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Movies From the Black Lagoon: Masque of the Red Death

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Masque of the Red Death - 1964, Unrated
By Tom Doty

An evil Prince locks out the peasants and throws a huge party while a plague ravages his kingdom in this stylish horror yarn from the swinging sixties.
The film opens with an eerie moment that finds village woman stumbling across a red-cloaked stranger. He implores her to warn everyone that death is coming. She heads back to town to deliver the message while the local lord, Prince Prospero, drops by. He's an arrogant wiener who enjoys throwing lavish parties, torturing villagers, and worshipping Satan. He collects his share of the harvest leaving the villagers with just enough to starve slowly. He sees that the 're Plague" has arrived and opts to burn down the village. He does so without warning the inhabitants and they flee into the streets engulfed in flames.
Back at his castle the Prince throws a lavish party. His friends aren't treated much better. He orders them to portray various animals and they promptly surrender their dignity. Soon the castle is filled with assorted animal noises as these fops crawl about the floor braying and oinking like a pre-school round of "Old Macdonald." One of his guests is the equally cruel Alfredo. He backhands a dwarf dancer when she spills a drop of wine on him and this act will eventually cost him. The lady happens to be married to crafty jester named Hop Toad.
The film charts the party and other of Prospero's amusements that include forcing captives to make horrible choices and then killing them when they fail to amuse him. He's a nasty guy with all the power until the film's finale when a costumed ball makes it quite easy for death to slip in without an invitation while Hop Toad tricks Alfredo into donning a highly flammable ape costume.
The ending is quite savage as you witness a man get burned alive and all of the guest succumb to the plague, perhaps death was miffed he didn't get an invitation. The middle of the film drags a little (a dream sequence goes on to long) but Prospero' s cruelty keeps things moving along. Especially chilling is a sequence where he orders his guard to crossbow a ragged bunch of villagers who have turned up at the castle to escape the cold and the plague. Most chilling here is that Prospero actually thinks that he is doing these people a favor by having them slaughtered. Just another chilling reminder here of how the powers that be often fail to understand the needs of the little people.
This is gruesome stuff but Roger Corman beautifully renders it. This film came late in his cycle of Edgar Allan Poe flicks but it is by far the best of them. Poe's works were short so Corman gets around that by adapting the titular story as well as that of "Hop Toad." Corman gets a boost from great cinematography care of Nicholas Roeg. He would go onto make his own films (including the classic "Don't look Now") that were always enhanced by his keen eye for haunting visuals. The real star here, though, is veteran actor Vincent Price. He has just the right touch here as the evil Prospero. Price understood villainy as few actors could. His bad guys were often soft spoken though their actions were often brutal. It makes for a creepier villain when they smirk rather than snarl at their prey. He is like a housecat here who has caught a mouse and is willing to risk letting it escape because he loves torturing it so much. Now that is scary.
Best Lines: This film features an evil exchange that is priceless (no pun intended).
Scarlatti: "Sir, at least spare my wife. I giver to you."
Pospero: " I've already had that doubtful pleasure."

Tom Doty will be in the Potomac Playmakers production of Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" at the Barbara Ingram School, which opens Thursday, October 20th at 8PM with shows that run through Saturday and a 3PM performance on Sunday. Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to:

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