A Movie for 2020

Vincent Price as Prince Prospero and Patrick Magee as Alfredo

As we approach Halloween, I propose a 1964 film by Roger Corman as the perfect paradigm for our year of coronavirus and Trump—namely, The Masque of the Red Death.

The story concerns a gathering of wealthy friends (let’s call them billionaires) of Prince Prospero at his castle while the Red Death plague rages through the land. It is my favorite Roger Corman film, with elegant color photography by Nicholas Roeg.

Unfortunately, the character of Vincent Price’s Prospero, nasty as he may be, is played by too interesting an actor to be a stand-in for Donald J. Trump—though he wealthy guests are perfect. One can imagine the My Pillow Guy and the founder of Goya Foods at this party.

You might also want to read the Edgar Allan Poe story from which the film is drawn. You can find it here.

Death Is Stalking the Land in Masque of the Red Death

In the end, Prince Prospero and all his guests come down with the Red Death, which they had so studiously tried to avoid. And curiously, the character is plays the personification of the deathly plague is, once again, Vincent Price.

The Crown Prince of Grade Z Films

Masque of the Red Death (1964)

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

The first time I ever heard of him was when I was a student at Dartmouth. At that time (the mid 1960s) I subscribed to Films and Filming. One issue contained an article entitled “The Crown Prince of Z Films,” referring, of course, to Roger Corman. I was intrigued by what I was hearing of the cheapster director who made so many interesting films for American International Pictures. What I liked most were the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, usually starring Vincent Price.

Perhaps my favorite was The Masque of the Red Death (1964), about the attempt by a group of dissipated nobles to escape the plague. There were others in the series, including House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Premature Burial (1962), The Raven (1963), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964).

A Young Roger Corman (Left) with Vincent Price

A Young Roger Corman (Left) with Vincent Price

When I first met Martine in the late 1980s, I discovered that she was a hard-core Corman addict, liking such films as Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) and the original The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), which was shot in under a week on a shoestring budget. There are in all about a dozen films he directed that are worth seeing and hold up well over the years. (He also made not a few clinkers, but that’s showbiz!) After he stopped directing around 1970 he continued to produce films and was responsible for some 300+ films over his half century career.

Other than the Poe features, I also enjoyed I, Mobster (1958), A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Intruder (1962) starring William Shatner, Tales of Terror (1962), X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) starring Ray Milland, The Wild Angels (1966), The Trip (1967), and Bloody Mama (1970).

Corman introduced us to Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Bruce Dern, to name just a few. In his films were such stars as Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre.

Perhaps I had a misspent youth, but I sure enjoyed it—and continue to do so….