John Bailey (President of Academy Film Archive)
Although conceived four years earlier, before The House of Usher launched Roger Corman’s series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, The Masque of the Red Death marked the climax of the cycle, and brought the exploitation director a new level of critical appreciation. As with earlier films from AIP’s production line, the script was a composite, taking its title and central idea from Poe’s novella, but drawing on other stories and authors (including a story by Villiers de l’Isle Adam). Unusually for AIP, it was filmed not in Hollywood but at Borehamwood studios in Britain, making use of a wide range of British actors, alongside Corman’s established Poe star Vincent Price. This allowed it to qualify for British ‘Eady’ subsidy. But most significantly, the use of award-winning period sets, originally created for Peter Glenville’s Becket by John Bryan, lent it higher production values than usual – and also gave cinematographer Nicolas Roeg his earliest opportunity to film in luridly expressive colour.
The new recognition by perceptive critics such as Eugene Archer and Tom Milne seems to have caused Corman some unease, especially as the film apparently performed less well that previous AIP shockers, perhaps also due to competition at the box-office from increasingly sensational Italian gialli by Bava and others. He would later claim that making it had been delayed due to anxiety over being seen as a cheap imitation of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, and also that that he was becoming increasingly interested in psychological aspects of the Poe material. However, its release coincided with rising concern about sexual violence in popular cinema (the British co-producer Anglo-Amalgamated was previously responsible for Michael Powell’s controversial Peeping Tom), which led to extensive censor cuts. These have since been restored, as have those in Price’s later foray into British period horror, Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968), allowing these to be seen as perhaps his finest performances in the genre.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: dal racconti The Masque of the Red Death (1842) e Hop-Frog; Or, the Eight Chained Ourang-outangs (1849) di Edgar Allan Poe. Scen.: Charles Beaumont, R. Wright Campbell. F.: Nicolas Roeg. M.: Ann Chegwidden. Scgf.: Daniel Haller. Mus.: David Lee. Int.: Vincent Price (principe Prospero), Hazel Court (Juliana), Jane Asher (Francesca), David Weston (Gino), Patrick Magee (Alfredo), Nigel Green (Ludovico), Paul Whitsun-Jones (Scarlatti), John Westbrook (uomo in rosso), Verina Greenlaw (Esmeralda). Prod.: Roger Corman per Alta Vista Productions, Anglo-Amalgamated Productions, American International Pictures. DCP. D.: 89’. Col.
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