The best looking Roger Corman movie I've seen so far is 1964's The Masque of the Red Death
. Probably because its cinematographer was Nicolas Roeg, who went on to direct Walkabout
and The Man Who Fell to Earth
. Based on the famous Edgar Allan Poe story, Corman takes the tale of Death extravagantly bringing the aristocracy to the level of the lower class and makes it into a more conventional tale of good versus evil. Still, those great visuals, along with performances by Vincent Price, Jane Asher, Hazel Court, Patrick Magee, and Skip Martin, make this a very enjoyable film.
Skip Martin plays Hop Toad, a dwarf jester, his character from another Poe story, "Hop-Frog". Martin gives a very nice performance, much more complex than dwarf actors tended to get. His revenge on a nobleman, played with typical twitchy smoulder by Patrick Magee, fits in well enough with Prince Prospero's decadent revels. But it's not by itself enough for Corman to pad out the film to feature length.
Most of Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" is in his description and set-up--there's very little plot. So Corman throws in some villagers--Francesca (Jane Asher), her father (Nigel Green), and her lover (David Weston), he gives Prospero a consort named Juliana (Hazel Court), and he makes the two of them Satan worshippers.
Corman makes the Red Death figure distinct from Satan yet thanks to a trippy sex nightmare enjoyed by Juliana we know that Satan's real in the story. So there's a background drama of Satan versus Death happening. Death for some reason wants Francesca and her men to escape. Only in the movies.
Vincent Price as Prospero of course sells his strutting evil monologues pretty well, none of which, of course, are from Poe. "The knowledge of terror," he concludes one speech, "is vouchsafed only to the precious few." Then a clock strikes, startling his guests from their reverie. Though I guess he was saying that most people aren't afraid?
Anyway, what a pretty castle he has. My favourite is this bath into which he almost immediately puts Francesca, whom he's trying to seduce to the worship of Satan. Twitter Sonnet #911The questions posed by does find no mountain.
When under three vertical marks, it's signed.
A figure strides in gliding grey kaftan.
The tiny script along the rail resigned.
A team of three reside behind the tube.
In rubber arms abide the strength of Zeus.
The shape of clouds condense sunless rube.
In sleeveless gowns she kept the ace and deuce.
Two wheels apace behind the cart keep up.
The hands untied appoint the digit down.
No dash or stroke can fill a paper cup.
No plunging ghost can fill the mossy gown.
Tomatoes tapped beneath the shadow limb
Revert the spirit's sign to liquid sim.