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The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Masque of the Red Death was the second of three movies I watched while randomly perusing Netflix Watch Instantly.  This was sandwiched right in-between first time viewings of Countess Dracula and Caligula (yes this is true).  With Countess Dracula being a Hammer film there were preconceived notions about that movie, same here for Masque of the Red Death which is a Roger Corman film.  Corman is the B-movie director known for such films as Piranha and other wacky movies involving blood and nudity.  The Masque of the Red Death is more in line with Corman’s “classier” works like The Pit and the Pendulum and Fall of the House of Usher (you can tell dude likes Edgar Allan Poe).  The Masque of the Red Death is beautiful, sumptuous, and well-acted but the movie is just a weak attempt at being philosophical and debaucherous with a truly off-putting, lecherous performance by Vincent Price.

Prince Prospero (Price) terrorizes the European town over which he holds dominion and takes a shine to the beautiful Francesca (Jane Asher).  He takes Francesca back to his castle but not before noticing that an illness known as the Red Death has taken over the town.  With his wealthy friends locked inside the castle, everyone assumes their safe from the disease.  That is until Francesca discovers everyone in Prospero’s castle is a Satanist getting ready to perform a Black Mass.

I’ve never read Poe’s original tale so I’m not sure if the connection to The Tempest is intentional with naming the lead Prospero.  It could be because Prospero in both stories is playing God, only here Prospero waxes rhapsodic about his undying love for Satan.  There’s many lengthy dialogue exchanges between Prospero and Francesca about religion as she’s a devout Catholic.  It becomes Prospero’s challenge to convert her to the ways of evil.  This would have been great but it didn’t feel like it belonged in the movie, especially with such an emphasis on the plague of the Red Death.  The movie opens with a Seventh Seal-esque personification of Satan or the Red Death and it continues this element in the end.  Again, it’s interesting but I didn’t understand the grander connotations of it.

Vincent Price is creepy in this movie but he’s downright lecherous with his love of Francesca.  Jane Asher was only 18 when she made this and she looks like Lolita opposite Price’s Humbert.  Their relationship is sufficiently creepy.

I don’t really have a lot to say about this film because it was just unmemorable.  It came right after the stupidity of Countess Dracula but right before the jaw-dropping debauchery of watching Caligula.  This was a good precursor to Caligula as this also plays with the elements of excess and debauchery with Prospero eventually coming face-to-face with his version of Hell.  It’s a mediocre movie but not particularly memorable or interesting.

Grade: D

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

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