The 7th, and penultimate, of Roger Corman’s adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe, most of which starred the formidable and always game Vincent Price, 1964’s Masque of the Red Death may also be the finest.
Price is on fine form as the wicked Prince Prospero, eyebrow arched and moustache meticulously manicured, revelling in the ripeness of his dialogue, as he retreats to his castle to avoid a deadly plague.
Corman’s cheap and cheerful conveyor belt approach to filmmaking is renowned for giving plenty of cinematic titans their start, with Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich among their number. But Masque perhaps demonstrates one of Corman’s most intriguing creative collaborations, with visionary director Nicolas Roeg on cinematography duties. It’s not hard to see Masque’s gorgeously lurid colours and strange sensuality reflected in Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, or its red-cloaked harbinger of death influencing the iconic ghostly vision which haunts the frames of Don’t Look Now.
While Corman may have guided the careers of more famous filmmakers, his own films are endlessly entertaining and rightly regarded as classics today. Scorsese’s Film Foundation was partly responsible for this brand new restoration – and when it was unveiled last year, many found the film had a striking contemporary relevance in our age of Covid-19.
The critic Peter Bradshaw called The Masque of the Red Death “a captivatingly weird film” and it’s hard to argue. With influences like Bergman’s The Seventh Seal bumping up against its bizarre and gaudy charms, it is an intoxicating, irresistible concoction.