at the centre of the film gives the affair its unique visual style, with a sequence of rooms in the castle each designed in different colours and boasting a haunting, gothic style – the sumptuous visuals, shot in expansive Cinemascope by Roeg – hold up remarkably well today, and give the film its uniquely memorable identity.
Unsurprisingly, the other standout of The Masque of the Red Death is the sinister, campy, moustache-twirling performance from the great Vincent Price who relishes in the nastiness of Prince Prospero. Sublime supporting work from Hazel Court and Jane Asher is also noteworthy, but this is Price’s film through and through – he is a villainous delight, worthy of panto boos and hisses whenever he is on screen. The film’s plot is a little messy – adapting three different short stories together creates a little bit of narrative chaos. But the film’s visuals and Price’s sinister performance are enough to recommend The Masque of the Red Death to fans of the genre.
The new release from StudioCanal boasts a gorgeous new 4K restoration from Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation and a bounty of new and archival special features.
The Masque of the Red Death is available on DVD and Blu-ray from January 25, from StudioCanal Home Entertainment.