The Masque Of The Red Death (1964) British
Ah Vincent Price. That man seemed to gravitate towards the works of Edgar Allen Poe just as Jeffrey Combs does to H. P. Lovecraft. Even if the story gets muddled (in this case they took two short stories and kind of mushed them together) he is still a pleasure to watch. Yes, this is TMOTRD, but also contains elements of Hop-Frog, another of Poe's short stories. It is the seventh of eight Poe treatments made by Director Roger Corman. Despite the meddling and the mucking Vincent pulls off this story nicely, even if some of it may not make a whole lot of sense. Roger Corman also directed the remake of 1989, but I haven't found it yet.
It is the story of Satanist Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) who terrorizes a plague-ridden peasantry while promising sanctuary and safety to his unsavory friends within his castle, who eat to excess and party. It starts with a strange red-cloaked figure who hands an old woman a rose, saying the day of their deliverance is at hand. She takes it into her village - bad move. His version of 'deliverance' is the red plague (probably sounded better than the black plague I guess) and most in the village dies, the rest are routed out as the village is burned to the ground to prevent the spread of the disease. When two of them protest the Prince orders their death - but the daughter of one and betrothed of the other begs for mercy, so he takes all three to his castle. Not for mercy however. For his amusement of watching them die. He then invites his friends to the castle for a huge party and promises them protection from the Red Death (assuming Satan will keep them all alive). He then begins the corruption of the innocent peasant girl, named Francesca.
The gathered nobility are entertained by a pair of dwarf dancers, Esmeralda (who was actually a small girl, not a dwarf although they gave her a woman's voice) and Hop-Toad. When Esmeralda accidentally spills wine on his friend Alfredo (played by Patrick Macgee, best known in A Clockwork Orange), Alfredo strikes her. The prince thinks this is funny - twisted bugger. He starts the corruption of Francesca by showing her different colored rooms (?) saying she can't see the black one, she's not ready yet. Apparently, this is the 'main' Satan worship room.
Francesca's father and fiancee' are set free by Juliana who wants them to get Francesca out of there since she is jealous of her. But the guards, who were supposed to let them go, fight instead and three are killed. The prince is there, and points out that these supposed 'Christians' have sinned and must die. At one of those huge banquets they always show in these movies, as a laugh Prince Prospero produces a set of daggers, stating that one has a deadly poison. Sort of the 18th century version of Russian roulette I guess. The father and fiancee of Francesca must take one at a time, cut themselves and see which one dies. They get to the last dagger and (as I kept yelling at the screen 'throw it at him dummy!') yes the father attempts to stab the prince, but he was expecting that and had a sword, with which he kills her father. Her fiancee' is thrown out of the castle to try his luck against the Red Death. He meets up with the red cloaked figure who gives him a Tarot card but we're not told why or what he's supposed to do with it. We'd have to have read the story I guess.
Juliana in the meantime has to hurry her Satanic 'initiation' in order to secure her place ahead of Francesca. We have a weird LSD-type sequence where figures take stabs at her with different implements (one is the prince) and having woken from that, now considers herself a wife to Satan. Ooookay. But that wasn't near as confusing as what happens next. She's killed by a crow. A CROW. One. Single. Crow. I don't know what it was about Poe and crows, but he was definitely intimidated by them. Looking down at her body, the prince declares she is now truly married to Satan. Ooookay again.
Hop-Toad meanwhile is planning some revenge against Alfredo for hitting his 'girlfriend'. He has him dress like an ape for the great masquerade ball the prince is throwing that night. As the guest frolic and do the usual things that they considered 'debauchery' in those days, he comes with Alfredo, pretending to be the ape's 'handler'. What he actually does is tie Alfredo up to a chandelier, pour brandy on him, lift the chandelier up (strong little guy), and set him on fire. This pleases the crowd although Alfredo is screaming his head off. And Francesca doesn't even blink. Apparently the corruption process is working on her.
Outside the castle walls, the fiancee returns to rescue Francesca, and once again encounters the red-cloaked figure. The figure tells him not to enter the castle, and promises that he will send Francesca out to her fiancee shortly. Prospero notices the entry of the mysterious, red-cloaked figure and is enraged. His one rule for the party is that no one was to wear red. He and Francesca follow the figure through in to the Black Room, where Prospero believes the figure to be an ambassador of Satan. After the prince fawns over him the red cloaked man simply tells him that death is coming and shows him by giving every guest in his castle the red plague. He then reveals himself to the prince. He has the prince's face. Death only comes when it looks like you I guess. They really try to do the 'double' shots, having both on one screen, but me being picky noticed that the red cloaked man was looking nowhere near the prince's face while they talked. Oh well. The red cloaked one then sends Francesca away, who kisses Prince Prospero. Why? I dunno, I'm getting kind of hazy at this point.
Then we get the 'death has no master' speech as well as 'each man creates his own god' stuff that is common in some of Poe's work and after finally ending the pontificating, he strikes the prince himself with the Red Death. We don't see Francesca and her fiancee escape, I guess it's just implied. The last scene is of the Red Death playing with a little girl and other cloaked figures, each in a different color, gather, all bragging about how many they killed. The red cloaked man gives a detailed account of who lived in this movie (which apparently included Hop-Toad and Esmeralda). He then utters a phrase in Latin (had to look that up) which basically means 'Thus passes the glory of the world'. Ooookay. The last we see is a quote from Poe himself, 'And darkness and decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all'. Confused? Don't be hard on yourself, I was totally lost by this time myself. But hey, Vincent was great so...