Vincent Price. This is why Vincent Price is such a great horror movie actor.
You may have read the original Poe story, in which a corrupt prince holds a party at his manor, despite the raging plague outside. Price plays the prince in this 1964 film version, which has been expanded into a study of evil.
And it’s a solid little story, really, as Price’s character brings in an innocent young peasant woman with great Christian faith, and shows her the decadence of his life and that of his peers. He’s completely given himself over to Satan, explicitly, and enjoys needling the girl with a faith completely opposite to her own.
There are a few sub-plots dealing with the girl’s lover, the plague-ridden peasants outside, and another baron at the masque, which serve mostly as interesting highlights to the main story. I was particularly thrilled by the bit with Skip Martin’s character—a jester-like little person—who wreaks vengeance on a noble for his treatment of Martin’s character’s wife. Besides Price, Martin’s the best actor of the bunch.
The film was directed by Roger Corman, which I initially took as an ill omen. Actually, the film looked just fine; perfectly competent directing. That said, for such a gothic concept, I felt like it could’ve been shot much more imaginatively, giving the film a creepier, more intense feel. This is meant to be horror, and much of it was filmed like a stage play. That may be more the fault of the cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, though, who went on to direct some interesting things but I think fell flat here.
Despite the rather staid look of the film, it’s definitely fun to watch, especially to watch Price be delightfully evil all the way through.