Monday, May 23, 2011

The Masque of the Red Death

Roger Corman, 1965, 88m

This is my introduction to Roger Forman, the King of B-movies. They say it is better to be a king in the god forsaken Place rather than a lackey elsewhere and the title bestowed on Corman is indicative of his phenomenal success in the niche he chose to inhabit—low budget quickies catering to a market which does not fancy subtlety. He boasted having made a hundred films and never losing a cent.

The movie under review is based on a story of Edgar Allan Poe, and this is what attracted me to it. But as a matter of fact it is a potpourri of several of Poe’s tales, trying to glue them into something one may be able to consume in an undiscriminating mood.

An epidemic of a dreaded disease called the red death visits the kingdom of the cruel and perverted Prince Prospero. The prince has already sold himself to the devil and his pleasures in life consist in tormenting his subjects with unspeakable acts of violence, degradation and humiliation. Among his courtiers is the dwarf Hop Frog (borrowed from the story of the same name) and his beloved, a midget dancer. Part of the story is about how Hop Frog avenges the insult to his friend, and that itself could be the material for a tightly knit tale of minutely contrived revenge, but is here perfunctorily inserted as if to make up the stipulated weight of the consignment.

Poe’s stories, springing from his demented personality, are visions of hell, with a unique macabre beauty. Death, decay, premature burial, chilling vendettas (The Cask of Amontillado),  terror of painful death approaching inch by inch (The Pit and the Pendulum)—such are the themes that sprang up from this fertile but sick imagination. I remember in my teens to have been star struck by this small collection of tales.

The flavor and Gothic majesty of Poe’s fevered mind is altogether missing. Corman’s movie is merely a juvenile high school drama. I have a feeling most of the audience would comprise of that age group. The acting is stiff and labored and the characters are either marching like soldiers on parade or overdoing the bacchanals. The canvas is crimson, more the color of overflowing chilly sauce than blood. The idea seems to assemble and deliver the product at the earliest, assembling the available parts like lego pieces.

A movie need not be faithful to source material but here the product is sold on the strength of Poe’s renown, even using the title of one of his stories. Everything is in the public domain so the late Mr Poe can do no more than groan in his grave.

But as an ardent Poe aficionado, I claim the right to protest this desecration. In the unlikely event of my visiting the US, one of my acts would be to lay a wreath at the writer’s grave. Certainly, nobody should judge Poe, genuine if not great artist that he was, by this tomfoolery.

Incidentally, I have heard it said by no less than Roger Ebert that Poe could have been a fine film director, by virtue of his strong visual imagination. I wonder how he would have reacted to this. I am reminded of the film Hannibal, in which the musically inclined and cannibalistic Dr Lector makes mince pies out of a violinist whose playing was out of tune in a musical performance the previous evening, and serves it graciously to other members of the symphony orchestra (of course without disclosing the recipe), much to their approbation. Perhaps that was a bit extreme.


Nathanael Hood said...

Excellent review!

I disagree with you on a few points...but that's to be expected.

Is this your official review for the blogathon?

S. M. Rana said...



I already mailed it to you. There are a few minor changes in this so when the time comes it would be better to lift it from the blog.

Nathanael Hood said...

Alright...I read this review again in the context of the official blogathon.

It was short, sweet, and to the point. It proved that you don't necessarily have to like a film to write well about it!

I want to personally thank you for participating in this blogathon! You were really my first real fellow blogger who supported me when I got started. You have been a constant friend and ally and I am overjoyed that you were able to participate!

I hope that you'll take a look at the other bloggers' work. They've all done a fantastic job!

Also...don't forget to vote for the next blogathon topic on the front page of my blog and to vote for the Readers' Choice Award on Monday!

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Yeah, I have to throw in with Nathanael...we don't see eye-to-eye on a lot of details with regards to Red Death which, along with Pit and the Pendulum is my favorite Roger Corman film. I think our major avenue of disagreement is that you believe people will base their opinion of Poe on the film; I just don't believe that to be so.

But hey--I did very much enjoy learning that you are a Poe disciple, which can only be a good thing. Nice contribution to the blogathon!

Classic Film and TV Cafe said...

I tend to look at films as stand-alone works of art, even when they're based on (or in this case, inspired by) a literary source. THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is generaly considered the best of Corman's POe series--and I agree. Corman creates an eerie atmosphere, Price is at his best, and--as always--Haller's set design is first-rate. Instead of wonderful cinematographer Floyd Crobsy, we get Nicholas Roeg...a pretty good substitute! At times, the film reminds me of THE SEVENTH SEAL and, based on what I've read of Corman, that's nn accident.

ClassicBecky said...

Masque of the Red Death is probably the most colorfully beautiful of the Corman Poe movies. I too love Poe's writing, and still enjoy the movies even when they aren't exactly true to the stories!

Stacia said...

Corman’s movie is merely a juvenile high school drama. I have a feeling most of the audience would comprise of that age group.

Sign me up for high school then, because I love this movie. I studied Poe pretty extensively during my misbegotten university years, and I like how Corman -- a very educated man, by the way -- was able to take stories that were such a part of the American conscience and use them as a foundation for new ideas. They invoke the Gothic period (at least insofar as any Hollywood costume drama would) while at the same time being firmly placed in the 1960s.

Rachel said...

I'm sorry you didn't enjoy your movie, but then, a little disagreement is good for a discussion. Now I'm curious, what filmmaker of today would you trust with a Poe adaptation? Who do you think would do him justice?

S. M. Rana said...


That's a nice Kane quote on your profile. Maybe Welles would have done a nice job on Poe. Polanski? The guy who did Exorcist? How about Herzog considering his WoyzecK? Hard question really. But what exasperated me a bit was I was looking for a movie as promised by the title about the dwarf Hop Frog which could have been expanded into a sizzling gruesome entertaining potboiler. It wasn't B enough for me, certainly not A.

Page said...

For some reason my comment didn't go through so I'll try to post it again!

I appreciate your honest take and insights. The fun of watching old cinema is a healthy debate. Heaven knows the Little Shop of Horror's is loved by quite a few but I certainly don't love it but find it oddly amusing so ripping on it for the Blogathon was easy.
I look forward to your future reviews S.M. and thanks again for your honesty.

S. M. Rana said...


Rebecca and LA Confidential are two films I too enjoyed. Even if watching a movie has not been so enjoyable, writing about it is good fun!!

I look forward to visiting your site.