Masque of the Red Death

I have recently watched This splendidly macabre horror film film by Roger Corman. It starts on On a mountain in medieval Italy, where an old woman meets a mysterious, red-cloaked figure, shuffling Tarot cards. The figure gives the woman a white rose, which then turns red and dappled with blood. Meanwhile the sadistic Prince Prospero (Vincent Price), a cruel Satanist, visits the village over which he holds dominion, and is angrily confronted by two poor and starving villagers, Gino and Lodovico. Prospero sentences the pair to death, but Lodovico’s daughter Francesca (Jane Asher) begs for their lives. Prospero discovers that the old woman who encountered the red figure is infected with a deadly plague, the Red Death. He orders the village burned down to prevent the spread of the disease, abducts Francesca and then sends out invitations to his castle to several dozen of the local nobility.

At the castle, Francesca is finely dressed and tutored in etiquette by Prospero’s jealous consort, Juliana, and the gathered nobility are entertained by a pair of dwarf dancers, Esmeralda and Hop-Toad. Juliana is initiated into his Satanic cult, and that night Francesca is terrified to discover Juliana and Prospero lying in a strange, hypnotic state in Prospero’s Black Room Gino and Ludovico, meanwhile, are being held prisoner in Prospero’s castle, with the castle guards teaching them armed combat so that they can fight to the death against one another as entertainment for the nobility. Prospero attempts to seduce Francesca, Juliana performs a ritual in the Black Room, pledging her soul to Satan. Francesca is horrified to learn of her actions, but Juliana gives Francesca the key to Ludovico and Gino’s cell, and tells her to leave. Unfortunately Gino and Ludovico are recaptured by Prospero,

At a grand feast, Prospero summons Gino and Ludovico and orders them to fight each other when they refuse he has them each choose daggers to cut themselves with. One of the daggers is coated with poison, and Ludovico attempts to stab Prospero with it, but Prospero kills him. He then casts Gino out of the castle to be killed by the Red Death, Gino then encounters the red-cloaked figure, who presents him with a Tarot card which he says represents Mankind. Juliana is then put through her final initiation ceremony, where she drinks from a chalice and suffers a terrifying hallucination involving wild, dancing figures from different historical periods that stab at her as she lies prostrate on an altar. Awakening from her dream, Juliana then declares herself the wife of Satan, proud that she has ‘survived her own sacrifice’. She is viciously attacked and killed by a falcon. As the nobles gather about her body, Prospero comments that Juliana is now truly married to Satan. The remaining villagers come to Prospero’s castle, intending to beg him for sanctuary. Prospero hears the villagers’ plea and orders them to go away. When they tell him that unless he helps them they will die, he orders his soldiers to shoot down the villagers with crossbow bolts. Meanwhile, Hop-Toad, enraged by Alfredo’s ill-treatment of Esmeralda, plans his revenge by persuading Alfredo to wear an ape costume to Prospero’s grand masked ball In the guise of the ape’s trainer, Hop-Toad cruelly humiliates Alfredo in front of the assembled guests before soaking him with brandy and setting him on fire.

Outside the castle walls, Gino encounters the red-cloaked figure who tells him not to enter the castle and promises that he will send Francesca out to Gino shortly. Amid the general atmosphere of debauchery and depravity at the ball, Prospero notices a mysterious, red-cloaked figure. Prospero believes the figure to be an ambassador of Satan. He asks to see the figure’s face, but the figure tells Prospero that “There is no face of Death until the moment of your own death.” The ball is transformed into a danse macabre, changing from a maddening revelry to a grim ballet as the figure causes all of the nobles to die of the Red Death – while the corpses dance. The red-cloaked figure then reveals that he is not a servant of Satan (“Death has no master”) so Prospero rips off the figure’s red mask to discover the identity of the red-cloaked figure with shocking results. The figure is the Red Death himself and Prospero attempts to flee through the now infected crowd, and finally gets his comeuppance