Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Masque of Andrew Lloyd Webber

Of all the songs to have stuck in my head whilst watching a Roger Corman/Vincent Price horror movie, "Masquerade" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera wasn't one I would have expected. However, as I watched Corman's 1964 production of Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death last night, I couldn't help but have Webber's second act showstopper of 1986 from buzzing around my mind. From the moment the mysterious "red death" figure appears on screen in the opening minutes, I was humming it. It's my favourite song from the production - and the subsequent 2004 musical adaptation, directed by Joel Schumacher - so that's a relief, but it was distracting, especially given The Masque of the Red Death is so good.

In Poe's original 1842 short story, as well as the film, an unknown masked figure appears at a masquerade ball held at the castle home of Prince Prospero. He wears a costume made of bright red fabric, a colour Prospero clearly asked his guests not to wear, and proceeds to spread the devastating "red death" (essentially a fictional version of the Bubonic plague or tuberculosis) amongst the wealthy elite. In the many incarnations of The Phantom of the Opera, the masked Phantom appears at the opera house's masquerade ball donned entirely in red (and his famous mask) during a masquerade ball and demands the company perform the piece he has written for Christine Daaé. "Paper faces on parade," and so on. The moment remains a fabulous scene in every film version I've seen It's a fabulous number and one that I was completely unaware of being inspired by Poe's story.

Though the plague to his doorstep had spread
His own Satanist orgy he'd led
There this skunk who liked watching
Such drunken debauching
Found he hated the horror of red.

As for Corman's film, it's all rather fantastic. I loved the design, bringing Poe's prose of the multi-coloured rooms to life. While the castle sets obviously look less than authentic, that's should hardly be a criticism for a film such as this. As Corman films go, it's surely one of his most lavish. Vincent Price is a particular treat here, too. I mean, he always is, but he's even better than usual. It's hardly surprising that Corman himself has cited The Masque of the Red Death as one of the three favourite films he ever directed. I really do need to check out more of his stuff, especially his Poe adaptations with American International Pictures, which I think were a lot like an American version of Hammer. Right? Either way, I'd recommend The Masque of the Red Death in all of its satanic worshipping goodness.

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