Satan-worshiper Prince Prospero invites several dozen of the local nobility to his castle for protection against an oncoming plague, the Red Death. Prospero orders his guests to attend a masked ball and, amidst a general atmosphere of debauchery and depravity, notices the entry of a mysterious hooded stranger dressed all in red. Believing the figure to be his master, Satan, Prospero is horrified at the revelation of his true identity. Written by
Doug Sederberg <email@example.com>
Hop-Toad and Esmeralda were drawn from Poe's short story "Hop-Frog". That story was inspired by an actual incident in 1393, where French King Charles VI and 5 of his lords dressed and chained themselves as "wild men" at a masquerade, and their costumes caught fire from a stray spark. 4 of the lords died, and the incident became known as the Bal de Ardents (Ball of the Burning Men). See more »
Prospero gives "Belial" as an alternative name for Satan. In virtually all sources this is the name of a demon, not Satan himself. See more »
Do you know how a falcon is trained, my dear? Her eyes are sewn shut. Blinded temporarily, she suffers the whims of her God patiently, until her will is submerged and she learns to serve - as your God taught and blinded you with crosses.
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"And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."- the final line of the original Poe poem. See more »
When Edgar Allan Poe wrote THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, I keep thinking he was thinking about some classic literature of the past. First, he is taking (and inverting) the basic plot of Boccacio's collection of short stories THE DECAMERON. If you recall, ten young people (five men and five women) of aristocratic families go to the country to avoid the plague in Florence. They entertain each other by each telling ten stories a night to the others - mostly dealing with love. They survive the plague as a result. Poe's Prince takes all his friends and fellow aristocrats out of a plague drenched countryside and they go to his castle in the hills. But at the end they all die. The other classic story is William Shakespeare's final great play, THE TEMPEST, wherein the master of the island and of all the elements nature (which he controls as a wizard) is Prospero, former Duke of Milan (pronounced Millon). Here, the Prince Prospero is unable to control nature and all die as a result.
The story THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is about the inevitability of fate and death - nobody can avoid it, no matter how hard they build up walls, and in the end they end up searching out for it (and finding it).
Roger Corman, as I mentioned in discussing his film about Richard III, took to Edgar Allan Poe as no other major director of horror had before him. But he had to expand it. Poe only wrote one novel, THE NARRATIVE OF ARTHUR GORDON PYM OF NANTUCKET (although he tried to do a second one called THE JOURNAL OF JULIUS RODMAN). Most of his writings are short stories, poetry, one play, and essays of criticism or philosophy. His best short stories are meant to be read within one hour or two at most. A great story, like THE TELL-TALE HEART, can be read with forty minutes, as it's story line is fairly concise and it is the choice and sound of words that carries it's best affects (i.e., the sound of the heart of the victim). So a filmed record of a Poe story should really be about thirty minutes tops, as visual effects replace (or enhance) the verbal ones.
Corman, therefore, had to expand the story line - good as Poe made it originally. First, he makes Prospero a Satan worshiper and sadist. Then, he adds a mild subplot involving one of Prospero's guests (Alfredo - Patrick Magee) and Prospero's dwarf jester Hop - Toad (Skip Martin), which is actually the plot of Poe's story HOP-FROG. There is also two expansions of the plot tied to the Prince: his kidnapping of Francesca (Jane Asher), Gino (David Weston) and Ludovico (Nigel Green) and the doomed hope of Juliana (Hazel Court) to achieve the goals of total acceptance by Satan in order to secure her hold on Prospero.
The end result is not bloated, phony-Poe, but a serious philosophical debate that the evil Prospero actually articulates: He explains to Francesca that he became a Satanist because of serious questions he had about the validity of Christianity. He sees the world as a mess, kept in order only by the powerful and wealthy. He feels that the God of Christianity (of "Love") is actually dead - killed centuries before. Whatever is running the world is not a God of Love. Francesca, of course, is a simpler type who keeps insisting that love and hope make life far more pleasant and bearable than Prospero's view implies. She is as set in her views as he is in his. This philosophical balance remains to the end, although until the end does come through, Francesca actually commits herself to trying to see it from Prospero's point of view (a very remarkable willingness to get a complete view of things - but she never does have to follow through with this offer).
Is there some truth to Prospero's viewpoint? Many viewers are turned off by his willingness to make sadistic tests and punishments (even sadistic "joke" games on his willing guests). But what do people like Francesca and Gino, despite their love, have to look forward to? The townspeople who die at the hands of the Red Death had very poor, awful lives (it's the Middle Ages folks), and at the end the Red Death and his fellow deaths comment that at least they brought peace to the people who died. But that hardly seems a worthwhile conclusion or goal. Die and you'll be peaceful and happy? While Satanism is no answer, certainly some way of pushing up living standards would be.
The film holds up very nicely, and leaves one thinking at the end - what is the point of balance that makes life more than mere temporary existence and actually worth living? It is certainly one of the most thought provoking horror films Corman created.
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