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Perhaps the best of the Poe-Corman-Price pics, with Vincent delivering a potent performance as Prince Prospero.
There's an inherent danger in filling in all the gaps of a story whose power lies in its omissions.
Corman adaptation of original Poe material number seven, again in conjunction with American International Pictures, and again with Vincent Price. Being based around a short story by Poe there isn't really enough to stretch out into a movie, its quite obvious if you look up the original material. Thusly the movie is actually made up of two short stories by Poe, the second story being [i]Hop-Frog[/i].
Set in medieval Italy (which is quite unique in itself), the tale follows the exploits of the cruel and powerful Prince Prospero who rules with an iron fist and also worships Satan apparently, because he really is that bad. During this age the land is stricken by a plague called the red death, no one is safe from its vile clutches. Whilst visiting a small village he controls, the Prince finds the locals starving and sick, angry at him. He is confronted by two men that insult him, so he orders their deaths, but a young woman defends the men (the daughter of the older man, lover of the other) and begs for their lives. The Prince eventually accepts her pleading and takes all three back to his castle, the two men to be killed for entertainment at his big do, whilst the girl to be...his Satanic pet or whatever, I dunno, dude is married.
Anyway, In order to try and ignore the small nagging plague problem and remain safe, the Prince basically holes himself up his castle along with many other rich nobles and friends, and throws this lavish long party. During the bash a mysterious figure cloaked in red appears and wanders through the castle rooms, the Prince follows and discovers its death himself come to take him away, along with all the other nobles.
Right so here's my problem with this movie, the adaptation of the original source material. The original Poe story is pretty short and simple in its layout, obviously making a movie would require padding, but even then you can still make the main parts faithful. Alas in this movie they haven't done this, I've read about the short story and this film simply doesn't come anywhere close and I find myself asking why, its not hard to do, pretty straight forward, and it wouldn't affect the padding they created and inserted. The finale is clearly the worst offender for this, its sort of the same, but not really, changed too much bottom line, and what's worse is the original materials ending is so much better, more eerie, so why did they alter it?? I also (still) don't really get the final scene with the various coloured cloaked figures. What is going on here??! is there supposed to be many death figures? why the different colour cloaks? I realise that is linked to the Prince's various colour themed rooms...but how exactly? Also in the short story the red cloaked figure was supposed to represent the red death plague, basically an apparition, so again, what the bloody hell is going on with the multicoloured figures?
Now don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying the film is bad, far from it, its actually one of the best Price vehicles I've seen. Price hams it up something rotten as the dastardly Prince and he clearly loves it. He swans around in his lavish garments, silly head attire and close fitting tights, relishing every sneer, cackling evilly at the misfortune of others, totally chewing up the scenery and virtually mugging to the camera. My only issue would be, like with many Price movies, he's not really very good at being a bad guy. Sure he's extremely enjoyable to watch, no doubt about that, but in all honesty he's just too likeable, adorable and darling to be a genuinely nasty bad guy. He's definitely the perfect moustache twirling villain, a real cad and bounder when he wants to be, but that's as far as it goes, he can't really be a serious bad guy in my opinion. And that's the only down side here, I think he's suppose to be quite serious but it doesn't come off that way, how can anyone look into those bulging puppy dog eyes of his, with that charming voice, and think he's a serious baddie.
On the visual side its a typical Corman flick, you can tell a mile away because most of his movies in this genre all look the same. Again I'm not discrediting Corman, just pointing out an observation. I actually adore his visual style and the way he captures these little macabre Gothic tales. It certainly looks like he had a bit of money to play with here, although I'm unsure, but everything looks sumptuous to say the least. Its all set work naturally, and that's obvious, but they all look terrific, really lavish, highly detailed, vibrant in colour and seemingly quite expansive. Indeed there's one shot which appears to be continuous as the camera pans and follows Price as he walks from one room, through the main castle hall to another, whilst capturing the depth of the set with many other rooms and stairways in the background. Not forgetting the colour themed rooms which all look quite bizarre, but not as many as listed in the original story. I did love all the coloured candles everywhere though, they really set everything off nicely.
I do like how they incorporated another short Poe story into this, and so well too, it fits in nicely. The story of Hop-Frog, a dwarf and cripple who serves as a court jester, and his best friend Trippetta (lover in this film) who is also an extremely small proportioned woman (but not a dwarf) and dancer. In the short story they are basically slaves to an abusive King, a King that strikes Trippetta in front of seven cabinet councilmen, all of whom laugh. So in revenge, later on during a masquerade, Hop-Frog manages to trick and murder the King and his seven councilmen right in front of all the guests. This story is slotted in with the main plot as Hop-Frog serving Prince Prospero as his court jester, with Trippetta (now his lover called Esmeralda) as the court dancer. The basis of the story is played out quite faithfully accept its only one man that Hop-Frog murders for hitting his beloved, not involving the Prince obviously. That moment when Hop-Frog takes his revenge is actually quite dark for a movie such a this, you don't see too much of course but it definitely surprised me as they don't shy away from it. Overall I do like how they blended the two stories agreeably.
Most definitely one of the better and more enjoyable Price horrors I have seen in my time. Its also one of the better Corman/Poe/Price collaborations too methinks, visually pleasing all round (some luscious costumes), nice eerie ghosty story, touch of blood n guts and some classic, eccentric, quirky Price. My one and only gripe was the fact they didn't stick to the source material for key moments, sometimes that can work in a films favour, but this time I don't think it did, but that's just me.
Price is at his most diabolical here, while the stunning sets, costumes and cinematography help create an entrancing Gothic atmosphere in this which is most certainly the best adaptation made by Roger Corman of a Poe story.
A well done adaptation by Corman, with good ol Vincent in the lead role.
From the MGM Midnite Movie Collection, this film produced by Alta Vista Productions in 1964 must have entertained many a people at the Drive In's across America. Vincent Price gives a stellar performance as Prince Prospero. as does Hazel Court who plays the beautiful Juliana. The film itself is about a plague that invades the Village of Cantina and the Prince takes wealthy into his castle for protection and to torment. Only let down was a young actress who played a ballerina and the voice was duped in. But picture story wise a 4 star film, and one of the better from the MGM Midnite collection.
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