I am ashamed to admit that, until today, I had not seen this American International Poe/Corman/Price vehicle. It's been in my collection, unopened, for awhile now, so I thought, "why not today?" and popped it on. I wasn't disappointed.
The Masque of the Red Death, Price stars as Prince Prospero, and he gathers his favoured friends in his castle to enjoy his hospitality, to safeguard against the titular plague which is ravaging the surrounding countryside and laying waste to the peasantry that serve the prince, and basically, to party like it's 1399. At one point, several of the peasants try to gain access to the castle, fleeing from the death and the bitter winds that signal the encroaching winter nipping at their heels. Prospero simply gives the command to his archers to fire upon the pleading plebes. That's the kinda guy he is. I won't spoil it but to say that Vinny gets his in the wonderfully heavy and gruesome end (as is standard in these Poe/Corman/Price pix, so it's no spoiler at all, really).
Price is at his most sadistic in this meaty role (certainly rivalling his Matthew Hopkins portrayal in Witchfinder General), and with some inspired direction from Corman, this one is not to be missed. There are some truly stunning set pieces, and the uber-dramatic lighting presages similar techniques used 13 years later by Dario Argento in the brilliant Suspiria. Intriguingly, the gorgeously stylized and vivid cinematography comes to us courtesy of then-lensman, soon to be arthouse darling, Nicolas Roeg. The script feels at times a bit disjointed, but I suppose that's a result of the film being a conflation of two Poe tales. Though it drags a bit here and there, it always picks up speed again just when you are beginning to lose interest. And look for the cheeky (pun intended) appearance by a raven at one point. The way that the red death is envisioned by Corman is very unique, and the final counsel of the Deaths is both frankly humourous and ponderously chilling.
I'm a sucker for gothic horror, and for Price, but I don't think I've got the blinders on when I say this is one of the better Poe-to-screen adaptations. While my favourite still remains Witchfinder General, there are a bunch I've yet to see. But really, how can you not love a film that features both an explicitly Satan-worshiping Price and a dwarf jester named Hop Toad? EEEEK, I adore it! A great film to kick off the season of the witch...