One of Roger Corman’s numerous Edgar Allen Poe adaptations. Prince Prospero of the many funny hats (Vincent Price) is escaping the Red Death that’s ravaging his village by hiding in his castle. But first he kidnaps his subject Francesca (Jane Asher), as well as her husband Gino (David Weston) and father Ludovico (Nigel Green), in order to make the latter two fight gladiator-style for his amusement. Meanwhile, for no clearly defined reason, the writers throw in “Hop-Frog” (changed to Hop Toad), another of Poe’s stories: Alfredo (Patrick Magee) is cruel to dancer Esmeralda (Verina Greenlaw), a little person. Her admirer and fellow little person Hop Toad (Skip Martin) constructs an elaborate revenge scheme. Further meanwhile, Prospero is having a feast with the rest of the local nobility, who all happen to be Satanists. They’re busy reveling and being the privileged jerks they are, unaware their uppance is a’comin’.
I’d say this is one of the more provocative of the Poe adaptations, especially for 1964. People are dying left and right, pledging themselves to the devil, acting like animals, making out, and setting each other on fire. There’s also a rather chilling scene when Prospero’s colleague Scarlatti (Paul Whitsun-Jones) comes rolling up to the castle, wanting to be let in. Prospero refuses because of the Red Death, and when the man offers him his wife (Jean Lodge) in return for sanctuary, Prospero states he’s already had her. He shoots Scarlatti with an arrow, saying sweetly, “For you, friend.” He then throws the wife a dagger and invites her to save herself from the plague. Of all the deplorable things Prospero does in the film, this one sticks with me the most.
There are decent performances by all, punctuated by a little overacting, mostly on the part of Hazel Court as Prospero’s consort. I was confused by the ending. Like any of Corman’s stuff based on Poe, it’s a little silly, a little melodramatic, and a lot awesome because of Price and Corman sometimer Court.