Movie of the Month: Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Every month one of us makes the other two watch a movie they’ve never seen before & we discuss it afterwards. This month Britnee made James & Brandon watch Blood and Black Lace (1964).

Mario Bava’s celebrated Italian thriller, Blood and Black Lace, is a landmark in horror cinema and one of the earliest giallo films in existence. It’s also considered to be the first “body count” horror film, so we can thank Bava for all of those campy, raunchy 80s slasher flicks. Watching this film is like taking a walk through an art gallery. It’s chock-full of rich colors, eerie scenery, deep shadows, and impressive camera angles. The outstanding cinematography alone is a good reason to watch the film. I have a special place in my heart for this Bava masterpiece and I’m so thrilled to present it as April’s Movie of the Month.

Blood and Black Lace is set at a fashion salon in Rome that is full of beautiful, young models, but there are quite a few secrets hiding beneath all of their glamour and charm. The models begin to be brutally murdered by a faceless killer (once a very important diary goes missing) and when I say brutal, I mean brutal. These gruesome murder scenes are very bold and in-your-face, which was not very common for films in 1964, but the murder scene shots are executed in such a way that they are breathtakingly gorgeous. After re-watching the film with the Swampflix crew, I realized how the models in the film were more like movie props than actual characters, much like the multicolored mannequins they were surrounded by in the salon. They lacked personality and character development, but I think that’s something that Bava did intentionally.

Brandon, do you agree that the ill-fated models were merely props? If so, what do you think Bava was attempting to convey by doing this?

What are models if not moving, breathing mannequins? I think you’re absolutely right to believe Bava was drawing that connection. Aside from their individual reactions to the discovery of the first victim’s diary, there isn’t much to distinguish one model from another outside their looks. The fact that he chose fashion modeling as the movie’s backdrop in the first place is not only calling attention to the fact that most of the movie’s charms are in its stylistic flairs, but also that the characters are mere mannequins in motion, personality-free objects meant to put Bava’s visual fashion on display. Even the film’s killer, whose face is entirely flat & featureless, is used as a prop here. The killer’s look is about as close to a mannequin as one could get. Bava makes no bones about the fact that his characters are there as both plot devices & living, breathing decoration.

As much as I would like to argue that he made the female characters especially featureless as a comment on sex politics (this is a world where it’s totally cool to call your lover a “little idiot” after all), I believe there’s a much simpler explanation for the women’s lack of character development: misdirection. The 50 years of murder mysteries that followed Blood and Black Lace may have somewhat prepared us as a modern audience for the final couple of twists at the end of the film, but Bava does pull off a clever bit of misdirection with his characters. By leaving the women somewhat blank (although they are awfully interested in that diary) he allows them to fade into the background a bit, never to be considered as suspects in the murders. Later, when the murders continue despite the male characters all being jailed at once it feels like a shock that a woman might be involved. And then it gets even more confusing when the most likely female suspects begin to drop off like flies. Blood and Black Lace may be rightfully remembered most for its intense visual style, which heavily influenced many giallo films to come, but its central mystery cannot be completely discounted as a major draw to the film.

James, do you think that Bava finds a good balance between paying attention to the film’s whodunit murder mystery & its visual eccentricities, or does one overpower the other?

I definitely think that Bava’s visual style overshadows the movie’s central murder mystery but agree with Britnee that this was mostly intentional. The long tracking shots, oblique camera angles, and lurid lighting choices were, for me, far and away the most noteworthy aspects of the film, with the police procedural and central mystery seeming secondary. Although, it must be noted that the effective twist ending does make up for some of that. As I dug around for information on the influential director, I came across this quote that confirms that Bava felt the same way. In regards to Blood and Black Lace, Bava was “bored by the mechanical nature of the whodunit and decided to deemphasize the more accepted cliches of the genre”.

Instead of developing complex characters or an intricate plot that was central to these kind of films in the past, Bava focused on pushing the genre to its limits by stepping outside the accepted boundaries of sex and violence. This seems to further the case that Bava not only invented giallo films, but also slasher flicks, which are basically whodunnits with lots of murder and sex. Blood and Black Lace has plenty of both and what I really appreciated about the film was how it mixed these lowbrow, sensationalist tendencies with high art, something Dario Argento was a master at as well.

Britnee, what do you think of the way Bava mixes lowbrow with highbrow?

Personally, I think Bava did an exceptional job making the film’s uncultured components ultra chic and sophisticated. Blood and Black Lace is a refined slasher flick that pairs well with fine wine and fancy cheeses. When I first viewed the film, I couldn’t figure out why the production was so classy and not the sloppy, morbid mess that I expected it to be. Now, I have a much better idea of the reason why this film is so tasteful. The choices that Bava made for the visual aspects of the film transforms what could’ve been a just another crude horror movie into a literal piece of art.

Speaking of visuals, color plays such an important role in Blood and Black Lace. I noticed that there is a particular color that is prominent with some of the victims, and the color is present in the lighting, props, costumes, etc. For example, Tao-Li wears a lot of white clothing and is killed wearing white lingerie in an all-white bathroom. We didn’t really intend to have our Movie of the Month choices connect with one another, but there is a definite connection between The Masque of the Red Death and Blood and Black Lace when it comes to the color-coding that takes prominence in each film. I don’t believe that The Masque of the Red Death film had any impact on Blood and Black Lace because both films were released in 1964, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the colored rooms in Poe’s famous tale influenced Bava’s masterpiece.

Brandon, since you are the expert on The Masque of the Red Death, I was wondering what you thought of this connection? Is there even a connection between the two films at all?

Brandon: Like you said, the two works were released more or less as contemporaries so it’s less likely that one influenced the other and more just a coincidence that both Corman & Bava had an intense interest in rich, saturated color schemes. It’s obviously possible that Bava could have been influenced by Poe’s classic tale (I know that one was a stand-out favorite for me as a teen, even when it was assigned reading in countless English classes), but the connection might be more simple than that. By the mid-60s Technicolor film prints had more or less fallen out of fashion with major studios (because of the time & money involved, if nothing else) but both Masque & Black Lace are holding on to the saturated color associated with the Technicolor technique. Once a practical process used to bring vibrant color to early films, Technicolor was later used by Bava & Corman, among others, as more of an artistic aesthetic.

Bava’s exploitation of the rich color of Technicolor prints was put to great artistic effect in horror classics like Blood and Black Lace, The Whip and The Body, and Planet of the Vampires. It’s a stylistic choice that not only visually connects it to The Masque of the Red Death, but also establishes it as an early touchstone of the giallo genre. It’s not at all surprising that one of the final Technicolor transfers was used by Bava-descendent/giallo legend Dario Argento to produce his best known film, Suspiria. Bava’s attention to color in Blood and Black Lace is echoed through almost every giallo film that followed it, especially in Argento’s work.

James, besides the rich, saturated colors in Blood and Black Lace, what other elements of the film do you see passed down to the giallo movies that followed it?

James: The technical aspects of Blood and Black Lace are the easiest to spot in the gaillo films that followed. Dizzying cinematography, off kilter camera angles, bizarre framing, and violent close ups are used almost universally by other gaillo filmmakers, though few apply the surreal art house flair so effectively as Bava and Argento. I suspect Bava’s art house tendencies are also the reason for the film’s disorienting, somewhat disjointed murder mystery, another element I’ve seen in a genre that focuses more on style than plot and character development. Blood and Black Lace‘s lurid mix of eroticism and horror has also influenced countless films in and outside of the gaillo genre, the paranoia surrounding a masked killer preying on beautiful women being a recurring theme in gaillo and slasher/splatter movies of the 70s and 80s.


Brandon: The one thing I’m surprised we didn’t touch on yet was the music in the film. Although the stylistic violence, the mentions of cocaine abuse, and the intrigue of the murder investigations suggest a morbid affair, the score relies on a very swanky brand of lounge music that makes the movie feel a lot goofier than it would look on paper. The disparity between the swanky score & the severity of the plot is apparent from the get-go, with the actors/characters being introduced in the opening credits as if they’re starring in a particularly violent 60s TV show about police investigations instead of a proto-slasher art film. It eventually fades into some more mood-appropriate chamber music late in the film, but the generally lighthearted nature of the Blood and Black Lace‘s soundtrack is just as strange of a detail as its brutal-for-its-era violence or Bava’s penchant for saturated colors in his lighting.

Britnee: Blood and Black Lace is really all about the visuals. Ingenious camera work and the innovative use of vivid colors steal the show and outshine all other aspects of the film. The plot isn’t horrible by any means, but it’s definitely not the backbone of this movie. Actually, I enjoyed the weak plot because it draws more attention to the film’s groundbreaking visual elements, and this serves as a reminder that there’s more to a film than just its storyline. Kudos to Bava for being brave and thinking outside of the box.

James: Considering that Blood and Black Lace was released in 1964, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to call the movie groundbreaking. The way the film focuses more on the gruesome killings than the characters and its unsettling erotic violence must have shocked audiences in the 60s, but it set the precedent for the next 20 years of horror films (at least). I was really drawn to Bava’s mixture of art house theatrics and lowbrow subject matter and admire his technical chops and over the top stylistic tendencies. Blood and Black Lace was a great introduction to an influential director, and I can’t wait to delve deeper into Bava’s filmography.

Upcoming Movie of the Months
May: Brandon presents Crimes of Passion (1984)
June: James presents Blow Out (1981)

Bergman vs. Corman: Death vs. The Red Death


In our Swampchat discussion of March’s Movie of the Month, Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, I pointed out how great of a one-two punch the movie was in combination with February’s Movie of the Month, Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death. As a double feature, the two movies feed off each other well thematically, especially in their contemplation of an uncaring, inevitable Death. Even Roger Corman himself saw the similarities in the films’ subject matter, which lead to him delaying the production of Masque for years. According to Wikipedia, he was quoted as saying, “I kept moving The Masque of the Red Death back, because of the similarities, but it was really an artificial reason in my mind.” The films do have a similar doom & gloom aesthetic in their personifications of Death in the time of a plague, but the differences that ultimately make their connection “artificial” are very much fundamental in nature. The Seventh Seal and The Masque of the Red Death are connected by a plague and by Death’s portrayal as a living character, but both Death’s personality and the social effect of a plague on its suffering population are strikingly different in the two films.

Both The Seventh Seal & The Masque of the Red Death rightfully portray Death as an inevitability, but the personality traits they assign him are almost directly oppositional. In The Seventh Seal, Death allows himself to be amused. The movie’s iconic chess match, while a stay of execution for Antonius Black, is nothing more than a diversion, a light entertainment for Death. Death later continues his playful bemusement with Antonius by posing as a priest and taking his confession. Death has a sly sense of humor in this exchange, albeit one with a morbid result. In Corman’s Masque, The Red Death wouldn’t be caught alive participating in such tomfoolery. The Red Death is very much a professional in his duties, carrying the impartial poise of a courtroom judge in his interactions with Prince Prospero. The only time he allows himself to react to Prospero’s schemes is when the prince begs mercy for the captive Francesca and even then his reaction is only mild surprise.

The plagues that accompany Death & The Red Death are more or less interchangeable, but there’s an essential difference in Corman & Bergman’s interpretations of the victims’ reactions to the hardship. In both films the plagues are met (at least by some) with a form of naïve celebration, a kind of a party while the ship goes down. In The Masque of the Red Death, this party is a disgusting display, a vilification of opulence. Wealthy party guests assume they are above The Red Death’s inevitability merely by the merit of their breed & fortune. Considering themselves invincible, they shut the poor out of the gates of Prospero’s mansion and party their final hours away in excess. Their thirst for a good time while others suffer is a vile impulse that Corman represents disapprovingly and Vincent Price skillfully amplifies with gusto. As James first said in our Swampchat on The Seventh Seal (and which I later explored in my comparison of the film to Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey), the central couple “Jof and Mia who, while maybe naïve, fully embrace life, family, and art despite the dread and despair that surrounds them. As Jof, Mia, and Mikael are the only characters to survive the film, I think Bergman is trying to say that the only way to conquer the fear of death is to truly embrace life, which makes the film, in my eyes, an ultimately uplifting one.” In Bergman’s viewpoint, celebration in the time of Death is a human ideal. While the celebration in Masque is a hateful sin, the one in The Seventh Seal is a life-saving virtue. Bergman even pushes the idea further by having Jof receive visions from beyond this mortal realm. In some ways his naïve celebration of life is downright divine.

The surprising thing about the differences between Death & The Red Death is that they’re somewhat counterintuitive. As a superficial assumption I would think that The Seventh Seal, a black & white art house drama from Ingmar Bergman, would have been the film that portrayed Death as a somber executioner and the party that surrounds him a crime against man. I would also expect that The Masque of the Red Death, a Vincent Price horror film helmed by camp legend Roger Corman, would be the film that portrayed Death as a playful prankster and the celebration of life that surrounds him a moral asset. Instead, the two films find their respective art house pensiveness & over-the-top camp in other characters & plot devices, the trivial elements that bind them as a pair used for entirely different ends. Although their connection is primarily artificial, our back-to-back discussions of The Seventh Seal & The Masque of the Red Death will forever link them in my mind anyway, both for the ways they are superficially the same and in the considerable ways they differ on a fundamental level.

For more on March’s Movie of the Month, 1957’s The Seventh Seal, visit our Swampchat discussion of the film and last week’s exploration of its thematic similarities with Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.

-Brandon Ledet

The Other Vincent Price Masque: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)


Vincent Price’s fey, effete, menacingly campy persona made him a natural for old-school horror. It was a persona he intentionally cultivated. In his transition from 50’s monster movie classics like House of Wax and The Fly to the 60s Corman-Poe Cycle that made him infamous, he gradually ramped up the eccentricities in his voice & mannerisms that established him as a horror staple. By the 70s Price had devolved into delicious self-parody. His playful demeanor was perfect for the horror genre: his characters were not only evil; they took great delight in their wicked deeds, proudly snickering at the depths of their own cruelty.

It was this persona that made Price perfect for the Prince Prospero role in February’s Movie of the Month, 1964’s The Masque of the Red Death. The film’s masquerade setting not only afforded Price the chance to be sadistic to a large group of costumed guests, it also gave the sadism a party setting. That mischievous combination of pleasure & pain was positively ideal for the Vincent Price aesthetic. The masquerade setting was so perfect for Price, in fact, that it was recycled years later in another one of his iconic roles: 1971’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

By the time Price starred in The Abominable Dr. Phibes, he was in full self-parody mode. Where Corman’s Masque is a trippy horror show with occasional, unsettling touches of humor, Dr. Phibes is a full-on horror comedy. Price’s Phibes is a horrifically scarred car crash survivor hell-bent on avenging his wife’s death against the surgeons that failed to save her life. The pattern of his revenge mimics the seven Biblical plagues. Despite that disturbing premise, it’s a deviously fun film and one of Price’s most memorable performances. Phibes himself wears a prosthetic mask to hide his facial scars, but that’s not the common thread it shares with Masque. In the film’s best scene (or at least my personal favorite) Phibes offs one of his deceased wife’s doctors at a masquerade ball. His murder method? He supplies the doctor with a mechanical frog mask that crushes his head. The frog mask is not only a beautiful work of art; it also cleverly fulfills the frog plague requirement of the film’s premise.

The masquerade scene in Dr. Phibes is brief, but beautiful. It not only echoes Corman’s Masque in the setting, but also in the gorgeous saturation of color and in the other guest’s nonchalance at the frog-mask victim’s pleas for help. Just as Prospero laughs cruelly at his party guests’ demise, Phibes casually looks on from behind a crystal chandelier as his frog mask contraption exterminates his prey. The two films are tonally different works from two opposing phases of Vincent Price’s career, but in the brief moment at the masque in Phibes, The Masque of the Red Death and The Abominable Dr. Phibes are spiritually linked.

For more on February’s Movie of the Month, 1964’s The Masque of the Red Death, visit our Swampchat on the film, the round-up of its dueling 1989 knockoffs, and last week’s photos of The Red Death at Mardi Gras. Coverage of our next Movie of the Month, 1957’s The Seventh Seal, begins early next week.

-Brandon Ledet

The Masque of the Red Death (1964) on Mardi Gras Day


In our Movie of the Month conversation about the deeply strange, beautiful and undeniably ahead-of-its-time The Masque of the Red Death, I pointed out how much the movie reminds me of Carnival season in New Orleans. I wrote, “With Fat Tuesday looming around the corner, it was impossible not to see aspects of Carnival in the masquerade ball hosted by Prince Prospero (Vincent Price). The cheap costumes & mockery of opulence is very much reminiscent of Mardi Gras parades. There’s even a scene where Prospero literally throws beads from a balcony shouting ‘Gifts! Gifts!’ and scoffs at the greed of the people below. As the threat of The Red Death plague becomes increasingly severe, the masquerade takes on a ‘party while the ship is sinking’ vibe New Orleans knows all too well. Horror films are usually tied to Halloween, but The Masque of the Red Death is distinctly akin to Mardi Gras in my mind.” In an effort to put my money where my mouth is, I took the Movie of the Month out into the streets on Mardi Gras, masquerading as The Red Death himself. Here’s a few pictures of the costume below to help solidify the memory.





I hope everyone had a great, safe Mardi Gras and maybe even costumed as their own pet obsessions, movie-related or not. It’s certainly been a fun Carnival season on my end and I was glad to take a little bit of Swampflix with me into the Quarter on Fat Tuesday. I might even do it again next year!

For more on February’s Movie of the Month, 1964’s The Masque of the Red Death, visit our Swampchat on the film and last week’s round-up of its dueling 1989 knockoffs.

-Brandon Ledet

The 1989 Battle of Dueling The Masque of the Red Death Adaptations


“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.

For more on February’s Movie of the Month, 1964’s The Masque of the Red Death, visit last week’s Swampchat on the film.

-Brandon Ledet

Movie of the Month: The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Every month one of us makes the other two watch a movie they’ve never seen before & we discuss it afterwards. This month Brandon made James & Britnee watch The Masque of the Red Death (1964).

The Masque of The Red Death is one of eight films in the Corman-Poe cycle: a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations directed by B-movie legend Roger Corman for American International Pictures. The Masque is widely considered the best of the Poe cycle as well as one of Corman’s best films overall, a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. There’s so much about The Masque that’s firmly in my wheelhouse: over-the-top set design, an early glimpse of 60’s era Satanic psychedelia, Vincent Price taking effete delight in his own cruelty, a fatalistic ending that doesn’t stray from the pessimism of Poe’s story, Corman pushing the limits of what he can get away with visually on a shoestring budget. I love it all.

What struck me most on this recent viewing of The Masque is how well it’s suited for the Carnival season. With Fat Tuesday looming around the corner, it was impossible not to see aspects of Carnival in the masquerade ball hosted by Prince Prospero (Vincent Price). The cheap costumes & mockery of opulence is very much reminiscent of Mardi Gras parades. There’s even a scene where Prospero literally throws beads from a balcony shouting “Gifts! Gifts!” and scoffs at the greed of the people below. As the threat of The Red Death plague becomes increasingly severe, the masquerade takes on a “party while the ship is sinking” vibe New Orleans knows all too well. Horror films are usually tied to Halloween, but The Masque of the Red Death is distinctly akin to Mardi Gras in my mind.

James, do you also see Carnival in The Masque’s decadence, or does the Satan worship overpower that influence?

Man, The Masque of the Red Death was awesome. The bold stylistic choices that Corman made on a limited budget and limited time (the final masquerade scene was filmed in a day) are astonishing. Some of the images in the film (The Red Death himself being the starkest) are mesmerizing. I think the film should also be noted for its pitch-perfect tone. Despite its macabre images, philosophical discussions of Satanism, and Prince Prospero’s nastiness, what could have been a dreary chore is instead a blast throughout.

In regards to the presence of Carnival in the film, I do think the masquerade ball scenes in particular have a very Mardi Gras feel to them. Masks with feathered beaks, gorilla suits, and a child masquerading as a little person don’t feel too far removed from the typical Carnival season debauchery. The Carnival feel also deepened a central theme of the film: lost souls celebrating a kind of momentary victory over Death. Ultimately, the film seems to have a nihilistic attitude towards Death, implying that the celebration is indeed a momentary victory and whether Christian, Satanist, or Atheist, we will all have to eventually confront an indifferent Death. But it also seems to find solace in our ability to shape our own existence while we are alive. This is echoed The Red Death’s climactic statement “Each man creates his own God for himself – his own Heaven, his own Hell.”

Britnee, what was your interpretation of the film’s philosophy on Death? Is it wholly negative?

This was my first time viewing The Masque of Red Death, and I have to say that I was blown away. Vincent Price as Prince Prospero was dynamite. I was so close to hiding under the covers during the close-ups of his signature evil stare, but seconds later, I was imagining what it would be like to have a conversation & afternoon tea with him in one of those seven colored rooms. Also, one of my favorite things about the film was the set and costumes. I know the look was supposed to have a Medieval vibe, but I really felt that I was at a Satanic drug dealer’s mansion party in the early 60s. All that was missing was the orange shag carpet.

As for my interpretation of the film’s philosophy on Death, I’m honestly not 100% sure. Death has always terrified/interested me, and I caught myself really falling into some deep thoughts about it while watching this film. The Christians and Satanists in Masque both experienced violent deaths, and neither of their higher powers swooped in to save them or give them a miraculous second chance. I guess the film is trying to show that Death cannot be avoided, regardless of power or faith. In the end when The Red Death states “Sic transit gloria mundi,” which literally means “Thus passes the glory of this world,” everything sort of hit me. Life can be very short & leave without warning, whether you’re a Christian villager living in poverty or a wealthy Satanic prince; it’s coming for us all!

Something else that stuck out was the interesting relationship between Prospero and Francesca. After sparing Francesca’s life, Prospero brings her to his castle to make her his consort and gives her a taste of his world. He becomes very intrigued with Francesca’s innocence and faith. As for Francesca, there are times where it seems as though she is giving in to temptation, but simultaneously she is in constant focus on her escape.

Brandon, what themes do the relationship between Prospero and Francesca bring to the film?

It’s reasonable to assume that Prospero wasn’t always the cruel tyrant we meet in the picture. He didn’t emerge from the womb executing peasants and cursing God. Prospero’s poisonous personality was likely the result of a gradual corruption of his soul, an evil born of his prosperous upbringing. Raised with untold wealth & influence, he came to rule over his fellow human beings like an unforgiving deity. Unsatisfied with the power his privilege as Earthly nobility affords him, he reaches even further beyond this realm and makes a deal with Satan in an attempt to overcome Death. Yet, there’s a little speck of good left in Prospero’s heart, which I think is what we see in his treatment of Francesca. At times he tries to prove that even her innocence can be corrupted because he wants to be assured that his own wickedness can be found in every person’s heart. He even asks her to join him in mocking the greed & decay in the guests at the masque, because he believes all people to be as amoral as he is. At other times, he goes out of his way to protect her and spare her life, an instinct that surprises even The Red Death. The only other glimpse of good we see in Prospero is when he asks his guards to spare a baby’s life at the gates. Although he is beyond redemption, (not that redemption matters in the eyes of Death,) Francesca affords Prospero his last chance to act like a true human being.

Then there’s the fact that the actress who plays Francesca, Jane Asher, was just achingly beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that she was in a relationship with & at one time engaged to Sir Paul McCartney in the 60s. She was attractive enough to snare a Beatle during the fever pitch of Beatlemania, so surely a demented prince who can’t even cheat Death wouldn’t stand a chance against her charms. Perhaps simple lust spares her life. I think Francesca stands out here as a hip youngster (maybe it’s all in those bangs?) and helps add to that 60s drug dealer mansion party vibe mentioned above. So much of the film feels rebellious in an anachronistic way. Prospero’s philandering is out of control. Lines like “Satan rules the universe!” and “Each man creates his own god for himself” are pretty edgy for 1964, even coming from the villains. Keep in mind this is still years before the New Hollywood, a movement Roger Corman cannot be praised enough for influencing.

James, how do you see the balance between the movie’s setting and the era in which it was filmed?

The movie definitely has an edge that makes it still creepy and blasphemous over 40 years later. I wonder how much Corman was in tune with the counterculture of the time because, despite it being a British production, the film feels more like a deranged product of the 60’s San Fransisco hippie movement, like a horror version of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; its macabre decadence fueled by lust and greed. It’s also most likely no coincidence that the epicenter of the hippie movement was the same place that the Anton Lavey established the Church of Satan in 1966. Themes like the destruction of social norms and an openness to sexual and spiritual experiences seem to be shared by The Masque of the Red Death, Satanists, and the hippies; “Each man creates his own god for himself” is THE basic philosophical statement of Satanism. I also think this is reflected in the dark, psychedelic imagery that The Masque of the Red Death and Satanist rituals share. (Photo for example)


Britnee, How strongly do you think the psychedelic aesthetic of the 60’s influenced The Masque of the Red Death? Any specific examples that stick out to you?

I think that The Masque of the Red Death was as psychedelic as it gets, at least for a horror film based in Medieval times. An example that really sticks out to me is the colors used throughout the film, most importantly, the use of red. Red usually represents blood, gore, and all the good stuff horror movies are made of, but when I also think of the term “psychedelic,” red is usually the color that comes to mind. After doing a little research, I found that the color red has a pretty long wavelength and very low vibration; this pretty much explains how the red tint that is present in multiple scenes really gives off this warm, draining feeling. Sounds a bit like the feeling you get after taking a hallucinogen or two, right? Also, all of those gaudy colors in the castle & clothing of Prospero and his pals can’t go without mention. While I’m not a Middle Ages expert or enthusiast, I’m almost positive that the colors of clothing and décor weren’t as bright and vibrant during that era as they are in the film. It’s obvious that the 60’s psychedelic aesthetic heavily influenced those hues.


I’d just like to point out one last time just how early this film was released. A lot of what we think of as the hippie-dippie 60s came very late in the decade. The era-defining Summer of Love was in 1967, the same year Roger Corman dropped acid for the first time and fictionalized his experience in the film The Trip. The Masque‘s 1964 release positions the film as years ahead of its time. Corman was pulling off the Satanic psychedelia vibe the same year that Mary Poppins & My Fair Lady were huge cultural hits. I’m not saying Masque was particularly a major influence on the countercultural swell that was to come, but it at least was somewhat visually intuitive. And Corman himself did have direct influence on the later films that typified that counterculture, films like Easy Rider and Bonnie & Clyde. Even back then, when “don’t trust anyone over 30” was a motto to live by, he was the hippest geezer in the room and a filmmaking rebel.

After the discussion with The Swampflix Crew, so many ideas and thoughts about The Masque of the Red Death were brought to the surface. It gave me an excuse to watch the film a couple more times, and I fell in love with it more each viewing. The movie also got me hooked on the Corman-Poe films, so I’m currently trying to get my hands on all of them. The Masque of the Red Death was just a great balance of horror, suspense, and drama that gave me some really unsettling thoughts & a case of the willies. Great job, Corman!

Really enjoyed the discussion of The Masque of the Red Death. Watching the film a second time and taking into account all the points you guys made deepened my appreciation and understanding of the film. Definitely want to see more Corman, especially the Poe films. As Brandon pointed out, Corman seemed to have his hand on the pulse of the counterculture and was always one step ahead of mainstream Hollywood. Truly a filmmaker ahead of his time.

-The Swampflix Crew

Upcoming Movie of the Months
March: James presents The Seventh Seal (1957)
April: Britnee presents Blood & Black Lace (1964)