I’ve had to pull myself into line a bit lately when it comes to watching TV shows and movies. I flick from show to show on Netflix like a teenage boy on Red Tube, I have the laptop in front of me, I watch too much crap TV, and am beginning to find it hard to sit through a 90 minute film without checking a performer’s credits on IMDb or reading the Wikipedia entry. I am putting an end to this as I swore it would never happen to me. So let’s say I was not exactly psyched to watch this film. Don’t get me wrong, I love Vincent Price and I love old horror movies, but I had always avoided this film cos I am not really into Gothic Horror, nor am I a fan of horror literature (the film’s based on Poe’s short story). I far prefer the campy and traditional horror films of Price, specifically The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill, House of Wax and Abominable Dr Phibes. So, onto the film.
Whilst out collecting wood in the medieval Italian countryside, a local woman comes across a red-cloaked man shuffling tarot cards under a tree. The man gives the woman a white rose that ends up spotted with blood and turns completely red. It turns out that the woman is plagued with the red death and local satanist/prince Prospero (Vincent Price) orders the village be burned to the ground to prevent the spread of the disease. He then takes a peasant’s beautiful daughter back to his castle and invites the local nobility to ride out the plague while providing all sorts of festivities as the world outside the castle dies.
Price is just amazing as Prospero, I kept thinking how great he would have been in Polanski’s MacBeth, his performance is Shakespearean and there is no sign of camp here (but us Noir fans already knew he could act). Prospero is commanding and sadistically cruel, I kept thinking of Salo whilst watching the film play out. The nobility, the boredom, the torture, the excess all at the hands of the peasants. Red Death favors black magic and stark truths – cruelty is just a fact of life – and in doing so forgoes blood and other traditional scares and shocks. It’s a cerebral film and something I would expect from a director like Polanski. A great watch, but challenging at times. That’s not to say that it doesn’t pack a punch with its nastiness, it does. There’s a particularly “trippy” sequence that kind of creeped me out and decadence at the hand of innocents, children and men dressed as gorillas is always a touch unsettling. I get it though, if you are watching ISIS beheading on-line for laughs then atmosphere, tension, and aristocratic bastardiness just ain’t going to cut it.
It probably didn’t help that I am not familiar with the source material, the film weaves two Poe Stories (Masque of the Red Death and Hop-Frog) together along with a third arc from Torture by Hope by Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam . Red Death is also the 7th out of 8 Poe adaptations that Roger Corman directed/produced. I am sorry if you were hoping for an arty-farty analysis of the film, I am sure there’s a lot of symbolism I could be analyzing.
The sets are spectacular, in a day where modern films can’t even photoshop fake family photos convincingly I kind of crave decadence and authenticity in films. It is truly tragic the state of current movie making, a film like this could never be made today. Apparently Corman shot the film in England to cut costs but was left unhappy with the final sequence due to not having enough time to shoot it due to the English crews working at a slower pace than American crews.
The print here is also exceptionally good. I am not a huge tech geek but to me it appeared to be free of any flaws. I always expect some visual or audio disturbances with older films but then on DVD Compare the Shock (Cinema Cult is a sub-label of Shock) their Blu-Ray was ruled a draw with an International release. A must own for fans of Price or for those who appreciate good art, there’s no excuse to not pick this up at $9.99 on DVD or $19.99 on Blu-Ray . Here’s hoping Cult Cinema release more classic horror!
The only extras present are trailers for other Cult Cinema releases including: Masters of the Universe, Dr Phibes Rises Again!, The Abominable Dr Phibes, Electra Glide in Blue, Vanishing Point and Killer Klowns from Outer Space.