The Masque of the Red Death feels like a pre-cursor to the current pandemic. It begins in Wuhan, China where the evil Xi Jinping is creating a virus in a lab… Oh, no, that’s a fantasy story because if you can trust anyone, it’s the Chinese Communist Government.
So, in this one, there’s a plague known as the Red Death, which heads round the land, taking whoever it pleases, but some believe they can escape it by seeking solace inside the castle of Prince Prospero (Vincent Price – The Complete Dr Phibes Boxset).
After the young Francesca (Jane Asher – Brian Pern) is struck by some bad men for future crimes against ’80s TV cookery shows, at the bidding of the Prince, she is forced to make a choice between sacrificing her father or her lover. Or, maybe he’ll just kill everyone and burn the village to the ground? Yeah, he’s a bit of a prick.
She then has no choice but to stay the night in the castle, where Prospero takes pleasure in mocking the guests at his soiree. Worse still, Prospero is the kind of sicko who enjoys murdering AND seeing people murdered for his own entertainment. However, he won’t let her into a particular room in his castle, as it’s something to fear, while talking a load of waffle about ‘helping save her soul, so she can join him in the glories of hell’.
Others talk about ‘giving their life to Satan’. Don’t expect this film to make a huge amount of sense, but it does look great, such as when one sacrifices themself and ends up walking through a series of single colour rooms, from white, to purple, to yellow. The original story had seven coloured rooms, but this film only has four including a completely black room with a red window (this is starting to sound like Play School).
Meanwhile, outside the castle is a man in a red outfit – aka The Red Death (John Westbrook) – who’s planning to become a bit of a party pooper by dishing out tarot-style cards before the fate that comes.
Hence, it’s no surprise that, at one point, Francesca sums up her understanding of the plot with, “I don’t know… I don’t know…”
Yes, this film is a definite case of style over substance, but looks great if you’ve been wanting a version that looks at its best.
The Masque of the Red Death is made available in both theatrical (89:02) and extended (90:58) versions, the latter for the first time. It’s not easy to describe what’s cut between them, since as the booklet describes, there’s so many small bits and pieces which have been clipped over the years, and in various territories.
However, for part of this, as per Wikipedia:
- British censors removed a scene where Hazel Court’s character imagines a series of demonic figures attacking her while she lies on a slab. Roger Corman recalled years later: “From the standpoint of nudity, there was nothing. I think she was nude under a diaphanous gown. She played the consummation with the Devil, but it was essentially on her face; it was a pure acting exercise. Hazel fully clothed, all by herself, purely by acting, incurred the wrath of the censor. It was a different age; they probably felt that was showing too much. Today, you could show that on six o’clock television and nobody would worry.”
The picture looks stunning for a film that’s almost 60 years old. The only time it ever gets slightly iffy is when there’s a reel change, as you’ll get the expected print flecks and/or a brief, small loss of focus. However, this is all down to the original print and it is a very old film. I’ve given the picture a score of 9 because it’s a visual treat with some issues that can’t be changed at this point.
In addition to the slipcase, booklet and five art cards (see the unboxing video above), the other extras are as follows:
- On Colour and Censorship in The Masque of the Red Death (10:12): This brief extra (featuring Keith Johnston – although I can’t find out what his line of work is) goes into a small amount of detail about the censorship aspect (do read the booklet for the full story), but a lot more into the technicalities of the colours, and how the UK and US prints looked different because of how they were processed in different ways.
- Roger Corman: In Conversation with Kim Newman at the BFI – October 25th 2013 (61:36): A long interview between film critic and author Kim Newman and producer/director Roger Corman. This is split into eight chapters.
- Behind the Scenes Still Gallery (0:48): Just eight of them.
- Audio commentary: with Kim Newman and author Sean Hogan. This is on the extended cut, only.
The menu features clips from the film set to… complete silence. Why is that? I get the feeling someone’s made a boo-boo there. Subtitles are in English only, and there are just a bog-standard 12 chapters. A Special Edition-type release should have more effort made in that sphere.
Running time: 90/91 minutes (theatrical/uncut versions)
Distributor: Vintage Classics
Released: January 25th 2021
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio
Subtitles: English SDH
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Colorscope)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Roger Corman
Producer: Roger Corman
Screenplay: Charles Beaumont, R Wright Campbell
Story: Edgar Allan Poe
Music: David Lee
Prince Prospero: Vincent Price
Juliana: Hazel Court
Francesca: Jane Asher
Gino: David Weston
Ludovico: Nigel Green
Alfredo: Patrick Magee
Hop Toad: Skip Martin
Scarlatti: Paul Whitsun-Jones
Guard: Robert Brown
Señor Veronese: Julian Burton
Esmeralda: Verina Greenlaw
Anna-Marie: Doreen Dawne
The Red Death: John Westbrook (uncredited)
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.