Although produced by Roger Corman and released through his company, Concorde Pictures, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is not a remake of his 1964 masterwork, but simply a cheaply made retelling of the Edgar Allan Poe story the earlier film was based on. The tale of 12th-century Prince Prospero
(Adrian Paul) and his reign over a small village ravaged by plague, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is a miserable failure. Haunted by dreams of death and punishment, Prospero has completely ignored the teachings of his peaceful childhood tutor (Patrick Macnee), and has ruled his people cruelly (as his
sadistic father did). An undeniably nasty fellow, Prospero has married his sister, lived decadently, and tortured his best friend, Claudio (Jeff Osterhage), for disobeying him. When the "Red Death" spreads from village to village, Prospero orders his men to round up "clean" females and to seal the
gates of the castle. It seems the prince intends to beat death and his nightmares by simply barring them from his domain. In time, Prospero falls for one of the village women (Clare Hoak), and requests her to be at his side during his masquerade ball. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure in a red cloak
rides through the countryside, leaving plague-ridden corpses in his wake. Arriving at the castle, the mysterious rider is allowed to pass through the gates after presenting an invitation to the ball. When he enters the ballroom, Prospero threatens the stranger with death for wearing the outlawed
color of red and removes the intruder's mask, revealing him to be Prospero's childhood tutor. The prince is pleased to see his old friend, and the dance continues; however, after removing his gloves, the tutor touches several of the guests, causing them to drop with the plague. He soon pursues
Prospero into the dungeon, where the prince is forced to become either a victim of the plague or of suicide. Prospero chooses suicide, allowing the village girl and Claudio to escape the death-filled castle and return to the countryside and to the survivors of the Red Death.
Director Larry Brand's version of the story can't compare with Corman's lyrical, haunting original. There are vast differences in style, tone, and interpretation (the major difference being in the character of Prospero, a devil-worshipping sadist in Corman's film, a misunderstood soul in Brand's).
Corman's subtle use of color and the director's homages to Bergman made the original MASQUE one of the "King of the Bs"' more memorable Poe adaptations (THE TOMB OF LIGEIA remains the masterpiece of the series); Brand's film, on the other hand, goes nowhere, constricted by a low budget and poor
craftsmanship. Although Brand and Daryl Haney's screenplay comes very close to capturing the spirit of Poe's original story, the characters are strangely underdeveloped and the poetry of Poe's language has given way to stale line readings and limp visuals. What's more, the acting is uniformly bad.
Paul is especially dull (in a role to which Vincent Price brought tremendous vigor in 1964), looking ridiculous in a cheap "Star Trek"-like costume, he wearily mumbles his dialog, apparently confused as to his motivation.
Ultimately, it's this drastic change in the nature of Prospero's character that sinks the film, although the typically cheap production values don't help: the sets are obviously sets (apparently the same ones that were used in another Concorde bomb, TIME TRACKERS), and the photography is painfully
flat and grainy. In addition, the pacing is slow and the climax comes without sufficient development; as a result, the final 10 minutes seem rushed and out of place. Brand's tedious shooting style and botched rhythms also prevent the film from developing any suspense, and before long the whole
affair becomes a tiring experience.
MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, although better than most of the junk Corman has been producing lately, is still terribly heavy-handed (Macnee's final speech seems to have been written for those who may have fallen asleep and missed the film's moral). Plagued by an annoying cheapness that obscures any
directorial personality that might have been injected, the film will bore horror fans, disappoint lovers of Poe, and anger admirers of Corman's wonderful original version, which has stood the test of time and remains a definitive interpretation of the Poe work. (Brief nudity, violence, adultsituations.)
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: R
- Review: Although produced by Roger Corman and released through his company, Concorde Pictures, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is not a remake of his 1964 masterwork, but simply a cheaply made retelling of the Edgar Allan Poe story the earlier film was based on. The tale… (more)