“Prolific” is almost not enough to describe the absurd volume of cinematic product Roger Corman has brought into this world. Since the 1950’s Corman has stacked up nearly 60 credits as a director and nearly 400 as a producer. During a particularly amusing anecdote in the documentary Corman’s World he recalls a time when he was producing a dozen films at once, but could only remember ten of the titles offhand, so he reasoned that he should cancel the last two, whatever they were. Something peculiar happens when an artist’s mind gets stretched that thin: it starts to cannibalize its own creations. For instance, the smash hits Jaws & Jurassic Park can both very easily be traced back to the creature features Corman pioneered, but that didn’t stop him from ripping them off in his own knockoff productions Piranha & Carnosaur. Then there’s the curious case of Munchies, wherein he rips off Gremlins, the product of Roger Corman Film School veteran Joe Dante. Similarly, when there was a miniscule late 80’s revival of interest in Edgar Allan Poe’s horror aesthetic, Corman dove in with his own cheapie Poe production, despite already having established himself as the master of the genre over two decades before.
In 1989, Corman needlessly produced a horrendous re-make of his classic film The Masque of the Red Death. The 1964 version of Masque is an undeniable horror classic and one of the greatest films ever directed by Corman. The 1989 version looks like a Wishbone episode or a high school play and was directed by the guy who wrote the travesty that is Halloween: Resurrection. It’s difficult to imagine why Corman would even bother to revisit his ancient masterpiece in 1989. The best I can deduce is that he was meaning to compete with cinematic nobody Alan Birkinshaw, who directed his own shoddy The Masque of the Red Death remake in ’89, along with a needless retreading of another classic from The Corman-Poe Cycle, House of Usher. The sad thing is, if it were meant to be a competition, Corman’s 1989 Masque loses to Birkinshaw’s, if only by default.
Birkinshaw’s The Masque of the Red Death is by all means a terrible adaptation of Poe’s work, but it’s one that at least brings a fresh idea to the concept, forgetting all nuance & mysticism of the story in favor of fitting it into a hilariously simple slasher movie plot. Set in the modern era, wealthy party guests cosplay in their best Ren-fair garb only to be lured individually into coves of a mysterious mansion and slashed to death by a serial killer who borrows murder tactics from various Poe works. Nothing too original takes place here. The killer is a shameless riff on Corman’s visualization of The Red Death from 1964 and his straight-razor slashings feel directly borrowed from every Dario Argento movie ever, but lack of creativity isn’t always a deathblow for the slasher genre. The movie’s cheesy, unconvincing murders combine with even cheesier, less convincing pop music and (cheesiest & least convincing of all) Frank Stallone to create a fairly okay VHS-aesthetic diversion. It’s not great, but it’s not as bad as you’d expect.
Corman’s 1989 Masque, by comparison, feels like a huge step down from the cinematic heights he brought the same story to in 1964. It mostly retreads old ground with lowered enthusiasm & no visual flair to speak of. Corman had a history of remaking/ruining his AIP classics in that phase of his career, but the timing of this particular one makes it feel like an answer to Birkinshaw’s films. Corman’s The Masque of the Death remake is nowhere near being the worst film the beyond-prolific legend ever directed or produced, but it is still embarrassing that of the two 1989 adaptations of a story he had already perfected, his was a clear loser.