The Masque of the Red Death


1h 30m 1964
The Masque of the Red Death

Brief Synopsis

A sadistic nobleman isolates his court from a world stricken with the plague.

Film Details

Genre
Horror
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1964
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 24 Jun 1964
Production Company
Alta Vista Productions; Anglo Amalgamated Productions
Distribution Company
American International Pictures
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the short story "The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe in Graham's Magazine (May 1842) and his short story "Hop-frog, or the Eight Chained Orang-outangs" in Southern Literary Messenger (Apr 1836).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Pathécolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In 12th-century Italy Prospero, a Satan-worshiping prince, jails two peasants, Gino and Ludovico, for defying his authority to tax citizens. Francesca, Ludovico's daughter and Gino's fiancée, pleads for their lives, and the intrigued Prospero agrees to spare whichever one she chooses. Later, the prince sees evidence of the Red Death plague in the village and orders all houses in the infected area burned. The disease obliges Prospero to retreat to his castle, and he forces Francesca to accompany him, intending to dress her in courtly attire and have her watch him indulge in sadistic pleasures as part of her instruction in diabolism. Juliana, the prince's mistress, is jealous of Francesca but aids her attempt to help Gino and Ludovico escape. The plot is foiled, however, and at one of the events preceding Prospero's annual masked ball, the prince orders the men to cut themselves with five knives, one of which is poisoned. Ludovico is impaled on Prospero's sword when he attempts to kill the prince with one of the weapons, and Gino is banished to the burning village, promising to return. Juliana, meanwhile, sacrifices herself to Satan while Prospero watches unperturbed. On his way back to town, Gino meets a strange figure in red, who takes him back to the castle and instructs him to wait outside for Francesca. As the mysterious intruder enters the ball, Prospero and his guests die of the Red Death, but Gino and Francesca are permitted to survive.

Film Details

Genre
Horror
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1964
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 24 Jun 1964
Production Company
Alta Vista Productions; Anglo Amalgamated Productions
Distribution Company
American International Pictures
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the short story "The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe in Graham's Magazine (May 1842) and his short story "Hop-frog, or the Eight Chained Orang-outangs" in Southern Literary Messenger (Apr 1836).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Pathécolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

The Masque of the Red Death


With few exceptions, the macabre stories of Edgar Allan Poe were rarely adapted for the screen until producer/director Roger Corman came along in 1960 with his trend-setting House of Usher. While Corman was primarily known as an exploitation filmmaker, churning out drive-in fare (It Conquered the Word, 1956, Teenage Doll, 1957, The Wasp Woman, 1960), House of Usher had a touch of class despite a low budget. The rich Gothic ambience, imaginative set design and Vincent Price's sinister presence earned the film surprisingly positive reviews. Best of all, it was a hit with younger audiences eager for a different type of horror film.

Corman would continue to mine Poe's stories for the screen with increasingly mixed results over the years but one of his most faithful adaptations of the author's work was The Masque of the Red Death (1964) which was actually a combination of the original short story as it appeared in Graham's Magazine in May 1842 and Poe's short story "Hop-frog, or the Eight Chained Orang-outangs." It takes place during the 12th century when a plague known as "The Red Death" was spreading across Europe, decimating the population. In the midst of this, Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) has cloistered himself with a select group of aristocrats in his castle fortress where he worships Satan. To pass the time, they play decadent parlor games which usually involve the victimization and torture of some unfortunate peasants. Prospero's most recent act of cruelty involves forcing a local villager Francesca (Jane Asher) to choose between sparing the life of her father or her fiance. Meanwhile, a mysterious cloaked figure journeys toward Prospero's castle for a fateful meeting.

In The Films of Roger Corman by Ed Naha, the director admitted that The Masque of the Red Death "was the biggest and best-looking of the Poe films, the first film we ever did in England. We had a shooting schedule of five weeks which was, as you may realize, two weeks longer than our usual shooting schedule. I thought, 'Gosh, I'm really going to be able to spread myself out on this thing!" At that time, I didn't realize that English crews work much slower than American ones...Still, even a small amount of extra time allowed me to do a lot more stylistically with this production."

Shot at Elstree Studios on a sound stage adjacent to where Roger Moore was working on the TV series The Saint, The Masque of the Red Death also utilized some leftover sets from the historical drama Becket (1964) and the comedy Crooks in Cloisters (both released in 1964). Vincent Price, in his seventh film for Corman, proved why he was one of the director's most reliable stars. "Where Roger and I have worked well together has been in the fact that I am a terrible stickler for explanations," Price explained (in the biography Vincent Price Unmasked by James Robert Parish and Steven Whitney). "Why does a man do something? What should the audience know, see, feel or hear, to know what makes the character do something preposterous? In almost every case, the character I play is not a villain, not a monster; he is someone who is put upon by fate."

In the supporting role of Francesca, Jane Asher makes a very appealing heroine and would go on to distinguish herself as an actress in such films as Alfie (1966), Deep End (1971) and Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972). At the time, Asher was dating Paul McCartney of the Beatles and the pop group's huge hit, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," was actually written by McCartney and John Lennon in the basement of Asher's family home. Other notable cast members include Hazel Court as Prospero's ill-fated mistress Juliana and Patrick Magee as the duke Alfredo who meets a grisly end at the hands of a dwarf he humiliated. Ms. Court was one of the great "scream queens" of British horror, making memorable appearances in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) and Dr. Blood's Coffin (1961). Magee was no stranger to the horror genre either and was appropriately sinister in Dementia 13 (1963), The Skull (1965) and The Fiend (1971). Most audiences though know him best as the unfortunate victim of ultraviolent hoodlums in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971).

The Masque of the Red Death might be the most visually striking of all the Poe Corman adaptations due to Daniel Haller's evocative set design and the cinematography of Nicolas Roeg who would go on to become an acclaimed director (Walkabout, 1971, The Man Who Fell to Earth, 1976). "We attempted to get a really stylized look on the film," Corman said in The Films of Roger Corman. "I had wanted to film this immediately after the House of Usher, but I avoided it because of the haunting figure of death. Death, in our film, is a mysterious cowled figure which, essentially, is the same representation made famous by Ingmar Bergman in The Seventh Seal [1957]. I didn't want to be backed into the position of basing one of my movies on a 19th-century classic of literature and then be accused of copying a 1950s film from Scandinavia." Corman added, "We tried a variety of different techniques to give this movie a different texture from the rest of the Poe films. Aside from the elaborate sets, we choreographed the plague scene during the finale, where Death makes an unscheduled appearance at a masked ball. It gave the entire affair a surreal touch."

None of this was lost on the critics who almost unanimously praised the The Masque of the Red Death. The New York Times commented that Corman "has let his imagination run riot upon a mobile decor singular for its primary color scheme...astonishingly good" and Newsweek called it "a stylish excursion into demonology." Tom Milne in The Encyclopedia of Horror wrote that "Its most striking feature is that there is no sign of the hazily filtered colour effects which tactfully conceal decorative limitations in the American Poe films...More importantly, the film is graced by an uncommonly intelligent script which probes the concept of diabolism with considerable subtlety, even though the black-magic scenes (six minutes worth) were censored out before release."

Producer: Roger Corman, George Willoughby
Director: Roger Corman
Screenplay: Charles Beaumont, R. Wright Campbell, Edgar Allan Poe (story)
Cinematography: Nicolas Roeg
Film Editing: Ann Chegwidden
Art Direction: Robert Jones
Music: David Lee
Cast: Vincent Price (Prospero), Hazel Court (Juliana), Jane Asher (Francesca), David Weston (Gino), Nigel Green (Ludovico), Patrick Magee (Alfredo).
C-89m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford
The Masque Of The Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death

With few exceptions, the macabre stories of Edgar Allan Poe were rarely adapted for the screen until producer/director Roger Corman came along in 1960 with his trend-setting House of Usher. While Corman was primarily known as an exploitation filmmaker, churning out drive-in fare (It Conquered the Word, 1956, Teenage Doll, 1957, The Wasp Woman, 1960), House of Usher had a touch of class despite a low budget. The rich Gothic ambience, imaginative set design and Vincent Price's sinister presence earned the film surprisingly positive reviews. Best of all, it was a hit with younger audiences eager for a different type of horror film. Corman would continue to mine Poe's stories for the screen with increasingly mixed results over the years but one of his most faithful adaptations of the author's work was The Masque of the Red Death (1964) which was actually a combination of the original short story as it appeared in Graham's Magazine in May 1842 and Poe's short story "Hop-frog, or the Eight Chained Orang-outangs." It takes place during the 12th century when a plague known as "The Red Death" was spreading across Europe, decimating the population. In the midst of this, Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) has cloistered himself with a select group of aristocrats in his castle fortress where he worships Satan. To pass the time, they play decadent parlor games which usually involve the victimization and torture of some unfortunate peasants. Prospero's most recent act of cruelty involves forcing a local villager Francesca (Jane Asher) to choose between sparing the life of her father or her fiance. Meanwhile, a mysterious cloaked figure journeys toward Prospero's castle for a fateful meeting. In The Films of Roger Corman by Ed Naha, the director admitted that The Masque of the Red Death "was the biggest and best-looking of the Poe films, the first film we ever did in England. We had a shooting schedule of five weeks which was, as you may realize, two weeks longer than our usual shooting schedule. I thought, 'Gosh, I'm really going to be able to spread myself out on this thing!" At that time, I didn't realize that English crews work much slower than American ones...Still, even a small amount of extra time allowed me to do a lot more stylistically with this production." Shot at Elstree Studios on a sound stage adjacent to where Roger Moore was working on the TV series The Saint, The Masque of the Red Death also utilized some leftover sets from the historical drama Becket (1964) and the comedy Crooks in Cloisters (both released in 1964). Vincent Price, in his seventh film for Corman, proved why he was one of the director's most reliable stars. "Where Roger and I have worked well together has been in the fact that I am a terrible stickler for explanations," Price explained (in the biography Vincent Price Unmasked by James Robert Parish and Steven Whitney). "Why does a man do something? What should the audience know, see, feel or hear, to know what makes the character do something preposterous? In almost every case, the character I play is not a villain, not a monster; he is someone who is put upon by fate." In the supporting role of Francesca, Jane Asher makes a very appealing heroine and would go on to distinguish herself as an actress in such films as Alfie (1966), Deep End (1971) and Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972). At the time, Asher was dating Paul McCartney of the Beatles and the pop group's huge hit, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," was actually written by McCartney and John Lennon in the basement of Asher's family home. Other notable cast members include Hazel Court as Prospero's ill-fated mistress Juliana and Patrick Magee as the duke Alfredo who meets a grisly end at the hands of a dwarf he humiliated. Ms. Court was one of the great "scream queens" of British horror, making memorable appearances in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) and Dr. Blood's Coffin (1961). Magee was no stranger to the horror genre either and was appropriately sinister in Dementia 13 (1963), The Skull (1965) and The Fiend (1971). Most audiences though know him best as the unfortunate victim of ultraviolent hoodlums in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971). The Masque of the Red Death might be the most visually striking of all the Poe Corman adaptations due to Daniel Haller's evocative set design and the cinematography of Nicolas Roeg who would go on to become an acclaimed director (Walkabout, 1971, The Man Who Fell to Earth, 1976). "We attempted to get a really stylized look on the film," Corman said in The Films of Roger Corman. "I had wanted to film this immediately after the House of Usher, but I avoided it because of the haunting figure of death. Death, in our film, is a mysterious cowled figure which, essentially, is the same representation made famous by Ingmar Bergman in The Seventh Seal [1957]. I didn't want to be backed into the position of basing one of my movies on a 19th-century classic of literature and then be accused of copying a 1950s film from Scandinavia." Corman added, "We tried a variety of different techniques to give this movie a different texture from the rest of the Poe films. Aside from the elaborate sets, we choreographed the plague scene during the finale, where Death makes an unscheduled appearance at a masked ball. It gave the entire affair a surreal touch." None of this was lost on the critics who almost unanimously praised the The Masque of the Red Death. The New York Times commented that Corman "has let his imagination run riot upon a mobile decor singular for its primary color scheme...astonishingly good" and Newsweek called it "a stylish excursion into demonology." Tom Milne in The Encyclopedia of Horror wrote that "Its most striking feature is that there is no sign of the hazily filtered colour effects which tactfully conceal decorative limitations in the American Poe films...More importantly, the film is graced by an uncommonly intelligent script which probes the concept of diabolism with considerable subtlety, even though the black-magic scenes (six minutes worth) were censored out before release." Producer: Roger Corman, George Willoughby Director: Roger Corman Screenplay: Charles Beaumont, R. Wright Campbell, Edgar Allan Poe (story) Cinematography: Nicolas Roeg Film Editing: Ann Chegwidden Art Direction: Robert Jones Music: David Lee Cast: Vincent Price (Prospero), Hazel Court (Juliana), Jane Asher (Francesca), David Weston (Gino), Nigel Green (Ludovico), Patrick Magee (Alfredo). C-89m. Letterboxed. by Jeff Stafford

Quotes

Is there anything to fear in that room?
- Francesca
The uninvited have much to fear.
- Prospero
God's dead! Satan killed him!
- Prospero
The Red Death is laying waste to the countryside!
- Prospero
The Red Death? I beg you, Prospero, sanctuary!
- Scarlatti
This is no church!
- Prospero
That cross you wear around your neck; is it only a decoration, or are you a true Christian believer?
- Prospero
Yes, I believe - truly.
- Francesca
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.
- Prospero
You had me take off my cross because it offended....
- Francesca
It offended no one. No - it simply appears to me to be discourteous to... to wear the symbol of a deity long dead.
- Prospero
My ancestors tried to find it. And to open the door that separates us from our Creator.
- Prospero
But you need no doors to find God. If you believe....
- Francesca
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.
- Prospero
There is also love and life and hope.
- Francesca
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.
- Prospero

Trivia

Roger Corman and 'Daniel Haller' were able to make this film look more opulent than earlier productions by using the sets left from Becket (1964).

This was Roger Corman's first film shot in England.

Roger Corman shot this film in England to take advantage of British tax laws. By making this a British production with a British crew, the production got a government subsidy.

Hop Toad's wife, Esmeralda, was played by Verina Greenlaw who was only a child at the time. Her dialog was looped by an adult actress.

Roger Corman had originally wanted this to be his second "Poe" picture following the success of House of Usher (1960). He passed it over because he felt that certain plot elements were too close to Ingmar Bergman's recent _Seventh Seal, The (1957)_ .

Notes

Opened in London in June 1964; running time: 84 min.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1964

Released in United States 2012

Released in United States June 1996

Released in United States October 1997

Released in United States 1964

Released in United States 2012 (Shows)

Released in United States June 1996 (Shown in Los Angeles (American Cinematheque) as part of program "Jagged Time Lapse: A Tribute to Nicolas Roeg" June 1-15, 1996.)

Released in United States October 1997 (Shown at AFI/Los Angeles International Film Festival (Special Presentation-All Night Halloween Movie Marathon) October 23-30, 1997.)