THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. (1964) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. (1964) DIRECTED AND CO-PRODUCED BY ROGER CORMAN. DISTRIBUTED BY AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES. BASED ON TWO SHORT STORIES BY EDGAR ALLAN POE: THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, AND HOP-FROG. CINEMATOGRAPHY BY NICOLAS ROEG OF ‘DON’T LOOK NOW’ FAME.
STARRING VINCENT PRICE, HAZEL COURT, PATRICK MAGEE, JANE ASHER, DAVID WESTON, NIGEL GREEN AND JOHN WESTBROOK.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is an excellent addition to Roger Corman’s body of work based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Some people back in the day considered it a bit too ‘arty,’ and Corman himself admits that it is quite arty, but it’s artistic in a gorgeously-coloured, lush way, the way all Corman’s Poe adaptations are equally fabulous to look at.

Vincent Price as the evil Prince Prospero is probably wickeder than he’s ever been before, except maybe as the Witchfinder General in the film of the same name. He’s a really mean customer, that Matthew Hopkins. Prince Prospero gives him a good old run for his money, though.

Prince Prospero is the ruler of a mediaeval village back in the time of the plague and the Black Death, terrible or non-existent sanitation and general all-round misery and privations for those who weren’t princes, basically. It’s the period of history I’d least like to go back to, if I had a time machine. All those boils and weeping open sores and poop flowing unchecked down the streets and what have you, eeuw…

Prospero, a jaded Satanist, lives in his fancy castle above the village and spends his time amusing himself with the debauched antics of his equally jaded courtiers. It’s not a very useful or productive existence, living just to sate oneself with gluttonous feasting, degrading and deviant sexual practises and other kinky perversions. Oooh-er. Crikey, where do I sign up…?

Prospero abducts a beautiful, innocent young girl called Francesca from the village and is thrilled with the thought of initiating her into the evil mysteries of his devil-worshipping ways. He also throws her boyfriend Gino and her father Ludovico (played by hunky character actor Nigel Greene) into his dungeons, where people are tortured and ill-treated for no other reason than Prospero’s pleasure.

Juliana, Prospero’s conniving and very jealous mistress, is tasked with having the ravishing and pure-minded Francesca cleaned up and instructed in the ways of the court. Prior to Francesca’s arrival on the scene, Juliana has been hesitating about taking the last few steps that will turn her into a true Bride of Satan and Prospero’s wife and partner in crime and evil for all eternity, but now that she has competition for the Prince’s heart in the form of this red-headed, naive beauty from the village, she decides she’s ready to take those steps. On her own pretty little head be it, I say…

In the meantime, the plague known as the Red Death- in the film, the Red Death is represented by an actual person- has come to the village. Prospero delights in battening down the castle hatches and leaving the villagers to their terrible fate, and amuses himself with planning a fabulous masked ball, at which no-one will be allowed to wear red.

At the ball, Prospero’s evil sidekick Alfredo experiences a fiery come-uppance at the hands of Hop-Toad, the court jester. Also, a mysterious cloaked figure in red turns up at the ball, despite Prospero’s strict instructions to the contrary. No-one is to wear red at this shindig, remember?

Intrigued and slightly uneasy, Prince Prospero follows the figure in red, with Francesca by his side, through the coloured rooms of his castle. He thinks the fellow might be an emissary of Satan’s, here to give him his reward for all the years of faithful wrong-doing. I wouldn’t be in such a hurry to catch up with the hooded guy in red if I were him…

The cloaked figures in different colours have always given me chills a little bit. Imagine if the world really was ruled by such supernatural beings with almighty powers, and the future of mankind could be read in the cards like it is in the film. To them, we mortals would be no more than chess pieces on a board. Fair give you the willies, it would.

The danse macabre at the close of the film is a magnificently grim ballet, and Vincent Price seems like he’s loving every second of it. He really throws himself into it, and pirouettes in deadly desperation with the best of them. Great film, great acting, great sets and costumes. Ten out of ten for THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. Poe would be proud.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1781994234

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. (1961) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. (1961) BASED ON THE WRITINGS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY ROGER CORMAN. SCREENPLAY BY RICHARD MATHESON. STARRING VINCENT PRICE AND BARBARA STEELE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a really gorgeous and sumptuous film version of Edgar Allan Poe’s creepy story, and one of the cycle of film adaptations of Poe’s works undertaken by legendary director, Roger Corman.

The magnificent horror legend Vincent Price plays Nicholas Medina, a wealthy nobleman living in (almost) solitary grandeur in his cliff-top Spanish castle by the sea in the middle of the sixteenth century. It’s 1546, to be precise. Nearly time to be getting the dinner on, so…!

Nicholas doesn’t receive many visitors, as a rule, but, as the film starts, a man called Francis Barnard comes to his castle door, demanding to be let in and to be given the details of his sister, Elizabeth’s, recent demise. Nicholas’s sister, Catherine, feels that they have no choice but to let the man in and try to endure his pointed, suspicious questions about his sister Elizabeth’s death.

Elizabeth, by the way, was Nicholas’s beloved wife, who passed away recently under rather mysterious circumstances. Nicholas is still distraught and absolutely bereft at her passing. He loved her with all the intensity and possessiveness of his autocratic heart, and now he almost wishes that he were in the grave alongside her.

We see flashbacks of Nicholas’s perfectly idyllic life with Elizabeth (Barbara Steele), in which they dined, chatted eagerly and played music together, Elizabeth’s speciality being the harpsichord. Their life together might seem a little dull to outsiders, but Nicholas certainly seems to be having a ball with his ravishing young wifey in the flashback clips, and so does Elizabeth, to be fair.

But now Elizabeth is dead, under circumstances that her brother Francis finds highly dubious. Not only that, but harpsichord music is now being heard all over the castle, when everyone knows that the harpsichord was Elizabeth’s favourite instrument and that she was the only person in the house who ever played it.

The maid is claiming to hear her dead mistress’s voice in her bedroom and, then, when Nicholas hears it too, a grisly decision is taken. There is nothing for it but to go down to the crypt in the castle’s cellars and exhume the corpse of Elizabeth Medina. Just to check that she’s really dead, and not wandering around the draughty castle in her flimsy burial shroud saying ‘boo!’ to people when she pops out from behind the drapes to give ’em a heart attack.

Nicholas’s mental state is hanging by a thread at this stage (he physically swoons in virtually every second scene), but down they go, he, Catherine, Dr. Leon (who pronounced Elizabeth dead at the time of her demise) and Francis, Elizabeth’s brother. Down, down, down they go into the dusty, cobwebby bowels of the Medina castle…

Vincent Price is superb at playing widowers-in-mourning. He’s just terrific at it, and also at wearing the doublets and hose and long luxurious dressing-gowns and velvet slippers of Ye Olden Times.

Barbara Steele is the most beautiful and fascinating actress to ever don a wasp-waisted gown in which to play the ghost of herself, and the sets are gloriously-coloured and the torture chamber splendidly, if ghoulishly, equipped. Still, you’d expect that from a torture chamber, wouldn’t you?

Adding the Spanish Inquisition to the plot and the torture chamber as well was an inspired piece of writing, and the possession of Nicholas Medina by his father’s evil ghost a fiendishly delicious twist in its tail. The whole film is truly a feast for the eyes, and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep the viewer’s interest.

The only thing I found puzzling was that the film-makers hired three very similar-looking men to play Dr. Leon, Francis Barnard and Nicholas’s man-servant, Maximilian, who saves the day at the end of the movie.

All three men have short dark hair and similar nondescript faces and are pretty much of identical height and build. Why would the film-makers do that? The men look like three fraternal triplets. I just found the whole thing kind of confusing. It doesn’t detract from the movie in any way; it’s just weird that they didn’t hire actors between whom it was easy to tell the bleedin’ difference…!

You’ll love THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. It does credit to Poe’s work, and it’s one of the many jewels in both Roger Corman’s and Vincent Price’s crowns. And scream queen Barbara Steele’s majestic presence is truly the icing on an already fabulous cake.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

THE PREMATURE BURIAL. (1962) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

premature burial couple

THE PREMATURE BURIAL. (1962) BASED ON A STORY BY EDGAR ALLAN POE. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY ROGER CORMAN. SCREENPLAY BY CHARLES BEAUMONT AND RAY RUSSELL. AN AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURE.

STARRING RAY MILLAND, HAZEL COURT, RICHARD NEY, ALAN NAPIER AND HEATHER ANGEL.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a visually gorgeous gothic horror film,  a superb addition to Roger Corman’s cycle of Edgar Allan Poe film adaptations for American International and the only one, if I’m not mistaken, not starring horror legend Vincent Price.

I’m not sure why Roger Corman opted to switch one leading man for another at this point but the film still works. It’s a wonderfully Gothic piece of dramatisation, with a setting as atmospheric and fog-wreathed as in all the other Poe films of this period.  

Ray Milland, an excellent actor whose film LOST WEEKEND is one of the best ever made on the horrors of alcoholism, plays the lead role here of Guy Carrell. Guy is a wealthy aristocrat who’s got a bee in his bonnet the size of Notre Dame Cathedral about being buried alive.

Now, you can’t really blame him for that, I suppose. No-one likes the idea of being buried alive, of waking up in their coffin underground, with the lid sealed down and the gathering population of worms sharpening their tiny knives and forks and tucking their napkins into their shirts, while others print up tiny menus that all carry only the one dish.

So, what’s given poor sensitive, touchy Guy the fear of being buried alive? Well, he’s convinced that his Pops, Daddy Carrell, was buried alive in the family crypt while under the influence of catalepsy, a terrifying condition that simulates death.

I’m not keen on the idea of a family crypt myself, having all your horrible dead relatives buried in tombs in the basement of your house. Why can’t they go in the ground in a dreary churchyard miles away, like normal people?

It would have been bad enough being around them while they were alive, without knowing that their rotting corpses are mouldering away beneath you in the family crypt. It’s enough to give you the willies, that is.

Still, it was the aristocratic way, you know. That was how the poshos did it back then, maybe still do for all I know. Probably couldn’t bear to relinquish anything that belonged to them, even if it was in a state of advanced putresence, lol.

Anyway, Guy is obsessed with the notion of being buried alive, just like he thinks his Paw was, much to the concern of his beautiful new younger wife Emily, his young doctor friend and advisor Miles and his older sister Kate Carrell. He won’t go on honeymoon with Emily, because he’d rather stay at home building himself one kickass mofo of a crypt on the grounds of his estate…

This crypt is really quite remarkable. It’s like a small house with a purpose-built coffin filled with tools for breaking out if one should have the misfortune to wake up and find oneself buried alive. There are stores of food and wine so you don’t starve to death while you’re trying to gain, as Guy himself rather splendidly puts it, ‘egress’ from his frightening hand-made mausoleum.

There’s even stores of deadly poison for killing yourself if all else fails and you can’t manage to break out of your tomb. It’s really the most ingenious of contrivances, this tomb, but it’s also the product of a very sick mind. Guy’s wife, sister and doctor are convinced of this once they realise that Guy has practically set up shop in this awful crypt, painting his horrible disturbing paintings and waiting for death.

‘What you fear has already happened, Guy,’ says Emily sharply to him when she’s had enough of his nonsense, ‘because you’re already buried alive.’ She’s right, too, you know.

Guy is being plagued in other ways as well, by the constant popping-up in his vicinity of two sinister grave-diggers who seem to wish him ill, and he’s hearing a creepy tune, Ireland’s Molly Malone of all things, coming from nowhere that’s making the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. He seems to be associating it with death and his old favourite thing to do or to have done to you, premature burial.

So when the worst happens and the thing that Guy fears more than anything else in the world comes to pass, it may not just be the catalepsy that’s put him there. There’s a foul agency at work here and I shouldn’t be at all surprised to find that it might have small feminine hands and genteel girlish fingers…

I love Alan Napier as Emily’s doctor father, Gideon Gault. He does a Peter Cushing here in that he takes delivery of newly dug-up corpses which he intends to dissect for medical purposes. Dr. Frankenstein, much? When he comments with a chuckle that Guy Carrell will be of more use to medical science dead than alive, he may even be right.

Guy is wasting whatever life and talents and time he’s been given. By obsessing night and day, day and night on what might possibly happen to him in his afterlife (which we’ll all find out, soon enough), he’s actually missing out on his one chance to live his actual life. He’s squandering his life. Other people would kill to have what he has, and he’s just throwing it away like so much rubbish.

The sets and costumes here are all stunning and luxurious-looking, as they always are in these Roger Corman productions for American International. The bedrooms, the living-rooms and the family crypt are all decked out in the most fabulously rich autumn colours of russet, brown, orangey-brown and the deepest of reds.

And the Carrolls’ beautiful, atmospheric gothic gardens and estate have got more mist than an X FACTOR final. And that, folks, as any self-respecting X FACTOR fan will tell you, is a whole helluva lotta mist…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor