Cult Movie: Roger Corman's Masque of The Red Death a mean-spirited but magnificently moody slice of Gothic cinema

Vincent Price as Prince Prospero in The Masque of The Red Death
Vincent Price as Prince Prospero in The Masque of The Red Death

The Masque Of The Red Death

WATCHING director Roger Corman's 1964 take on Edgar Allan Poe's legendary tale The Masque Of The Red Death in 2021 feels oddly right, in a way.

Poe's moral tale of an evil Prince locking himself away in his castle and partying with his sycophantic followers like it's the end of the world as a deadly plague rages through his kingdom, killing hundreds of his poor subjects as it goes, makes for perfect pandemic viewing.

The 'Merchant of Menace' himself, Vincent Price, gives one of the finest performances of his career as the devil-worshipping Prince Prospero. There are also memorable supporting roles for much loved scream queen Hazel Court as his loyal lover and a fresh faced Jane Asher as a virginal peasant girl, whom he drags into his evil inner circle from the plague ridden streets outside his castle.

While the main thrill here is watching Price wring every ounce of sadistic pleasure from his central role, watch out for the remarkable shifting colour patterns as the innocent Asher is swept through Prospero's plush pad, drifting from room to room with a woozy, almost psychedelic swagger: Corman's cinematographer Nicolas Roeg would bring a similarly bold sense of colour and style to his own Don't Look Now the following decade.

Just as memorable are a genuinely unsettling nightmare sequence (something Corman always did well) and the arty arrival of death himself in his red robe and mask in the castle's closed off inner sanctum.

Thanks to screen writer Charles Beaumont padding out proceedings with another Poe story, Hop Frog – Masque was much too short a tale of terror to stretch to a full length feature on its own after all – we even get to enjoy a typically rich performance from Armagh's finest, Patrick Magee, as a leering aristocrat who winds up hanging from the ceiling in a burning ape suit for his sins.

Thoughtful and chilling, this particular Masque is a mean-spirited but magnificently moody slice of Gothic cinema as its very best.

Of course, Corman's lush and languorous masterpiece of the macabre has been released on DVD and Blu-ray before, and I've purchased most of them, but now Studiocanal have unearthed the ultimate version of the film that sees it totally uncut and fully restored to new levels of 4K glory by Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation, loaded down with more extras and bonus features than even the most rabid horror hound could wish for.

Beside the glorious new visuals and the option of watching either the original theatrical edition or the newly restored print, fans can wallow in such bonus delights as video chats with Roger Corman himself and revealing commentary tracks from film historian Kim Newman and film-maker Sean Hogan.

The film itself remains a stunning slice of horror cinema at its most thoughtful and visually arresting and it's easily the most stylish and memorable of the so-called 'Poe cycle' of films that Corman and AIP delivered in the 1960s.

This lavishly appointed new edition only adds to its remarkable legacy.