Roger Corman has a rather legendary status among filmmakers. He helped many of the independent and burgeoning filmmakers of the 60s and 70s get their break, and thus his influence stretches far and wide across the industry. As a filmmaker himself, though, he was known for B movies, films that were a grade below the big-budget Hollywood productions of the time, and are now mostly remembered for their mild camp value. The Masque of the Red Death is a step above what I would normally throw the label “B movie” at, though not by much; it feels like a B movie, but it looks too well done for one.
Prince Prospero is a wicked ruler and Satanist who enjoys his position of power over the paupers of the nearby village, upon which he enacts various despicable acts to torment the townsfolk. After taking one of the maidens of the village, along with two captives, he decides to hold a masquerade gala for he and all his noble cohorts. Little does he know that one guest is not who he appears to be, and the night quickly turns against Prospero and his friends as a plague known as the Red Death begins to appear in the village below. First off, the film wouldn’t be half of what it is without its main star; Vincent Price delivers a deliciously evil performance line by line, utterly reveling in the role he plays, and it is unquestionably the highlight of the film. The other thing that makes this work is the production value, which was quite high for the so-called King of B Movies; there are a myriad of colors on the screen, though muted to give a disconnect between reality and the ancient world and timeframe depicted, and the production design and art direction are extremely detailed for an otherwise rudimentary horror suspense flick. It is in the moments of terror and plot development that the film’s nature as a B movie becomes readily apparent, however, and it detracted from the experience a little, at least for me.
I wasn’t really sure how I felt about this one. It has a few things going for it, but a few things against it as well. For what it was worth, however, the film did work to a substantive degree, and fans of this sort of film or filmmaking will definitely find a new favorite with The Masque of the Red Death. For me, though, it was far too “B movie” for me to really say I was a fan, but I enjoyed the time I spent with it, at the very least. The King of the B Movie has delivered quite a show, and it’s one I don’t see him topping with any of his other works. But, then again, his stuff isn’t really for me anyway, so I guess it’s not my call to make.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10