The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
Directed By: Roger Corman
Starring: Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, David Weston, Nigel Green, John Westbrook, Patrick Magee, Skip Martin
Synopsis: A tyrannical prince terrorizes the plague-ridden countryside while hiding in his castle, throwing lavish parties for the rich.
Thoughts: Roger Corman and Vincent Price sure made a name for themselves by adapting Edgar Alan Poe stories for American International Pictures in the 1960s and The Masque of the Red Death is one of my favorites.
As he always does, Vincent Price carries this story with his over the top acting and immense screen presence. He absolutely oozes evil as Prince Prospero and seems very comfortable with using everyone around him for his amusement.
Although I really enjoyed The Masque of the Red Death, it was not a successful release for AIP and Corman, which Corman takes full blame for. He’s been quoted as saying, “I was becoming more interested in the Poe films as expressions of the unconscious mind, rather than as pure horror films.” I can totally see that, as this is a bit different than a lot of the previous Poe movies. There is a lot of symbolism and extensive use of color throughout. It is much more artistic than a lot of the previous entries. Corman was also worried that the script for Masque had too many similarities with Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, which it does, but I think Masque stands well on its own.
If you’re a fan of the other Corman Poe movies, this is a no brainer to check out. If you’ve yet to check out some vintage Corman/Price, this is a pretty good place to start, but you can’t really go wrong with any of them that I’ve seen.
Witchfinder General / The Conqueror Worm (1968)
Directed By: Michael Reeves
Starring: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Dwyer, Rupert Davies, Robert Russell
Synopsis: Matthew Hopkins, a witch hunter, uses his power and influence to spread terror across the countryside.
Thoughts: This is not your typical Vincent Price and AIP collaboration. Roger Corman is nowhere to be found and Vincent Price gives us a different performance than we are used to. Witchfinder General is also a pretty brutal film, packed with scenes of maleficence and torture. It’s a much more somber and mean spirited film than most of the previous AIP productions.
Although Vincent Price is the headliner here, he wasn’t wanted by Director Michael Reeves. In fact, the differences between the two are nearly legendary, as there were many stories of the two of them screaming at each other during filming. It’s not a stretch to say that they truly hated each other during filming. Price was very set in his ways and Reeves knew exactly what he wanted from his lead, and the two were never able to see eye to eye on the set. After the film was released and Price had a chance to see the finished product, he came to the realization of what Reeves wanted, and reached out to him to extend an olive branch. The end result was a much more subdued, and quite frankly, evil performance by Price.
Director Michael Reeves shortly after the release of Witchfinder General. He was suffering greatly from depression and insomnia and died of an overdose of barbiturates (deemed accidental by the coroner), so we never got to see what else he would produce. It’s always a shame when someone is lost at such a young age (he was 25).
Make no mistake, Witchfinder General is a very good movie, but it isn’t a favorite of mine. It is a dark movie, and very brutal for its time. The movie was deemed “overly sadistic” upon its release. The film actually was toned done quite a bit from its early versions of the script. The movie was not a commercial success, but would go on to become cult classic. It’s well worth seeing, but is not a favorite of mine.