Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Masque of the Red Death

Roger Corman used to make a shit-ton of movies. In fact, he'd have made about three in the time it takes you or me to eat a bowl of cereal.

In 1964, he released The Masque of the Red Death. Ever the dealmaker, he shot it in England, taking advantage of a tax loophole and getting subsidies for using a British crew. Additionally, he used sets from Burton/O'Toole/Gielgud epic Becket. The result is a pretty good-looking movie done on the cheap. Kudos, Corman.

What I love about this "horror" movie is that there's barely a scary element. Vincent Price isn't a vampire or a mad scientist. He's just a guy who likes to fuck with people. The plague (the titular Red Death) is ravaging the countryside, and Price's Prince Prospero has invited a bunch of his nobleman friends to sit it out in his castle.

Also there is peasant girl Francesca, played by the lovely Jane Asher. For some reason, Prospero wants to convert her to satanism. Yeah, that's Prospero's scary hook. He has a little shrine to Satan in his castle, which is little more than a small black room with an altar and two pretty rockin' dragon statues on it.

His arguments for Francesca to convert to satanism are pretty poorly thought out, as well. "God is dead!" "The world is evil anyway!" "There would be chaos if no one took control!" But hey, he's Vincent Price. He delivers all that stuff about "Bask with me in the glories of hell!" with such smug gusto that it's a joy just literally hearing him talk.

I love that this movie exists. That there was an era where producers wanted to make money, and what they had to do to get money was film some people getting fucked up in a spooky castle while Vincent Price rambled on about doom and terror and darkness and I don't know he likes Satan or something.

There is also an amazing subplot where Alfredo, one of Prospero's asshole noble friends kicks a lady midget ballerina for spilling his drink. Two minutes earlier, he breathlessly whispered to Prospero that "I want her". The kicker? Corman somehow couldn't get a hold of a real lady midget (??), so it's an actual five year old girl voiced by an adult actress. I was initially confused whether or not Alfredo was a pedophile or just a dude horny for midgets. When Prospero's guy-midget plots to get back at mean old Alfredo, he pledges to his lady love he shall not rest before this wrong is righted. He is a real midget, though. I don't even know who was more uncomfortable the day they had to shoot that romantic scene. In the spirit of equal opportunity discrimination, the male midget is also dubbed by a non-freak actor.

Spoilers ahead, though the movie's almost 50 years old and who gives a shit. The vengeance of Hop Toad (male midget) consists of convincing Alfredo to wear a gorilla suit to the titular masque, since all the other guests will be "cleverly disguised, but still... only human." Hop Toad will be playing the ape's midget handler. During the act, our jilted lover douses Alfredo with brandy, ties him to a lowered chandelier, lifts him back up with his amazing little person strength, and sets him no fire. Everyone is shocked, but Prospero is dying of laughter.

"See to it that Hop Toad receives five sovereigns for this delightful performance! A beautiful reminder of life's little cruelties!"

Wow. I wanna live in that castle. If one of life's little everyday cruelties is a guy in a gorilla suit getting burned alive in front of your dinner party guests, well... you know.

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