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 SKULL. (1965) AN AMICUS FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

skull april olrich

THE SKULL. (1965) AN AMICUS PRODUCTION. BASED ON THE SHORT STORY ‘THE SKULL OF THE MARQUIS DE SADE’ BY ROBERT BLOCH.

DIRECTED BY FREDDIE FRANCIS. PRODUCED BY MILTON SUBOTSKY AND MAX J. ROSENBERG.

STARRING PETER CUSHING, CHRISTOPHER LEE, PATRICK WYMARK, PATRICK MAGEE, NIGEL GREEN, MICHAEL GOUGH, PETER WOODBRIDGE, APRIL OLRICH, MAURICE GOOD, GEORGE COULOURIS AND JILL BENNETT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is an utterly gorgeous film, one of my favourites of all the films in which horror icons Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee appeared together. THE SKULL isn’t exactly one of their double acts, however, as Peter Cushing is undoubtedly the star of the film and he appears in nearly every scene, unlike the handsome Mr. Lee who appears in just four scenes. I must stress that it’s not a competition, however, as there’s more sexiness and acting talent in Sir Chris’s four scenes than there would be in most actors’ entire Curriculum Vitae, lol.

Peter Cushing does a magnificent job here of playing Professor Christopher Maitland, a writer of books relating to the occult and an obsessive collector of all and any items relating to his passion. Books, skulls, masks, bric-a-brac, you name it and he’s probably got it, stashed away on his shelves or on display in a glass cabinet in his huge sprawling study.

His study is one of the finest Amicus sets I’ve ever seen. It’s been referred to as cluttered and practically ‘unlive-able in’ but I disagree. I could make myself perfectly comfortable in a gaff like that. I live surrounded by books anyway. I’m very much at home in that milieu, although I don’t go a bundle on the old bric-a-brac.

Someone who owns- or hoards!- as many books as I do can’t be seen to be collecting old bits of rubbish as well or else they’d look mad, lol. Like a crazy hoarder, the like of which you’d see on one of those TV shows, IRELAND’S BIGGEST HOARDER or something like that. Still, Peter Cushing’s study here is a marvel of set design, and kudos to the props person too. Wherever they sourced all their materials from, they’ve done an absolutely smashing job.

Professor Maitland is one day offered a book on the life of the Marquis de Sade, that jolly chappie from French history and literature who died in a lunatic asylum in 1814 and incidentally from whom we’ve derived the word ‘sadism.’ A sadist is a person who derives pleasure from giving others pain.

While, yes, the word can technically apply to employees of the Post Office who put up the sign ‘THIS WINDOW IS CLOSED’ just when you reach their counter after queuing for an hour, the word is more correctly applied to pervy types who like to whip or flagellate others during sex or cause pain by dripping hot candle wax onto the private parts of others, and so on.

That’s the pure meaning, I suppose you could say, of the word ‘sadist,’ although the word is frequently applied to people in all manner of other professions too: mean bosses, bitchy teachers who pile on the homework, auditors, employment officers who quiz you on your skill-set and then get you to apply for a job wholly unrelated to your field of expertise just because they can, etc.

Anyway, the book on the life of the Marquis de Sade is ever so beautifully bound… in human skin. It’s a mere snip at two hundred smackers. Maitland snaps it up, as Marco, his unsavoury and maybe even slightly dodgy ‘source’ for such rare materials, knows he will.

Marco, marvellously played by Patrick Wymark (an actor I’m always confusing with Patrick Magee, who’s also in the film, and Patrick McNee and Patrick McGoohan who are not), returns the next night with an item of even more interest to the nutty professor. This time it’s the actual skull of the aforementioned Marquis de Sade. One thousand pounds and it’s Maitland’s to keep. For ever and ever, Amen…

The skull comes with a back-story from Ye Olden Times which is told in a flash-back. The young woman who plays the phrenologist’s mistress, April Olrich, is stunning to look at and her dresses and hats are fabulous. Well, you know how chic the French broads are, lol. I love when she’s nervously clearing the bathroom of her bath oils and skin lotions, careful not to go too near the bath-tub where the phrenologist, her lover, met his lonely, eerie death.

That’s the thing about the Skull, you see. It has a strange effect on the people who possess it, making them suddenly want to destroy themselves and/or others. Christopher Lee’s Sir Matthew Philips, first seen purchasing four statues of occult figures for well over the odds without knowing why he’s doing it, knows full well how evil the Skull can be, and how strong a will you’d need to have to be able to withstand it.

Maitland ignores his old friend Sir Matthew’s advice and dire warnings, however, and decides to keep the Skull. Whatever happens from here on in is pretty much a case of ‘well, on his own head be it, then.’ Will he rue the day he acquired such an oddity for his prized and treasured collection? You might say so…

Michael Gough from the original Hammer DRACULA (1958) and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962) has a cameo role here as the auctioneer who sells Christopher Lee’s Sir Matthew the occult figurines.

Peter Woodbridge- Zoltan the Hypnotist from Hammer’s THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN- does a brilliant job of playing the sly and sleazy Bert Travers, the landlord or caretaker of Marco’s apartment building. What a sneaky, nasty self-serving little individual Bert Travers is! Just like Zoltan, so.

Nigel Green (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, COUNTESS DRACULA, ZULU) plays Detective Inspector Moustache (my personal nickname for his splendidly moustached person), the copper who comes into the picture to investigate certain Skull-related shenanigans.

Patrick Magee, who stars in one of the vignettes in Amicus’s star vehicle and most famous anthology film, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, is here also as the police surgeon who wonders aloud about who- or what- could have severed this or that jugular.

It’s interesting that he’s here because he once created the role of the Marquis de Sade in the original stage and screen productions of MARAT SADE, otherwise known as: The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. Yes, I know, try saying that little lot when you’ve had a skinful.

Jill Bennett (Hammer’s THE NANNY) does a good serviceable job as Maitland’s wife, who worries about her husband’s terrible obsession with the occult and all things supernatural. People do generally say that when you start messing about with all that weird stuff, you never know what bad mojo it’ll lead to. In the case of Professor Maitland, this sadly turns out to be more than apt…

There are some terrific Skull’s-eye-view shots that frame Peter Cushing neatly in the centre of the gaping nose socket, if you get me. Apparently, the director Freddie Francis shot these scenes through a giant replica of the Skull while whizzing about on roller-skates like a mad thing. How cool is that…?

The Skull itself is extremely proactive. It travels around the place with impunity, on strings that you can sometimes see but mostly you can’t. It likes to sit on a certain table marked with the sign of the pentagram and God help you if you’re in its place.

The power it has is quite similar to the eye-power the Creepy Kids have in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. They can ‘make people pitchfork each other and junk,’ according to one Milhouse Van Houten from THE SIMPSONS, and so can the Skull. And I daresay the Skull cost less to feed and house than those pesky child actors and actresses did, lol.

One scene I don’t get in the film is Maitland’s nightmare scene, although other critics enthuse over it. As De Sade was known for his sexual sadism as practised on women, I personally would have replaced Maitland’s sexless nightmare with a nice sexually-charged whipping scene.

A stripped-to-the-waist Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing take turns whipping a stunning topless Hammer Beauty… whoops, Amicus Beauty, I mean, whom they then take turns ravishing, although she’s perfectly willing and ready for their loving. I might even add in a little oral pleasure at this point. I don’t suppose that this scene would have ever gotten past the censors, though. Sigh. Still, I know what’ll be in my dreams tonight…!

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