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Blu-ray Review

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The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
(2021 4K Restoration)


Starring: Vincent Price, Hazel Court and Jane Asher
Distributor: StudioCanal
RRP: £29.99


Certificate: 15
Release Date: 25 January 2021

The cruel and decadent Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) returns to his castle through a peasant village. They tell him an old Grandmother (Sarah Brackett) met a holy man who explained that their release from tyranny is at hand. Prospero decides to have some sport with the people and orders the village burnt to the ground. He also kidnaps the beautiful Francesca (Jane Asher) whose unyielding faith fascinates him. But the old woman had the Red Death, and the disease ravages the land. The nobles the prince has invited to the castle are effectively trapped under the ‘protection’ of Prospero. The evil man is selfish beyond comparison, and in league with dark forces. Even his current consort Juliana (Hazel Court) fears for her position with the presence of young Francesca. But who or what is the curious figure in forbidden red (John Westbrook) amidst the colourful costumes of the masque ball? Prospero believes it serves his master; however, death has no master...

The Masque of the Red Death is based on the short story by classic horror legend Edgar Allan Poe. In this remarkable film adaptation from 1964, director and co-producer Roger Corman incorporates another Poe short, utilising the story of Hop-Frog to create another plot strand and shocking false denouement during the masque ball. This is very well realised. Corman himself was a regular presence during the 1950s with Science Fiction Monster B-Movies such as Attack of the Crab Monsters, It Conquered the World, Day the World Ended, War of the Satellites, and many others. A higher level was attained from 1960 when Corman persuaded AIP to lavish more money on what would be the first of his Poe adaptations, The House of Usher (from Fall of the House of Usher), in colour with higher production values. On the success of this he was asked to do a sequel, and so followed Usher with other quality Poe stories such as The Pit and the Pendulum (which he had to beef-up, as only the final scene was Poe), Tales of Terror (two Poe classics), and The Raven.

Corman had used Vincent Price (House on Haunted Hill, House of Wax, Witchfinder General, The Abominable Dr Phibes, and many more) as the main protagonist in all of these features. He recognised a talent well before the man became more of a horror star. It has been said that Price’s strongest role is as Prospero in The Masque of the Red Death; however, I have to say I’ve viewed a number of his movies and never seen him give less than a hundred percent. I do agree that the best films in this Corman/Poe run is this one and The Tomb of Ligeia, which followed. Masque was always a good film, but I have to say that after this 4K restoration by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation and The Academy (with funding from the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation) – it has never looked more stunningly compelling. Nicolas Roeg’s cinematography is more than remarkable. The rich and vibrant colours explode from the screen, and are particularly effective in the different hued rooms, the robes of the death-bringers and, of course, the masque ball itself. This is a film which gets on with telling the story, and is all the stronger for it.

On this Blu-ray set, released by StudioCanal, there are two versions of the film on offer: the Theatrical Cut, and the Restored Extended Cut. The latter reinstates a number of censored scenes which were cut from the original film – including Juliana’s nightmarish dream sequence. The attractive packaging includes a 20-page booklet with a new essay from the Academy’s film preservationist, Tessa Idlewine, and 4 art cards from the restoration. Special Features include an Audio Commentary with Kim Newman and Sean Hogan; Colour and Censorship in The Masque of the Red Death: Interview with Professor Keith Johnston; and a Behind the Scenes Stills Gallery. There is also a lengthy and highly interesting feature, Roger Corman: In Conversation with (film critic and author) Kim Newman at the BFI. It’s interesting and somewhat amusing to note the differences in temperament between the two. Newman excitable and expressive, and Corman relaxed and composed.

This review might be emerging slightly later than I would have wished, but it’s important to offer due reverence to what’s on offer. A detailed review is always going to be more informative than the scant few sentences given by some periodicals. There is much to appreciate here; the film itself is stylish and crisp. Whether you are a classic horror fan or a mainstream film collector, you could do worse than to add this to your collection.

“And darkness and decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” - Edgar Allan Poe


Ty Power

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