(1964) dir. Roger Corman
Roger Corman is known for many films mostly as a producer of low-budget horror and/or exploitation films, but he also has a more critical notability for the several films that he directed himself from the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Actually, he made seven altogether as director, of which The Masque of the Red Death is considered to be the height of his production values. And it’s interesting, for a man who was more known for adding blood and keeping budgets tight, even claiming at one point that he never lost money on a movie, his approach to Poe is relatively true to the tone and story, focusing on mood and atmosphere over the flowing of the fake red stuff, even in a film about “the Red Death”.
And Corman employed some of his solidly notable assistants in this film, from co-screenwriter Charles Beaumont, one of The Twilight Zone‘s best writers as well as an excellent horror/science fiction author to cinematographer Nicolas Roeg who would go on to make Walkabout (1971), Don’t Look Now (1973), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) among others. Corman is notable for getting all number of filmmakers, actors, and other film professionals their starts, so it’s little wonder to see him working with all kinds of quality folks.
This film also benefited from Corman’s finageling of filming in London (apparently to get tax breaks) and being able to use sets that had been constructed for larger budget productions set in a similar era. And the inimitable Vincent Price as the villainous Prince Prospero, the devil-worshipping, murderous noble who celebrates in debauchery while the poor in the countryside fall to the plague, the “Red Death” of the title.
Overall, the film is workman-like in its dedication to its material, a straight-forward, only occasionally surreal interpretation of the story. While the narrative additionally empoys the story from another Poe piece, “Hop Frog”, the whole thing holds together well. It’s not really frightening nor ultimately powerful to my estimation, but it’s still hard to fault altogether too.
The best sequences are perhaps those in which the red figure of death appears on a hill, where ultimately at the end he is joined by other multicolored “deaths”. You get some of the sensibility of Beaumont here, if I don’t miss my guess. And Roeg’s camera has occasion to drift into more subjective and strange visuals. Actually, the credit sequence at the end is quite striking. In all, this is probably of Corman’s Poe films that I’ve seen the most and/or most-recently. As a left-over from Halloween, and paired with Premature Burial (1962) on the disc, I’ll be watching at least one more of these before my Halloween cycle ends.