Review by Lucas
had already impressed horror fans with its budget-priced line
of 'Midnite Movies', showcasing many AIP titles and other '50s/'60s
B films for under $10 at such outlets as Best Buy. Now, MGM
has kicked up the series a notch by releasing double feature
discs... with no increase in price! Speaking of price,
this disc pairs one of the best in the Vincent Price/Roger Corman/Poe
cycle, Masque of the Red Death
(the second-to-last), with the lame duck of the series, the
only one to not star Price in the lead.
In a bleak
countryside ravaged by the Red Death, the sadistic, Satan-worshipping
Prince Prospero (Price, in a particularly meaty performance)
holds court over a massive gathering of his "friends" —
fellow nobles who have renounced God for the protection of Prospero
and Satan from the plague. Among the gathered is a devout peasant
girl, Francesca (pretty Jane Asher), who Prospero "saved" from
the plague because of her purity in order to corrupt her soul.
As the plague decimates Francesca's village, Prospero and his
friends blaspheme and engage in acts of debauchery, secure in
the knowledge that they are safe behind his walls thanks to
his pact with the Devil. Yet, the Red Death moves ever closer...
Are the Satanists really protected from the inevitability of
(early work of future filmmaker Nicholas Roeg), lavish production
(left-over sets from the production of Beckett
give this a grander, more expensive
look), Masque is easily the most
artsy and complex of the Poe series. Inspired by his love of
foreign film, and owing more than a little to Bergman's Seventh
Seal, Corman and screenwriter Charles Beaumont have fashioned
a literate allegory on the subjects of good and evil, and God
and Satan's place in the world. Is God dead? Did Satan destroy
him? Is Satan the god of evil or, as Prospero puts it, of reality?
Can faith in the Christian God protect His flock from the ravages
of the Red Death and the cruelty of Prince Prospero? Masque
offers no easy answers to the questions raised; what can you
say about a film in which deliverance from the tyrannical hand
of Prospero comes in the form of a deadly plague, or where a
fiercely religious girl almost destroys herself by nearly renouncing
her faith to save her beloved? While Masque
occasionally dips into the well of self-conscious artiness so
often favored by art films, its ambitiousness does not interfere
with the telling of a solid, rewarding horror story, possibly
the closest to capturing the somber mood of Poe.
is at his best as Prince Prospero, a thoroughly evil, brutal
tyrant. Yet Price manages to imbue the character with a sense
of sadness, a tragic quality that belies his atrocious deeds.
In his debates with Francesca about faith and his allegiance
to Satan, there are glimpses of a man repulsed by the cruelty
of the world to the degree that he must align himself with it
in order to survive. It is almost as though while Prospero attempts
to seduce Francesca to the dark side, her presence awakens a
glimmer of redemption in his heart due to the sheer conviction
of her faith. Equally good is Hazel Court (Curse
of Frankenstein) as Juliana, a noblewoman willing to offer
her soul to Satan and Prospero, and Patrick Magee as one of
Prospero's guests, who meets a particularly grisly end.
MGM decided to pair the brilliant Masque
with the third entry in the Poe series, Premature
Burial. It's not that Burial
is a bad film; what kills it is a reliance on too many thematic
elements from the previous two Poe pictures (Fall
of the House of Usher and Pit
and the Pendulum). Ray Milland (dreadfully miscast in a
role begging to be played by Price) secludes himself in a creepy,
isolated mansion much to the consternation of new bride Hazel
Court. Milland suffers from an acute fear of falling into a
cataleptic state and being buried alive, as he believes his
father was, so he sets out to create a full-proof tomb with
escape contingencies just in case the same fate awaits him.
As you can image — with a title like Premature
Burial — before long Milland ends up six feet under,
and being a Poe picture, all is not what it seems. Was Milland
the unfortunate victim of a family predisposition to catalepsy?
Was someone trying to drive Milland out of his mind? Was Corman
already getting weary of the Poe cycle, hence the uninspired
results shown here?
brooding protagonist, suffering sister, an isolated, cobwebby
estate, ancestors interred in the underground family crypt,
psychedelic dream sequence... Premature
Burial is a numbingly padded recycling of familiar ingredients
that could almost be forgiven if not for the presence of Milland
in the lead role. Even though Burial
has that "been there, done that" feel, Price could have at least
added his particular tongue-in-cheek scene-chewing charm to
the funereal goings-on. Milland, sadly, is so out of place in
these surroundings, practically sleepwalking through his role.
He does bother to wake up briefly for the head-scratching finale,
but by then it is far too late.
with the other AIP flicks released by MGM, both Masque
and Burial look gorgeous. These prints
are a revelation for those of us who only knew these films through
dreadful pan and scan, muted prints. The colors are vibrant, particularly
the multiple hues of Masque; its
many-colored rooms and bright costumes look incredible in this
presentation. Original theatrical trailers and an interview with
Roger Corman accompany both films (the backstory on Burial
is far more interesting than the film itself, and Corman relates
a fun anecdote of his brush with a minutes-from-fame Beatle).
Our only quibble: why with the wonderfully moody, evocative poster
art available for both films (which can be glimpsed on the back
cover), did MGM opt for a more generic-looking cover? Letting
the famous Masque image of Price's
reddened face go to waste is a shame! 9/04/02