Directed by Roger Corman. Written by Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell. Starring Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, David Weston, Patrick Magee, Nigel Green and Skip Martin.
Plot: an evil prince worships Satan and enjoys the high life within his castle walls, while the Red Plague destroys the peasants living outside.
This is the seventh of eight Corman/Poe movies and I’m not sure we’ve seen another one or not, but this simply did not impress us. Along with the Red Death story, there’s a sub-plot of a story called “Hop-Frog”, also written by Poe. Corman and the writers trash both, making completely unnecessary adjustments. What comes out is almost unwatchable.
The film begins with an old woman meeting a mysterious figure in a red cloak, who tells her that the village’s deliverence is coming. Enter, Prince Prospero (Price), a mad prince, who visits the village he rules over, discovers the old woman has the plague and then orders the village burned to the ground. The only three people he saves are Francesca (Asher), a woman he’s intimately interested in, her present lover, Gino (Weston), and her father, Ludovico (Green).
Once at the castle, Prospero has Gino and Ludovico locked up. He has Francesca dressed up by his jealous mistress, Juliana (Court). He also has Francesca’s cross removed from her neck because of his Satanist principals. Then, he takes Francesca and Juliana to a huge party where he’s gathered all the nobility in the area, to protect them from the plague outside, and to have a generally terrific time. He even has people perform for them, particularly a pair of dwarves, Hop-Toad (Martin) and his lover, Esmeralda. Of course, they’re treated dreadfully. Esmeralda’s even struck across the face by one of the guests, Alfredo (Magee). And this is where I should tell you, I’m just gonna ruin the rest. If you’ve never read the Poe story, just do that instead. You could technically read the rest of this review and not have the actual Poe work terribly spoiled.
After Juliana pledges herself to Satan for Prospero, she wants Francesca gone, so she gives her the key to the cell where Gino and Ludovico are being held. When Prospero finds out, he stops the escape, kills Ludovico, kicks Gino out of the castle and back to the plague-infested world and takes Francesca back to the party. Meanwhile, Juliana goes through a final initiation for Satan where she hallucinates rather racist figures stabbing her again and again. When she wakes up, a falcon kills her and Prospero claims that she is Satan’s now.
The rest of the movie is quick and mostly nonsensical. For instance, Gino meets that same red-cloaked figure from before, who gives him a tarot card representing “mankind” and assures him that he will enter the castle himself and send Francesca out. The party inside descends into chaos. For hitting Esmeralda, Hop-Toad drenches Alfredo in alcohol and sets him on fire before the two escape from the castle. All the other guests are given the plague by the man in the red cloak and begin dying. At first Prospero believes he’s won, that the man in the red cloak is Satan’s helper and Satan has saved him for a high status in Hell. However, the man in the red cloak takes off his mask and Prospero sees that it is his own face staring back at him. And that he’s got the plague, too. Francesca is ushered from the house, into the arms of Gino, and it’s hinted at later on that she, Gino, Hop-Toad and Esmeralda were four of only six people that survived that night.
In the very atrocious concluding scenes, we see the man in the red cloak meet up with other men in colored cloaks (orange, blue, black, etc.) to talk about the souls they’ve “claimed” that night. They go over the numbers, one of them says a pretentious Latin phrase we’re not sure relates to the situation and then the cloaked figures walk away. As they leave, we’re shown a quote by Poe: “And darkness and decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”
Overall, it was a bit too theatrical for our liking, even for 1964. Even Vincent was a bit too over-the-top. Still, the cast was fantastic, but the rest of the movie was a big problem. There were no rules, no Freddy Claws, no scares and no sense. It just wasn’t fun at all.
My score: 15. DJ’s score: 10.