DECEMBER 7, 2010
Many of the Poe adaptations basically keep the actual story to the end and force Roger Corman and his screenwriters to come up with acts 1 and 2. The Masque Of The Red Death is no different; even the plot synopsis for the film on IMDb summarizes the short story more than the film. Luckily I forgot the specifics of the story (I read it in grade school), so I was able to just enjoy it on its own merit, instead of sitting around waiting for “The Red Death” to show up.
Also like other Corman/Poe productions, it borrows from another story, in this case Hop-Frog, which is turned into a running subplot throughout the film. It’s not the smoothest addition – some of the scenes telling the story (the guy putting on the monkey suit, for example) are awkwardly shoehorned in between other scenes, hurting the pace and momentum a bit. Also, couldn’t they have found a dwarf girl to play the jester’s wife, instead of a little girl with a dubbed woman’s voice? It’s like Orphan, but without it being a twist. But I like how it all turns out, especially since Vincent Price doesn’t seem to be too concerned that a man is being immolated at his party.
Ah, Price. His goofy hats aside, it’s not as showy of a role as some of the others, but he seems to enjoy playing a villain who is also the main character – no fiance’s brothers or whatever this time around. My favorite scenes are when he’s confronted by folks trying to gain access to his castle, as he is allowed to display some of his trademark smarm (love his reaction to the guy offering him his wife), as well as a touch of humanity – he refuses to let his guards shoot the child that’s with the poor bastards that are trying to get in (and possibly bring the plague with them).
As for the people who are inside – they are the most easily amused people I’ve ever seen. I guess it sort of makes sense when you take the ending into account, but for the 80 minutes prior, I just kept wondering why he even bothered doing anything that could be considered entertainment – these yahoos would probably laugh at a candle slowly burning out. The only time they ever stop laughing is when the monkey guy is being burned to death (I would have KILLED for a single guy still laughing, and then being like “oh, right. Sorry.”). It’s not that funny, folks!
I was also tickled when Price notices someone wearing red and chases after him. In a wide shot, we see at least 5 other people who have broken his “no red” rule. It reminded me of when I went to a “gala” Armageddon screening last May, which was supposed to be formal dress. So I, a guy who wears jeans 365 days of the year, donned some dress pants and a button shirt and tie... and then no one else seemingly got that memo. Of 200 or so people, I’d say maybe 6 of them were dressed “appropriately”, mostly women. Funny how clothes can stick out like that (I took off the tie at least).
Production-wise, this is easily the most accomplished and “classy” of Corman’s films. He used the sets from Becket, which helped stretch his dollar a bit, but the camerawork, the number of extras, the crazy dream sequences – it’s all very impressive, and bearing none of the “cheapness” that is often associated with the guy. It’s a shame that, for younger film fans, his name brings to mind Z-grade 90s and 00s schlock (not to mention his constant lampooning on MST3k) than films like this. Hopefully MGM (who seems to own the rights to all of his Poe films) will put together a nice boxed set of the lot of them, with some nice bonus features, not unlike the William Castle set that Sony put out last year. Not only would it be nice to have, it could help younger horror fans gain a new perspective on the guy, instead of “the producer of Dinocroc vs Supergator”.
What say you?