The Masque of the Red Death (the seventh in a series of eight Edgar Allan Poe adaptions by director Roger Corman), is set in the Middle Ages and stars Vincent Price as Prince Prospero, the tyrannical ruler of the local province and a sadistic Satanist without compassion or mercy.
Having claimed most of the local harvest for himself, Prospero invites the local peasants to come and eat the scraps at an end-of-harvest feat he is hosting for his noble friends at his grand castle.
There are, however, mutterings of rebellion voiced by Gino (David Weston) and Ludovico (Nigel Green), who have the courage to confront Prospero. Enraged, he orders their immediate strangulation, but naive young peasant girl Francesca (Jane Asher) bravely steps forward to plead for their lives.
Prospero displays his sardonic humour, declaring that only one of the men needs to die, but Francesca must choose which. This is a cruel dilemma for the girl as Ludovico is her father, and Gino is the man she loves.
The moment of decision is delayed when Prospero is confronted with evidence of the horrible Red Death, a plague which is ravaging the country and has now reached the village.
Ordering that the village be burned to the ground, he takes Francesca back to his grand castle, where she is stripped, bathed and dressed in the finest clothes by Prospero’s mistress Juliana (Hazel Court), who is tasked with instructing the peasant girl in the ways of the court.
The prince also takes the two men as prisoners who are thrown into dungeons.
Gino and Ludovico are brought before the assembled guests at the prince’s decadent masked ball to provide amusement. Prospero orders each to cut himself with a number of daggers, one of which is poisoned.
One of the nobles, Alfredo (Patrick Magee), strikes dancer Esmerelda (Verina Greenlaw) and is subsequently tricked by her boyfriend – the court midget, Hop Toad (Skip Martin) – into performing a party trick involving an ape costume and a bottle of brandy which ends in the noble’s truly horrific fiery demise.
Red Death (voiced by John Westbrook) eventually arrives at the castle and passes fatally among the castle guests as the party becomes a dance of death, with the nobles succumbing to the plague while they keep swaying to the beat.
Prospero demands to see the true identity of the red-cloaked figure, but under the cloak is his own dead and blood-spattered face. He has finally seen his own death.
At the film’s climax, all the colours of Death meet and reveal how many they have killed.
Corman produced an inferior quickie remake in 1989. Avoid it at all costs.
Jane Asher asked Roger Corman if a friend could visit the set and join them for lunch. She explained that her friend was a musician who was about to do his first gig in London that night. At the end of their lunch, Corman wished him good luck with his concert. Roger Corman had never heard of Paul McCartney until he read of the concert’s success in the next day’s newspapers.
Over two miles of corridors were built in sections spreading over three sound stages for Jane Asher to run through while she was held captive.