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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 film adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's story of the same name, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price.

In medieval Italy, Prince Prospero (Price) is a wealthy, tight-fisted despot who rules over his land with cruelty, justifying his behavior through his devout faith in 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 local village, he takes captive three poor but 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 burned to the ground. He sends out invitations to other nobles in the area to attend a masquerade ball at his castle, devoted to vice of all sorts, in an effort to stave off the Red Death, unaware that it has plans of its own.


The seventh entry in Corman's so-called "Poe Cycle", the film greatly expands upon the original story and combines it with another Poe work, "Hop-Frog", as well as aspects of the French tale "The 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 among his own films); 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:

  • Actor Allusion: A clock with a pendulum is visible in the castle, with a blade-like bob at the end - a nod to The Pit and the Pendulum, also directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price (and in fact was made because they didn't have the budget to adapt Masque of the Red Death at the time).
  • 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.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Prospero displays a cruelty and folly that his literary counterpart lacks.
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • Juliana believes herself betrothed to Satan, only for Prospero to cruelly send his falcon to kill her. Even the guests are shocked by his casual dismissal of her.
    • Prospero from Francesca's perspective. It seems she senses she won't be seeing him again after the Red Death sends her to the battlements, and she gives him a kiss on the cheek.
  • All Are Equal in Death: According to the Red Death, "I called many: peasant and prince; the worthy and the dishonored."
  • 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.
  • Artistic License – Religion: The inverted cross as a symbol of Satanism, notably which Juliana brands herself with. This comes from Christianity actually; Saint Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles, was to be crucified and asked to have it done upside down (believing himself to be unworthy to die the same way as Jesus). The symbol is known as the Cross of St Peter, and was seen as a holy symbol - unlikely to be used by a Satan worshiper, at least at that point in time.
  • Asshole Victim: Almost all the residents of the castle, but particularly Alfredo, who is publicly humiliated and then burnt alive by Hop Toad and deserves every second of it.
  • Badass Baritone: The Red Death himself has one to rival Christopher Lee.
  • Bad Boss: Prospero likes to force his guests to grovel before him and humiliate themselves as everyone watches on and laughs. At the end, he views the spread of the Red Death in his castle as an offering to Satan and casually weaves his way through the crowd when he's infected.
  • Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: Openly embraced by Prospero; at the same time it's implied that one of the things that makes him attracted to Francesca is the fact that her goodness is completely genuine.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Julianna approaches Francesca in a sinister manner and talks about how she is giving her soul to Satan and wants Prospero for herself in a scene that seems to be setting up a Murder the Hypotenuse attempt. Then, Julianna instead offers Francesca a means to escape the castle with her captive loved ones, choosing to remove her as a competitor through nonviolent means.
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: Prospero orders this be done to Francesca.
  • 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.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Prospero is flamboyantly proud to be evil, but he also thinks of himself as Necessarily Evil to prevent the world from being thrown into chaos. However, that entails oppression of the lower classes, and lots of torture and murder committed purely for his own pleasure. He'll also stop short of killing children, even if it means allowing them to die a worse death than what he could have in store for them, and at the end, genuinely grows to love Francesca for her sincere Christian faith.
  • 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.
  • The Caligula: Prospero.
  • Call-Back: The film ends with the last sentence of Poe's original story.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Prospero doesn't even pretend that he's not the bad guy. In his speech before the masquerade, he celebrates the "triumph of evil over good". However, he also seems to operate on Blue-and-Orange Morality.
    Prospero: I gather about me... the nobles of the countryside.
    Gino: When you'll throw us the scraps from your table... as if we were dogs.
    Prospero: Exactly.
  • 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.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Prospero prefers to think of it as "instructing," but either way, he has a fascination with innocence for this reason, and he delights in the prospect of converting Francesca, a pure-hearted Christian girl, to Satanism. But despite the horrors she witnesses, she never loses her benevolence, and Prospero comes to respect her in his own twisted way.
  • 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 an 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 by the Red Death in the end.
  • Devil, but No God: An unusual variant. Prospero believes that Satan has killed God and taken his place; the Red Death doesn't dispute this but tells him Satan "does not rule alone".
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the short story, Prospero died before all the guests, who only succumb to the disease after discovering his body. Here, the guests drop dead first - and Prospero is the last to die.
  • 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.
  • The Dung Ages: The film's setting fits this to a T, with decaying peasant villages being wiped out by the plague as the corrupt, decadent aristocracy hold lavish parties in Prospero's castle.
  • The Elites Jump Ship: When a pestilence threatens the lives of everyone in the countryside, Prince Prospero gathers all of his aristocratic friends to his castle. Then he locks the building down and throws masquerade balls as scores of people die outside his walls.
  • Emotionless Girl: Princess Scarlatti is quite stoic as Prospero tauntingly refuses to give her and her terrified husband refuge. Even having her husband shot with a crossbow and her former lover Prospero tossing her a knife and suggesting she use it on herself don't faze her. Her reaction might also count as a Face Death with Dignity moment.
  • 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." The implication is that he admires the fact that her faith is completely genuine in contrast to the corrupt scumbags who are his friends.
    • When Alfredo backhands Esmeralda for accidentally spilling his wine, Prospero asks Hop-Toad to tend to her, and gets his own form of revenge for the insult by hurling a glass of wine into Alfredo's face.
    • The guests likewise seem shocked at Juliana and Alfredo's deaths, though admittedly forget about them quite quickly in favor of revelling.
  • Everybody Hates Hades: Averted. The Death entities are clearly saddened by the suffering they cause among humanity, but they must do their duty.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The Red Death entity is pretty stoic about most things humans do, but is visibly Not Amused by Prospero's "jests".
  • Face-Revealing Turn: When Francesca attempts to escape the castle with Gino and her father, she comes across a guard she assumes has been bribed to help them; the soldier turns around and reveals himself to be Prospero. Apparently, Prospero went to the trouble of putting on a suit of armor and standing alone on the ramparts with his back to a door just so he could confront them in a more dramatic fashion.
  • 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.
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: Six people are left alive at the end of the film. The females include Francesca, Esmeralda and the little girl Prospero spared earlier. The males include Gino, Hop Toad and an old man from the village.
  • Genre Savvy: Francesca's father, rather than cut his arm with the last dagger (that is sure to be the poisoned one), goes to stab Prospero with it...only for Prospero to anticipate this and run him through with a sword.
  • God Is Dead: Invoked by Prospero, and heavily implied to be confirmed by the Red Death.
    If a god of love and life ever did exist, he is long since dead. Someone...something rules in his place.
  • Gratuitous Latin: The last spoken phrase in the film is by the Red Death: "Sic transit gloria mundi."note 
  • Guile Hero: Hop Toad, who ultimately manages to get revenge on Alfredo and escape the castle with Esmeralda through nothing but his own cunning.
  • 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 Costuming:
    • Many of the men's hats are about three hundred years out of date with the movie's time period.
    • Francesca's hairstyle looks more 1960s than Middle Ages. Especially the fringe and layers.
  • Hollywood Satanism: Mysterious rituals, hatred of God, sadism for personal pleasure, and even the branding of an inverted cross on Juliana's right breast.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Red Death’s Anthropomorphic Personification here is arguably more human looking than it was in the source material and also capable of mercy, but it doesn’t stop it from being the avatar of an unnatural plague.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Something Prospero believes; that Francesca is a genuinely kind person is one of the things that prompts him to fall in love with her.
  • Instant Expert: Gino has never fought before, but proves very skilled when given a sword (although the guard is under orders not to kill him). Prospero lampshades this by claiming that it was precisely Gino's lack of skill that made him victorious; it's harder for experienced swordsmen to predict the chaotic moves of a novice.
  • 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 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.
  • Living Prop: Francesca's father gets few lines or characterization, existing mainly as the second person she has to protect. Gino by contrast is a developed character.
  • Love Interest: Gino for Francesca, Juliana for Prospero, and Esmerelda for Hop-Toad, although there is a clear hint that Prospero and Francesca seem to be developing genuine feelings for one another; Francesca actually looks heartbroken when the Red Death tells her to leave, as if she knows that she will never see Prospero again.
  • 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. Prospero and Francesca don't wear masks, though Francesca compromises with a veil.
  • 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.
  • Nasty Party: The titular masquerade ball turns out to be where all the guests (including Prospero himself) meet their ends at the Red Death.
  • 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.
  • Perfect Poison: Prospero claims to have laced one of the daggers with a poison that'll kill in five seconds. We never see if this is true, as Francesca's father uses the last dagger to stab Prospero...but gets impaled with the sword before he can.
  • 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.
    • Prospero has some fondness for Hop Toad and Esmeralda and is clearly angered when Alfredo strikes the latter for upsetting his wine when he himself didn't complain. He allows Hop Toad to comfort Esmeralda and then expresses his anger at Alfredo's actions by taking a glass of wine and hurling its contents into the man's face, totally unrepentant. He later takes pleasure in Hop Toad's revenge on Alfredo, even asking that the said dwarf be rewarded for his "entertainment".
  • 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.
  • Plucky Girl: Francesca is quite a proactive character - who first begs Prospero to spare her father and brother, refuses to let him see her naked while bathing and tries to save her loved ones multiple times.
  • 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.
  • Rambunctious Italian: Averted. Prospero stays pretty chill throughout. As the Red Death tells him, his soul has been dead for many, many years.
  • 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 spared. He even plays cards with a little girl at the end.
    • Francesca is the only red-haired character and is a Plucky Girl who tries to protect her loved ones and resist Prospero's influence.
  • 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.
  • True Blue Femininity: Francesca the female lead, and pure-hearted devout Christian, is often put in blue dresses when in Prospero's castle. She also gets a blue nightgown, and wears a blue veil for the climax.
  • 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.
  • Vague Age: Esmeralda. It's suggested that she is a dwarf like Hop Toad, but she is portrayed by a child actress (and dubbed over by an adult woman).
  • Villainous Crush: Prospero for Francesca, much to the jealousy of Juliana. Alfredo also lusts after Esmerelda, which is made doubly creepy by the fact that Esmerelda's actress was a seven-year-old girl.
  • Villainous Lineage: Prospero boasts that he comes from a long line of tyrants, and it's safe to assume that all of them were as decadent as he is; his father imprisoned a man in the yellow room for three years. While Prospero's devil worshipping might seem a bit too on the nose in terms of characterization, he states that one of his earliest ancestors was a fanatical Christian inquisitor who killed hundreds, so his heritage is messier than it looks.
  • Villain Protagonist: Francesca and Gino are the heroes, but most of the film's focus is on Prince Prospero, his wickedness, and his eventual downfall; it's his face on the poster, after all, and Vincent Price was by far the biggest name in the cast. None of this is surprising, since in the original short story, Prospero was the only human character of note.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: One of Prospero's very few redeeming qualities, since he seems to value innocence (though his carriage does nearly run over an infant). The Red Death is also seen at the end playing cards with a little girl who survived the village massacre.


Video Example(s):


The Many Colored Deaths

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.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / ColourCodedForYourConvenience

Media sources: