Talk about a story for our times!
Masque of the Red Death is one of Roger Corman’s best Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures, anchored by Vincent Price at the top of his game as evil Prince Prospero.
Prospero (Price) is a medieval tyrant who makes life miserable for the peasants grinding out a meager existence on his land. He takes their crops and burns the village to the ground upon learning that the “Red Death” (plague) is loose in the countryside.
Smitten by Francesca, a virtuous village girl (Jane Asher, Paul McCartney’s first flame), Prospero spirits her away—along with her father (Nigel Green) and her fiancé (David Weston)—to his castle for the amusement of his sin-soaked courtier cronies, who seem to be staying for the season.
Outside the castle walls, the less-fortunate starve and succumb to the swift-moving contagion. Inside, Prospero goads his party guests into animalistic abandon, as he tries his damndest to corrupt the chaste and faithful Francesca.
As a melodramatic matinee redolent in gothic splendor with a high degree of creepy, Masque of the Red Death measures up.
Corman’s budget-friendly, vivid production holds together reasonably well, and is profoundly augmented by Price’s fiendish charisma, a lean, provocative script by Twilight Zone writer Charles Beaumont, and the saturated color photography of future arthouse auteur Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now, Bad Timing).
In the final analysis, I’m guessing it’s the theme of a vicious narcissistic ruler engaged in depravity while his subjects suffer that resonates so strongly with the 2020 crowd.
Just sounds so hauntingly familiar.