Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Masque of the Red Death (Corman. 1964)

"And darkness and decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all".


Roger Corman and Vincent Price famously made several film adaptations from the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. Though it may be the least faithful to the source material, The Masque of the Red Death is widely considered the best one that the duo made together. After seeing the movie for myself, I was amazed at how vivid and un-dated it looked. I have only seen two horror movies use color more affectively, Suspiria and Peeping Tom.

Color is where this movie works the best. Everything is highly saturated and made to look flashy and striking. Death colors like black and red pop out from the dull-colored backdrop and forcibly attracts the attention of the audience. In the picture above we see the most intense use of color in The Masque of the Red Death. If you are not aware, the picture depicts different types of disease as represented by a color. Black is the plague, white is tuberculosis, yellow fever is rather obvious and so on with the other colors. I found this moment to be particularly aesthetically frightening, and color had almost everything to do with it.

A film this absurd also has to rely on the work of its cast. Vincent Price is a ridiculously famous name in the eyes of horror fans. Though some of his films seem campy now, there is nothing funny about Red Death. He plays the antagonist - the dreaded Prince Prospero. As his subjects are dying from the awful red plague, Prospero and his guests live it up inside the safe castle walls. Of course, the walls are not enough to stop the red death from finding the evil prince. Everything is explained in the final climactic moment and justice is served to the many unattended or dead peasants outside of the castle walls.

Price is a different kind of sinister in this movie. He gleefully kills and punishes people for simple sport. He forces an innocent young lady to watch as her father and lover are subjected to a sadistic game involving a hidden poisonous dagger. His smirk and smug vocal tone create a disturbing and uneasy feeling in the audience. He may be pure evil.

You find out very quickly in Red Death that Prospero is a worshiper of Satan. He has made a deal with the "Lord of the Flies" in hopes of being in good graces after the red death devours everything. The most frightening scene may be when Prospero mistakes the red death as a messenger from Satan. As it turns out, each person creates their own god, heaven and hell. In reality, the only entity that rules is death - and it comes in many forms.

Aesthetically, The Masque of the Red Death is an outstanding movie. Structurally, it is not particularly great. This is an example of when great performances and artistic achievements are not rewarded with a great screenplay. Corman and screenwriter Charles Beaumont had everything they needed to make a great movie. They ended up only making a neat horror flick.

The Masque of the Red Death: C

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