Believe? If you believe you are gullible. Can you look around this world and believe in the goodness of a god who rules it? Famine, Pestilence, War, Disease and Death! They rule this world
In a dark and fog shrouded forest, an old woman meets a red robed man. He hands her a white rose, which as he passes it, changes to red. “Take this to your village and tell the people the day of their deliverance is at hand,” he says. She takes a few steps away, then suddenly turns and bows to him.
In her village, Prince Prospero, (Vincent Price) tells the villagers they’re invited to a feast; but a young man sneers at the offer of crumbs from his table, crowing the old woman has met a wise man who’s said they’ll be delivered from Prospero’s tyranny. An older villager supports him. Prospero’s answer to this insolence is simple. He orders them garroted.
A young woman, Francesca (Jane Asher), pleads for mercy. Prospero considers for a moment and then offers her a choice.
PROSPERO: One will live and one will die. Which is it?
FRANCESCA: One is my father. The other is the man I love.
I watched the film, as a teenager, on TV in the 1970’s. Francesca’s moral dilemma fascinated me. How do you begin to make that choice?
Francesca is spared choosing, as a scream from one of the huts reveals the “deliverance” is the fictional plague the Red Death, from which the old woman is dying. Prospero checks that Francesca and the two men have had no contact with the old woman and takes them to his castle; “As they may yet provide entertainment.” He orders the village burned to the ground, unconcerned by the fate of the villagers without shelter in winter.
Prospero was my second fascination. This beautifully spoken man, with his expressive arching eyebrows, is just plain evil: he obviously judges people by how much amusement they’ll provide by suffering at his command. That’s when I became a fan of Vincent Price.
Prospero orders his castle sealed and preparations made for a masquerade ball, encouraging his guests to raid the castle for their costumes; but forbidding anyone to wear red.
During the preparations for the ball Roger Corman introduces the themes of the movie, God vs Satan and the power of faith in both; the fight against tyranny; the sexuality of death and the following discussion about fear:
ALFREDO: Let me speak to you about the anatomy of terror.
Alfredo, played by the distinctively voiced Patrick Magee, will learn terror later in the film when he suffers a revenge inspired by another Poe story, Hop Toad.
This film, Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum were my introduction to Edgar Allan Poe. It was a couple of years before I found a hardback of the Tales of Mystery and Imagination, wonderfully illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Poe’s The Imp of the Perverse, The Cask of Amontillado, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Tell Tale Heart epitomize for me how horror stories can make us think about an inherent darkness we may not acknowledge in ourselves otherwise.
Roger Corman held off making the The Masque of the Red Death until the end of the Poe series with American International Pictures (AIP), as he was so obviously influenced by Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal didn’t want to be accused of copying. The red robed Red Death is almost a match for Bergman’s Black Death.
It was the most lavish of the films, as AIP moved production from Hollywood to Elstree Studios in London where it was cheaper to film. This allowed Corman to use sets from Beckett and other historical films, and there’s a feeling of space in most of the shots; in contrast to the more claustrophobic settings of his earlier Poe films. However, that doesn’t mean Corman doesn’t ratchet up the tension. Even in the classic scene of the ‘maiden in the bedroom’, the wide open arches from the bedroom to the balcony promise threat, rather than freedom.
The shoot was 5 weeks, longer than usual for the AIP productions, but Corman notes in his autobiography, How I Made A Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, the 5 week UK crew shoot was closer to a 4 week US crew shoot. At a recent interview at the British Film Institute, he said this was because the British stopped for tea breaks at 11am and 4pm. They filmed in November 1963 and paused for a few minutes on the day of President John Kennedy’s funeral.
According to the biography, The Price of Fear, Vincent Price enjoyed the filming, despite having tripped in his long costume and being knocked unconscious.
In addition to Poe as inspiration and Price as his lead, Corman had Nicolas Roeg as cinematographer and a script by Charles (Chuck) Beaumont. Beaumont wrote some brilliant Twilight Zone episodes and was tragically struck down with a combination of Pick’s disease and early onset Alzheimer’s the year after filming. He died in 1967 at the age of thirty-eight.
The film has magnificent costumes, though it irks me the designer didn’t follow the instructions not to include red in any costume during the ball sequence, as this diminishes the entrance of the red hooded figure for the denouement.
At one point in the film, a baron arrives at the castle with his wife and begs admittance. When Prospero refuses, the baron offers him his wife. “I’ve already had that dubious pleasure,” says Prospero. Desperate, the baron begs to be spared the Red Death. Prospero shoots him in the throat with a crossbow. He then throws a dagger to the wife. The Red Death, or suicide? The film shows many difficult choices.
For me, the fascination of horror as a genre is that it deals with the questions of faith, powers from the grave, magic, life after death, transformation etc.—and the best put ordinary people in terrifying situations giving them a perhaps terrible choice.
Who would you chose? Your lover or your parent to survive?
Nicholas Vince was the iconic Chatterer Cenobite in Clive Barker's Hellraiser andHellraiser II: Hellbound. He also starred as Kinski in Barker’s cult movie Nightbreed.
Nicholas has contributed stories to the Hellraiser and Nightbreed comics, as well as creating the interview series, The Luggage in the Crypt.
After working in the IT industry for sixteen years, he returned to writing full-time with the publication of his short story anthology: What Monsters Do. He is currently working on his second volume of short stories: Other People's Darkness and Other Stories. Most recently, Nicholas has adapted two of his dark stories from page to stage and has brought them to life at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden as part of the London Horror Festival 2013.
Five more chilling tales of the macabre from the actor behind the Chatterer mask in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and Hellbound. ~ The world didn't end on 21st December 2012, but Scott was given a gift—a terrible gift. ~ Red strawberry jam reminds Gregory he is about to murder love. ~ A visitor to a mansion brings deadly news. ~ Tanya is Caroline's best friend, and Caroline hates her. She enters the poison garden ... ~ London 1883. Eight year old Cassie wants the police to tell her what will happen to her, now her family are dead. Perhaps if they believed her story they would?
"Love, relationships, passion and jealousy all intertwine their way through this collection to produce a tapestry of terror that will shock you, bring you to tears and linger in your subconscious for days." - gingernutsofhorror.com
"Laced with uneasy comedy, each tale shows us that our monsters within are perhaps to be feared as much as any that may or may not be lurking out there in the darkness, and that every action we take has its consequences." - Starburst Magazine
"Other People's Darkness' is a collection of short stories very much in the vein of 'The Books of Blood' by Clive Barker, or even some of the earlier short-story work of Stephen King. The stories move from touching to ghastly, and all the while have a sort of whimsical moral reverence that serves them well." - horror-punks.com
"This collection of intelligent and frightful stories will leave you sleeping with the lights on, questioning all your motives, and not pissing off love struck fools." - traumaticcinema.com
PURCHASE A COPY HERE
GINGER NUTS OF HORROR THE HEART AND SOUL OF HORROR WEBSITES