Considering the enormous reputation for appearing in horror films he has, it’s maybe a tad surprising that this is the first time we’ve encountered Vincent Price in a movie. Price starred in dozens of movies over the course of his illustrious career and made for a great horror baddie, what with that weird voice of his and unusual manner. Modern audiences are perhaps not as kind to Price as they should be as it can be easy to laugh at him rather than with him as he intended. If, however, you watch a Vincent Price movie and know that he wasn’t taking it seriously either, then it becomes a totally different experience, and in certain circumstances, a really disturbing experience too.
The Masque of the Red Death (1964) is set during an outbreak of a plague-like disease in medieval Europe where Prince Prospero (our man Vinnie) rules a kingdom with what can politely be called an iron fist – a more accurate description might be that he’s an evil fucking bastard who worships Satan and kills indiscriminately for fun and profit.
Prospero is organising a masked shindig at his gaff for all the local nobility and arse-kissers in order to enable them evade a painful death and at the same time bolster his power over them. The party gets underway with only one rule, no-one is allowed to wear the colour red. Things move from a quiet couple of drinks at Prospero’s into a full-on debauchery session that would make Caligula blush, with entertainment including performing dwarves and Prospero humiliating his guests by making them act like animals.
Meanwhile, there are a couple of things going on in the background. One of the dwarfs is out for revenge on his master as Prospero has been abusing his miniature missus; Prospero is trying to talk a local peasant girl into the kind of acts that would get him ten years inside if he pulled a stunt like that nowadays; and one of Prospero’s women takes matters into her own hands and makes a pact with the Devil herself, bypassing Prospero.
Amidst all the palace intrigue and mad goings-on at the party down in the main hall, a strange figure dressed all in red makes their way through the castle…
Masque is one of those 60’s movies that at first you find kinda funny, what with the cheesy acting and dodgy sets and so on. Then suddenly you realise that they’re not pulling any punches when it comes to things like worshipping the Devil – a subject that is rarely touched on in modern films due to it’s taboo nature. In Masque, Prospero is a flat-out Satan worshipper, with an alter and all sorts, who’s out to corrupt the young and gain power on Earth over his peers. On top of his love of all things Satanic, Prospero is a murderer and has some other unsavoury tastes, especially a love of dwarves that reminded me of Denny Crane (though Denny never abused them in quite the same way).
Masque is based on an Edgar Allen Poe story, which goes a long way to explaining not only why it’s so dark in nature but also why it’s so good. Poe’s material details the human relationship with the dark aspects of nature and builds well on medieval works that taught about death and how it gets us all in the end, and how we all in some way influence what may happen to us after we shuffle off this mortal coil.
Two Thumbs Up for The Masque of the Red Death.