The Masque of the Red Death (1964 film)

The Masque of the Red Death is a 1964 horror film directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price.[2] The story follows a prince who terrorizes a plague-ridden peasantry while merrymaking in a lonely castle with his jaded courtiers.[2] The screenplay, written by Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell, was based upon the 1842 short story of the same name by American author Edgar Allan Poe,[2] and incorporates a subplot based on another Poe tale, "Hop-Frog'". Another subplot is drawn from Torture by Hope by Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam.

The Masque of the Red Death
Theatrical release poster by Reynold Brown
Directed byRoger Corman
Produced byRoger Corman
Screenplay byCharles Beaumont
R. Wright Campbell
Based onThe Masque of the Red Death and "Hop-Frog"
by Edgar Allan Poe
StarringVincent Price
Hazel Court
Jane Asher
Music byDavid Lee
CinematographyNicolas Roeg
Edited byAnn Chegwidden
Alta Vista Productions
Distributed byAmerican International Pictures (US)
Anglo-Amalgamated (UK)
Release date
  • 24 June 1964 (1964-06-24)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Box office121,794 admissions (France)[1]

It is the seventh of a series of eight Corman film adaptations largely based on Poe's works made by American International Pictures.


On a mountain in medieval Italy, an old woman meets a mysterious red-cloaked figure, shuffling Tarot cards. The figure gives the woman a white rose, which then turns red and dappled with blood.

Prince Prospero, a Satanist, visits the village over which he holds dominion, and is angrily confronted by two poor and starving villagers, Gino and Lodovico. Prospero sentences the pair to death, but Lodovico's daughter Francesca begs for their lives. Prospero discovers that the old woman who encountered the red figure is infected with a deadly plague, the Red Death. He orders the village burned down to prevent the spread of the disease, abducts Francesca and then sends out invitations to his castle to several dozen of the local nobility.

At the castle, Francesca is finely dressed and tutored in etiquette by Prospero's jealous consort, Juliana, and the gathered nobility are entertained by a pair of dwarf dancers, Esmeralda and Hop-Toad. When Esmeralda accidentally knocks over a goblet of wine, one of Prospero's guests, Alfredo, strikes her. Juliana expresses her wish to Prospero to be initiated into his Satanic cult, and that night Francesca is terrified to discover Juliana and Prospero lying in a strange, hypnotic state in Prospero's Black Room.

Gino and Ludovico, meanwhile, are being held prisoner in Prospero's castle, with the castle guards teaching them armed combat so that they can fight to the death against one another as entertainment for the nobility, which they refuse to do. While Prospero further attempts to seduce Francesca, Juliana performs a ritual in the Black Room, pledging her soul to Satan. Francesca is horrified to learn of her actions, but Juliana gives Francesca the key to Ludovico and Gino's cell, and tells her to leave. During their escape, Gino and Ludovico fight and kill three guards but are then recaptured by Prospero, who points out to Francesca how her father and Gino have sinned.

At a grand feast, Prospero summons Gino and Ludovico. As they refuse to fight each other, he instead has them each choose daggers to cut themselves with. One of the daggers is coated with poison, and, upon choosing the last dagger (which by process of elimination is revealed to be the poisoned one) Ludovico attempts to stab Prospero with it, but Prospero runs him through the heart with his sword. He then casts Gino out of the castle to be killed by the Red Death. Gino runs away through the woods and encounters the red-cloaked figure, who presents him with a Tarot card which he says represents Mankind. Juliana is then put through her final initiation ceremony, where she drinks from a chalice and suffers a terrifying hallucination (one of Corman's distinctive psychedelic dream sequences) involving wild, dancing figures from different historical periods that stab at her as she lies prostrate on an altar. Awakening from her dream, Juliana then declares herself the wife of Satan, proud that she has 'survived [her] own sacrifice'. She wanders out through the coloured rooms and is viciously attacked and killed by a falcon. As the nobles gather about her body, Prospero comments that Juliana is now truly married to Satan.

The remaining villagers come to Prospero's castle, intending to beg him for sanctuary. Gino tries to dissuade them but is instead thrust aside. At the castle, Prospero hears the villagers' plea and orders them to go away. When they tell him that unless he helps them they will die, he orders his soldiers to shoot down the villagers with crossbow bolts, deliberately sparing only one small girl.

Meanwhile, Hop-Toad, enraged by Alfredo's previous ill-treatment of Esmeralda, plans his revenge by persuading Alfredo to wear an ape costume to Prospero's grand masked ball, where Prospero has instructed that no one is to wear red. In the guise of the ape's trainer, Hop-Toad cruelly humiliates Alfredo in front of the assembled guests by tying him to a lowered chandelier and hauling the chandelier and Alfredo up above the crowd before soaking him with brandy and setting him on fire. Prospero plans to reward Hop-Toad for his amusing 'entertainment', but the dwarf has fled. Outside the castle walls, Gino returns to rescue Francesca and once again encounters the red-cloaked figure. The figure tells him not to enter the castle and promises that he will send Francesca out to Gino shortly.

Amid the general atmosphere of debauchery and depravity at the ball, Prospero notices the entry of the mysterious, red-cloaked figure. He and Francesca follow the figure through the different-colored rooms into the Black Room, where Prospero believes the figure to be an ambassador of Satan. He asks to see the figure's face, but the figure tells Prospero that "There is no face of Death until the moment of your own death." The ball is transformed into a danse macabre, changing from a maddening revelry to a grim ballet as the figure causes all of the nobles to die of the Red Death - while the corpses dance. Still believing the figure is Satan, Prospero asks for Francesca to be spared and given the same high status in Hell as he believes he himself will receive. The figure appears to consent to his request and sends Francesca outside, where he knows Gino is waiting. Before leaving, Francesca sadly kisses Prospero.

The red-cloaked figure then reveals that he is not a servant of Satan ("Death has no master") and tells Prospero that his beliefs will not save him, declaring that "Each man creates his own God for himself - his own Heaven, his own Hell." Prospero rips off the figure's red mask to reveal Prospero's own blood-spattered face. The figure is the Red Death himself - Prospero's 'own Hell', and the 'moment of [his] death'. Prospero attempts to flee through the now-infected crowd, but his red-cloaked self is always in front of him. The Red Death finally corners Prospero in the Black Room, asking, "Why should you be afraid to die? Your soul has been dead for a long time" and strikes him down.

In an epilogue, the Red Death is seen playing with his Tarot cards with the girl who had escaped the massacre of the remaining villagers. Other similarly cloaked figures then gather around him, each wearing a different colour: the White Death, the Yellow Death, the Golden Death, the Blue Death, the Violet Death and the Black Death. They discuss among themselves the numbers of people each of them had 'claimed' that night, each accepting of their endless terrible task. When asked of his work, the Red Death says to them, "I called many...peasant and prince...the worthy and the dishonoured. Six only are left." Among the surviving six are Francesca, Gino, Hop-Toad, Esmeralda, the little girl that the Red Death plays cards with and an old man from a nearby village. The Red Death declares "Sic transit gloria mundi" (Latin for "Thus passes the glory of the world") and the cloaked figures file offscreen in a grim procession. Over the procession are Poe's words: "And darkness and decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all".



Roger Corman later said he always felt "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Fall of the House of Usher" were the two best Poe stories. After the success of House of Usher (1960), he strongly considered making Masque as the follow-up.[3]

In 1961, Corman announced he would make Masque from a script by Charles Beaumont to be produced for his Filmgroup Company.[4] However, he later said was reluctant to move forward because it had several elements similar to The Seventh Seal (1957), and Corman was worried people would say he was stealing from Bergman. "I kept moving The Masque of the Red Death back, because of the similarities, but it was really an artificial reason in my mind," he later said. Eventually he decided to go ahead and do it anyway.[5]

Another fact in the delay was that Corman had a great deal of trouble coming up with a screenplay he was happy with. Drafts were written by John Carter, Robert Towne and Barboura Morris, but Corman was not happy with any of them.[6]

There were also a number of rival adaptations of Masque being mooted around this time. The Woolner Brothers announced a film based on the story[7] as did producer Alex Gordon, who said he had Price as star.[8][9]

Corman was pleased with an early draft from Beaumont, which introduced the concept of Prince Prospero being a Satanist. Corman felt this draft still needed work, but Beaumont was too ill to come to England for rewriting. So he hired R. Wright Campbell, who had just made The Secret Invasion with Corman, to come with him. Corman says it was Campbell who introduced the subplot of the dwarf, from another Poe story, "Hop-Frog".[5]


Corman cast Patrick Magee, with whom he had previously worked on The Young Racers (1963). "He could find these strange little quirks which he would bring out during his performance, making it a richer and more fully rounded characterization," recalls Corman.[5]


AIP had a co-production deal with Anglo-Amalgamated in England, so Sam Arkoff and James H. Nicholson suggested to Corman that the film be made there. This meant the film could qualify for the Eady levy and increase the budget; normally, an AIP film was done in three weeks, but Masque was shot in five weeks. (Although Corman felt that five weeks in England was the equivalent to four weeks in the US because English crews worked slower.)[5] Many of the extensive castle sets were left over from Becket, which had been shot earlier that year and had won a BAFTA award for its sets (as well as an Academy Award for Best Art Direction).[10] The film was one of the first films shot in color by cinematographer Nicolas Roeg.[11]

Dan Haller was used as production designer but not credited to ensure the film qualified as British. Corman says this was why George Willoughby was credited as producer, although it was Corman who was the actual producer.[5]

Corman later expressed dissatisfaction with the final "masque" sequence, which he described as "the greatest flaw" in the film, feeling he did not have enough time to shoot it. He filmed it in one day, which he said would have been enough time in Hollywood but that English crews were too slow.[5]


When the film came out, producer Alex Gordon sued AIP, claiming the film was based on a script he had written; however, he lost his case in court.[5]

British censors removed a scene where Hazel Court's character imagines a series of demonic figures attacking her while she lies on a slab. Corman recalled years later:

From the standpoint of nudity, there was nothing. I think she was nude under a diaphanous gown. She played the consummation with the Devil, but it was essentially on her face; it was a pure acting exercise. Hazel fully clothed, all by herself, purely by acting, incurred the wrath of the censor. It was a different age; they probably felt that was showing too much. Today, you could show that on six o’clock television and nobody would worry.[3]


Eugene Archer of The New York Times wrote, "The film is vulgar, naive and highly amusing, and it is played with gusto by Mr. Price, Hazel Court and Jane Asher ... On its level, it is astonishingly good."[12] Variety declared, "Corman in his direction sets a pace calculated to divert the teenage taste particularly, and past experience with Poe makes him a worthy delineator of this master of the macabre. In Price is the perfect interpreter, too, of the Poe character, and he succeeds in creating an aura of terror."[13] The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "Unquestionably Roger Corman's best film to date, The Masque of the Red Death has passages of such real distinction that one wishes he could be persuaded to take himself more seriously ... Where most films of this nature tend simply to pile on the blood, here there is a genuine chill of intellectual evil, because Vincent Price, initiating horrible tortures with a characteristic air of sadistic glee, also conveys a genuine philosophical curiosity as to the unknown territories into which his quest for evil may lead him."[14]

The film was not as successful as other Poe pictures, which Sam Arkoff attributed to it being "too arty farty" and not scary enough. Corman later said, "I think that is a legitimate statement. The fault may have been mine. I was becoming more interested in the Poe films as expressions of the unconscious mind, rather than as pure horror films."[5] Nonetheless, Corman says the film is one of his favourites.[15] Andrew Johnston (critic), writing in Time Out New York concluded: "Elaborate sets and costumes and Nicholas Roeg's lush technicolor photography make this as close as Corman ever came to real greatness."[16]


  • Dell Comics published a comic book adaptation of the film.[17][18]
  • A novelization of the film was written in 1964 by Elsie Lee, adapted from the screenplay by Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell, and published by Lancer Books in paperback.
  • David Lee's soundtrack of the film was finally released on CD in 2012 by Quartet Records.

Use in music

A dialogue from the film appears in the song "And When He Falleth" by Theatre of Tragedy, on the album Velvet Darkness They Fear.

In the intro to "Beneath the Mask" by the doom metal band Bell Witch, dialogue from the scene in which Prospero meets the Red Death in the Black Room was sampled.


A 1989 remake was written and directed by Larry Brand. The cast included British actors Patrick Macnee and Adrian Paul.

See also


  1. Box office information for Roger Corman films in France at Box Office Story
  2. Maçek III, J.C. (23 October 2013). "Vincent Price: The Poe Cycle". PopMatters.
  3. "Masque of the Red Death (1964) – A Retrospective" By Steve Biodrowski, Cinefantastique, November 20, 2007 accessed 20 August 2014
  4. Zweig's 'Jeremiah' Bought for Film — Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 02 Mar 1961: C8.
  5. French, Lawrence "Interview with Roger Corman", Introduction to The Masque of the Red Death novelization, Bear Manor Media 2013
  6. Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p213-214
  7. 'Paris Blues' Blow Hot, Cold on Film: Newman, Woodward, Poitier Provide Tourist's-Eye View Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 06 Oct 1961: B9.
  8. New Novel Has Its Own Music Score: Boylan Scoring 'Gabrielle'; Steve Cochran Executioner Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 11 Oct 1961: 25.
  9. POE SCENARISTS TELL A SAD TALE: Couple Working on 1 of 6 Films Being Adapted From Writer Encounter Pitfalls By MURRAY SCHUMACH Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 21 Aug 1959: 12.
  10. Melville, David (May 2013). ""Death Has No Master" – Roger Corman and The Masque of the Red Death". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 24 September 2018. ...left-over sets from Beckett (Peter Glenville, 1964)
  11. "Nicolas Roeg: It's About Time". BBC Four. BBC. Retrieved 24 September 2018. Working at first in black and white, he showed his early flair in the film adaptation of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker (1963) before revealing himself a master of colour in Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death (1964)...
  12. Archer, Eugene (17 September 1964). "Couple of Horrors". The New York Times: 52.
  13. "Masque of The Red Death". Variety: 7. 24 June 1964.
  14. "The Masque of the Red Death". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 31 (367): 117. August 1964.
  15. "Interview Roger Corman", Cinephile, 9 May 2014 accessed 20 August 2014
  16. Johnston, Andrew (31 October 1996). "Scare Tactics". Time Out New York.
  17. Dell Movie Classic: The Masque of the Red Death at the Grand Comics Database
  18. Dell Movie Classic: The Masque of the Red Death at the Comic Book DB (archived from the original)
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