Exploitation king Roger Corman goes artsy with The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and while the results are uneven, they’re certainly not without interest. It was the logical progression—and apex—of Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe cycle, which has shown the director tussling with artistic leanings since it began with House of Usher. Moving the production to England probably had some impact—and employing future director Nicolas Roeg as cinematographer certainly. Visually this is the most striking movie Corman ever made. As is always the case, it’s only sort of an adaptation of the Poe story (with the story “Hop Frog” folded into it). It presents Prince Prospero (Vincent Price, of course) as a Satanist—and a sadist, if it comes to that—who believes that his deal with the Prince of Darkness is holding the plague (the red death) at bay, promising safety to all those inside his castle. Not surprisingly, things don’t work out quite that way. The British cast—including Jane Asher (mostly famous now for having been engaged to Paul McCartney) and Nigel Green—lends a certain weight to the proceedings, but Corman’s showman tendencies made sure that in the end this was a vehicle for his key horror star Price. That’s a plus or a minus depending on your outlook, but it certainly ensured a strong horror box office.
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