Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Masque of the Red Death, The

Roger Corman has made two movies with this title.

1. UK/US movie (1964). Anglo Amalgamated. Pr George Willoughby. Exec pr Nat Cohen, Stuart Levy. Dir Corman. Spfx George Blackwell. Screenplay Charles Beaumont, R Wright Campbell. Based on "The Masque of the Red Death" (1842), with a subplot based on "Hop Frog" (1849), both by Edgar Allan Poe. Novelization The Masque of the Red Death * (1964) by Elsie Lee. Starring Jane Asher (Francesca), Hazel Court (Juliana), Nigel Green (Ludovico), Patrick Magee (Alfredo), Vincent Price (Prospero), John Westbrook (Red Death), David Weston (Gino). 89 mins. Colour.

The land is ridden with plague, the Red Death, sent out to each village in the form of a rose by a mysterious red-robed stranger. Tyrant Prince Prospero quarantines his castle against all comers, and prepares with his guests for an orgiastic Masque. But the red-robed man also appears at the masque and, after identifying himself to Prospero as Death, or a Death – and not, as Prospero had hoped, an emissary of Satan – spreads the plague among the guests, who lurch into a macabre Dance of Death; last to die is Prospero himself. In the movie's final sequence the red-robed man plays Cards with a child – one of the six people spared by the plague – before joining company with four other Deaths of different colours to continue their duties elsewhere.

This is Corman's stab at mixing Horror Movie with art movie, and a fairly good stab. The influences of Ingmar Bergman (most overtly, the red-robed man is a cognate of Death in The Seventh Seal [1956]) and of Luis Buñuel are obvious, while the rather impressive Vision sequence experienced by Prospero's mistress Juliana after she has betrothed herself to Satan could be traced to any of a number of directors. The ethical dialectic that occasionally emerges is again Bergmanesque. TMOTRD's appearance is often striking; this is generally attributed to its cinematographer, Nicolas Roeg, later an esteemed director in his own right (of, for example, Don't Look Now [1973]), but such a simplistic assignment of credit is to assume that Corman had no control over his own movie. [JG]

2. US movie (1989). Concorde. Pr Corman. Dir Larry Brand. Screenplay Brand, Daryl Haney. Starring Clare Hoak (Julietta), Patrick Macnee (Machiavel), Paul Michael (Benito), Jeff Osterhage (Claudio), Adrian Paul (Prospero), Tracy Reiner (Lucrecia). 79 mins. Colour.

A shallower, nastier and mercifully shorter rehash of most of the ingredients of The Masque of the Red Death (1964), marked by wooden acting (Osterhage and Reiner notably excepted) and an overall lack of ambition. The glorifyingly evil Prospero of the earlier movie is replaced by a Prospero who believes that sadistically wielding the power of life and death over others is part of his job. The eventual moral is that no mortal, only Death himself, has the right to command death. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.