Film / The Masque of the Red Death

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"The way is not easy, I know, but I will take you by the hand and lead you through the cruel light into the velvet darkness." note 

The Masque of the Red Death is a 1964 adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price.

Prince Prospero (Price) is a tight-fisted ruler that rules over his land cruelly, justifying his behavior through his devout faith to Satan. When he discovers that the Red Death - a plague that causes its victims to bleed from every pore of their skin - has arrived in a nearby village, he takes captive three healthy individuals - Francesca (Jane Asher), her father Ludovico (Nigel Green), and her lover Gino (David Weston) - and orders the rest of the village to be burnt to the ground. He offers solace to other lords in the area to join a gala devoted to vice of all sorts in an attempt to stave off the Red Death, unaware that it has plans of its own...

The film greatly expands upon the original tale and combines it with another Poe work, "Hop-Frog", as well as aspects of the French tale Torture By Hope by Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. It has been praised as one of Corman's best works (and, in fact, remains one of his favorite films to work on); while notorious for cutting corners, Corman maintained a high production value by filming in Britain (which gave him a British government subsidy) and using sets left over from the production of Becket.


This work provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Hop-Toad kills Alfredo, Prospero asks the guards to reward him with gold for providing entertainment.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Greatly.
    • The original story had no inferences to Satanism, and the only real characters were Prospero and the Red Death figure.
    • Hop-Toad and his plot for revenge are taken from Edgar Allen Poe's story "Hop-Frog."
    • The original story has the Red Death working alone. Here, he works alongside the personifications of other deadly plagues, such as the Black Death and the Yellow Death.
  • Adaptational Heroism: The Red Death, more or less. He still serves his original purpose as in the original book, but he also spares those who he thinks have good character and worthy of living.
  • All Are Equal in Death: According to the Red Death, "I called many: peasant and prince; the worthy and the dishonored."
  • Altum Videtur: The last spoken phrase in the film is by the Red Death: "Sic transit gloria mundi."
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Prospero and his guests, who wall themselves up in Prospero's castle instead of helping those infected by the Red Death, and engage in hedonistic practices. Fittingly, they die when the Red Death sneaks into the castle and infects them all.
  • Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: Openly embraced by Prospero.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Subverted by those who aren't granted safety by Prince Prospero; he often gives them a choice to flee and die of the disease or face immediate death, sometimes taking the choice away from them and having them shot on the spot.
  • Big "NO!": When Prospero pulls away the mask of the Red Death and discovers his own face beneath it, outing his "guest" as the plague he's been trying to avoid.
  • Bittersweet Ending: A step up from the original book. The majority of our heroes are alive and all of the villains are dead, but it's made explicit that the Red Death has killed many, many people.
  • Bloody Horror: When afflicted with the Red Death, the victims bleed through their skin until they are completely red.
  • Bond One-Liner: After Juliana becomes betrothed to Satan, Prospero has her killed for her betrayal.
    "I beg you do not mourn for Juliana. We should celebrate. She's just married a friend of mine."
  • Bright Is Not Good: Played straight with Prince Prospero and his noble friends, who all dress in vivid colors. But averted with the various Death Entities, who dress in bright colors such as yellow and blue, but only go around infecting people because it's their duty and are decent people when not.
  • Call Back: The film ends with the last sentence of Poe's original story.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Not only is the Red Death dressed in all-red, but the other incarnations of death wear similar robes but in different colors; White, Yellow, Gold, Blue, Violet and Black.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: What happens to poor Francesca in the end, as she grows less disturbed by the depravity of Prospero's party and watches a man burn alive blankly.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Everyone afflicted with the Red Death, who bleed through their pores until they become completely red.
    • Alfredo's death counts as well, being humiliated while dressed as a gorilla and then tied to a chandelier and burned to death.
  • The Dark Side: Prospero embraces Satanism to seek power and control, most of all over Death itself. He successfully converts Juliana to it and attempts to pull in Francesca as well.
  • Dark is Evil: Prospero, who is dressed entirely in black and is a avowed Satanist. He chooses to wall himself and a few choice guests of the nobility in his own castle and party instead of helping the infected villagers.
  • Dark is Not Evil: The Red Death entity, who ends the reign of Prospero and spares a select few that deserve salvation.
  • Depraved Dwarf: Subverted; Hop-Toad deceives Alfredo into believing he is as depraved as the rest of the party, but he is secretly plotting revenge against Alfredo's abuse of Esmerelda. Because of this, Hop-Toad and Esmerelda are spared of the Red Death in the end.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: The Red Death is never feared despite his ominous appearance; the old woman from the village and Gino both take him to be a religious monk, and Prospero interprets him at first to be an ambassador of the devil. At the end of the film, he plays card games with the surviving little girl before departing with his brethren.
  • Dramatic Unmask: Near the end, Prospero demands to know the identity of his mysterious, red-clad guest and forcibly takes off his mask... and discovers his own face beneath it. The "guest" is the Red Death personified.
  • Duel to the Death: Prospero attempts to incite this between Ludovico and Gino for the amusement of his guests, but their devotion to God and each other keeps them from conceding.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Though Prospero is told that the child from the village would die regardless, he still orders his men to refrain from shooting her when killing what's left of the villagers.
    • He also specifically requests that the Red Death spare Francesca, which the figure notes is "a charitable request...a rare thing with you, Prospero."
    • When Alfredo knocks down Esmeralda for accidentally spilling his wine, Prospero asks Hop-Toad to tend to her.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Hop-Toad's revenge plan centers around getting Alfredo to don a gorilla outfit for his costume.
  • Face Stealer: The Red Death is a twist on this trope; instead of killing a person to assume their form, he assumes the form of the person to be killed. Hence, when Prospero removes the veil at the climax of the film, he sees his own face.
  • Faith–Heel Turn: Francesca very nearly suffers this after giving herself to Prospero in return for the supposed safety of Gino; she would likely be lost were it not for the intervention of the Red Death.
  • Feathered Fiend: Prospero is a falconer and uses his bird to murder Juliana after her final Satanic ceremony.
  • God Is Dead: Invoked by Prospero.
    If a god of love and life ever did exist, he is long since dead. Someone...something rules in his place.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Possibly with Juliana, who helps Francesca with an escape attempt. On the other hand, she's motivated by a desire to get Francesca out of the way so she can have Prospero to herself again. Juliana probably knows that if she arranged for Francesca to die, Prospero would immediately know to blame his scorned consort.
  • Hollywood Satanism: Mysterious rituals, hatred of God, sadism for personal pleasure, and even the branding of an inverted cross on Juliana's right breast.
  • Ironic Echo: When first arriving at the party, Prospero makes a speech on the "anatomy of terror," claiming that the most terrible things are those that remind you of your own mortality, such as the passing of time, one's own failing heart, or the sound of footsteps; he invokes a similar speech while Juliana stares at a ticking clock, before sending his falcon to kill her.
    Listen! The passing of time...the beating of a heart...the footsteps of an assassin...destiny!
  • Ironic Hell: After the Red Death reveals himself for what he truly is, Prospero finds himself surrounded by his now infected guests and frantically tries to escape their pleas for help.
  • Karmic Death: Prospero and his guests wall themselves up in wealth and pleasure, ignoring the needs of the infected villagers and killing anyone who tries to get in. Fittingly, they die when the Red Death sneaks into Prospero's castle and infects them.
  • Kill 'em All: Only six people survive this film.
    Last lines: ...and Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.
  • Kill It with Fire: Hop-Toad does Alfredo in by making him wear a gorilla outfit, tying him to a chandelier, dousing him with brandy and then lighting him on fire.
    • This is also how Prospero deals with the Red Death when he sees it in the village; he kidnaps Francesca and what's left of her family before ordering the village burnt to the ground.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: When another lord and his wife attempt to enter the castle, Prospero points out that they passed through the plague-ridden village and will not be allowed to enter; the lord pleads for salvation from the Red Death, and Prospero gives it to him by shooting him with a crossbow. He then tosses a dagger down for the woman to kill herself with.
  • Liberty Over Prosperity: Prospero compares Francesca to his trained falcon: blind in her obedience to God.
  • Love Interest: Gino for Francesca, Juliana for Prospero, and Esmerelda for Hop-Toad.
  • Man on Fire: Alfredo; he doesn't run around as much as your typical example, since he's tied to a chandelier, but he ends up completely engulfed in flames.
  • The Masquerade: The climax of the film.
  • Match Cut: Prospero tosses a dagger down to a woman outside the castle for her to kill herself with; the scene then cuts to a sword clattering to the ground in his dungeon, where Gino is being forced to swordfight.
  • Nice Guy: Hop-Toad, even though he pretends otherwise. Aside from his kindness to Esmeralda, he can be seen comforting Francesca during Prospero's deadly dagger-game.
  • Number Two: Alfredo, though he wishes to succeed Prospero eventually.
  • Papa Wolf: Ludovico, who died in an attempt to save his daughter and her lover from Prospero.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • The Red Death helps Gino and spares Francesca's life. In the epilogue, he's seen playing cards with a little girl and both seem to be having fun.
    • Prospero grows to love Francesca due to her faith and asks the Red Death to spare her.
  • The Plague: The Red Death. At the end of the film, the red-cloaked figure is joined by others in different colors, implying that they, too, are bringers of disease and death to populations.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: The Red Death gives one to Prospero in the end.
    Why should you be afraid to die? Your soul has been dead for a long, long time.
  • The Prophecy: The Red Death gives a bloody rose to an old woman from the village and asks that she tell the rest of her people that "The day of their deliverance is at hand." She dies shortly afterward of the Red Death, as does much of the village.
  • Punch Clock Villain: The Red Death. Its avatar is never malicious, and it actually goes out of its way to do in a bunch of evil nobles who might have survived by sequestering themselves. Likewise, the various incarnations of death that appear in the end; they do mention their respective body-counts, but it's shoptalk rather than gloating.
  • Red Is Heroic: The Red Death. Yes, his job is to infect people with his designated plague, but he also does in Prospero and his guests; those who survive encounters with him do so because they had good character, and so are spareed. He even plays cards with a little girl at the end.
  • Reflexive Response: Prospero tells Francesca a story about how his father imprisoned a "friend" in the yellow chamber for three years, thus instilling in him a phobia of the color yellow. "When he was released, he could never again bear to look at the sun, or even a daffodil."
  • Russian Roulette: Prospero uses a variant of this against Gino and Ludovico using daggers; one dagger is laced with a fast-acting poison, and both must take turns to cut their arms. Both survive until the last blade is left; knowing it's poisoned, Ludovico attempts to stab Prospero with it but is run through with his sword instead.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell: According to the Red Death, "Each man creates his own God for himself: his own Heaven; his own Hell. [...] Your Hell, Prince Prospero...and the moment of your death."
  • The Soulless: Prospero, as invoked by the Red Death.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: When Gino climbs the castle wall, he meets the Red Death. After the Red Death shows him a dead guard to ensure that Gino won't be caught, it vanishes abruptly.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailers to the film openly give away the climactic scene of Prospero seeing his own face on the Red Death.
  • Turn Coat: Though Juliana's devotion to Satan is complete, her jealousy of Prospero's desire for Francesca leads to her giving Francesca the key to Gino and Ludovico's cell.
  • Villainous Crush: Prospero for Francesca, much to the jealousy of Juliana.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: One of Prospero's very few redeeming qualities. The Red Death is also seen at the end playing cards with a little girl who survived the village massacre.
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