Nope, no big openings this weekend, and everybody is too busy talking Oscars right now (we’ll get to that later in the week). So while waiting for the awards ceremony to begin, the Cinefantastique Online team of the Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French and Dan Persons got together to celebrate another film having its fiftieth anniversary this year. It’s Larry’s call this time around, and he’s picked a good ‘un: THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, Roger Corman’s adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story that casts Vincent Price as a Satan-worshiping noble who just wants to be loved — and corrupt anyone who comes within sneering distance — while an horrific pestilence spreads across the Italian countryside.
This time the team is in accord that this is not just, at the very least, one of Corman’s best Poe adaptations — possibly the best — but also a bona fide horror classic, lushly mounted and photographed (by Nicolas Roeg!), intelligently adapted by Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell, and featuring an impressive cast headed up by Price in one of his finest performances. Come listen in as the guys delve in-depth into what makes this a must-see film for any dedicated fan of cinematic terror.
This week, Netflix added a bloody barrel-full of horror movies from the 1960s and ’70s to their list of titles available for Instant Viewing. Many of these are classics made by Hammer Films in England or by American International Pictures in the U.S. In some cases, the titles are not available on DVD, so this is a much-needed opportunity for fans to have access to them.
Here is a brief rundown:
THE COMEDY OF TERRORS: a 1963 AIP production, with horror stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone sending themselves up.
THE CRIMSON CULT: a weak 1968 British effort, distinguished only by the presence of horror stars Barbara Steele, Boris Karloff, and Christopher Lee (not on DVD).
DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN: Vincent Price is back as the abominable Doctor, this time outracing a rival (Robert Quarry) for the secret of eternal life.
HANDS OF THE RIPPER: a 1917 Hammer horror in which the spirit of Jack the Ripper may live on in his daughter (not on DVD).
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH: Vincent Price stars as Prince Prospero in this, the best of Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations.
THE RAVEN: an amusing 1963 horror-comedy from Roger Corman, with Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Hazel Court.
TALES OF TERROR: a triptych of Poe tales from Corman, with Price, Rathbone, and Lorre.
THEATRE OF BLOOD: Vincent Price plays a Shakespearian actor out to kill the critics who denied him an award. Ghoulish, bloody, and funny.
TOMB OF LIGEIA: Corman’s 1965 swan song to the Poe cycle is another fine effort, this time with an emphasis on doomed romance, with Vincent Price and Elizabeth Shepherd.
THE VAMPIRE LOVERS: a 1970 Hammer production based on J. Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla, starring Ingrid Pitt as the eroticaly charged vampire countess.
VAMPIRE CIRCUS: a 1972 tale of a travelling circus that arrives at a town quarantined by a plague, this is one of the best Hammer films from this era; it pushed the envelope, moving from sexual innuendo to actual sex (not on DVD).
The key titles here are HANDS OF THE RIPPER and VAMPIRE CIRCUS, due to their lack of DVD availability; these are truly worth checking out. THE CRIMSON CULT is also not available on DVD, but it is of lesser interest.
So far, I have sampled only a portion of DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN. The picture quality (with a high-speed internet connection through a Roku box to a high-def television) is quite good but clearly not up to the level of a Blu-ray disc – closer to DVD. UPDATE: I finished watching the DR. PHIBES sequel and I am pleased to say that the version shown on Netflix includes the correct music at the end: Vincent Price singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN is one of many AIP films that suffered soundtrack problems when originally released to video, with original cues replaced by alternate tracks. In this case, the effectiveness of the ending was totally ruined by the use of inappropriate music, so it is nice to report that the this problem has not been repeated here.
This film features Vincent Price (the Merchant of Menace) in one of his finest roles—as Prince Prospero. Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, producer-director Roger Corman’s film mostly eschews shock tactics and formulaic suspense, instead emphasizing the moral aspect of horror, as the Devil-worshipping Prince tries to win over an innocent Christian (Jane Asher) to his satanic beliefs. Prospero’s efforts are interrupted, however, by the intrusion of a titular plague, embodied in the form of a red-cloaked reaper who intones philosophic aphorisms like “Each man creates his own Gods from within himself—his own Heaven, and his own Hell.” In one of his best villainous performances, Price displays admirable restraint, avoiding the over-the-top ham that typified his horror roles at this time, instead putting his tongue-in-cheek style in the service of his bemused character (instead of using it as a sarcastic comment on the character), and the script is sophisticated in a way that few horror films are. Corman does the best work of his career, aided by the wonderful cinematography of Nicolas Roeg. Continue reading “Masque of the Red Death (1964) – A Retrospective”→