THE MASQUE OF THE RED
Of the AIP/Poe films THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and THE PREMATURE BURIAL makes for something of an odd double feature. Certainly, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is one of the best films in the entire series, and while THE PREMATURE BURIAL has its own strengths, it is the only film in the Poe collection not to star Vincent Price. Still, it is great to have both of these minor horror classics available on one disc, in 16:9 enhanced wide screen and available at the bargain price of $14.98. Therefore, I have to give MGM Home Entertainment all the credit in the world for doing such a fine job with the release of these two films.
Vincent Price stars in THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH as Prospero, a devil worshipping Italian Prince, who has isolated himself and his followers from the Red Death, a horrifying plague that is ravaging the countryside. Behind the walls of his castle, Prospero engages in cruelty, debauchery and excess- all in service to his dark master Satan. Also in the castle is an innocent peasant girl named Francesca (Jane Asher), whom Prospero hopes to corrupt into the service of his master. The festivities culminate at a great masked ball in which the participants are forbidden to wear red- however; an uninvited guest does make an appearance at the masque wearing a crimson robe. Unlike the earlier films in the Poe series, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH had a reasonably sizable budget and was filmed in Europe. The film also benefited from a better production design that made use of rich looking standing sets, which were left over from other productions, as well as the work of cameraman Nicolas Roeg. The cast of THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH also includes Hazel Court, David Weston, Nigel Green and Patrick Magee.
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is presented in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and as stated above the presentation is enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. The transfer is out and out spectacular for a modestly budgeted film, from an independent studio, that is nearly forty years old. One can truly appreciate every frame of this beautifully photographed movie, thanks to the wonderful transfer. The image is crisp, clean and brightly colored, which highlights the film’s marvelous production design. There are no signs of chroma noise or smearing to mar the reproduction of the most intense hues. Blacks appear solid, contrast is smooth and shadow detail is more than respectable. Clean authoring keeps digital compression artifacts well concealed. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is free from excessive background hiss and surface noise. Dialogue is cleanly rendered, and despite frequency limitations, the film’s music never sounds harsh or compressed. A French language track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
While not of the same caliber of THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, THE PREMATURE BURIAL is certainly a solid entry in the Poe series, despite the absence of Vincent Price. THE PREMATURE BURIAL stars Ray Milland as Guy Carrell, a man whose fear of being buried alive proves to be all consuming. Turning his back on life, Guy goes into seclusion, only to be drawn out by his fiancée Emily Gault (Hazel Court), whom he eventually weds. Unfortunately, marital happiness proves elusive for the couple, when Guy’s obsessive fear begins to overwhelm him. Just as Guy takes the ultimate step to face up to his greatest fear, a tremendous shock throws him into a catatonic trance- and he is pronounced dead. Finding himself buried alive, Guy is gripped by a homicidal madness, just as circumstance releases from his premature burial. The cast of THE PREMATURE BURIAL also features Richard Ney, Heather Angel, Alan Napier, John Dierkes and Dick Miller.
Like THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, THE PREMATURE BURIAL is properly framed at 2.35:1 and the presentation is enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. While not as visually stunning as THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH Floyd Crosby’s cinematography for THE PREMATURE BURIAL still manages to make this low budget film look far more expensive. The image is fairly sharp and well defined, although colors appear far more muted on this film than they did on the other half of the double feature. I don’t want to say that the hues appear faded, but saturation is somewhat subdued for much of the film. Blacks appear pretty solid, contrast is good and shadow detail is decent for the darker scenes. There is a bit of noticeable grain during the presentation, and the foggier sequences in the movie don’t cause any serious problems with digital compression artifacts. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack sounds pretty darn good and is reasonably free from his and other forms of noise. Dialogue is crisp and rendered without intelligibility problems. A French language track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Both films are offered on their own side of the DVD and each features a rather basic interactive menu. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a couple of extras. THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH offers the featurette Roger Corman Behind The Mask, which is an eighteen-minute interview with the director, who discusses the film's production, as well as the other AIP/Poe movies. THE PREMATURE BURIAL features Roger Corman Unearths The Premature Burial, a nine-minute interview program in which Corman talks about the production at a good level of detail. Theatrical trailers for both movies are provided on their respective sides of the DVD.
Although it is something of an odd pairing, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and THE PREMATURE BURIAL is an entertaining double feature that will appeal to fans of the AIP/Poe series, as well as horror fans in general. MGM deserves praise for not only giving each of these films a great 16:9 enhanced wide screen presentation, but for offering the double feature at a rock bottom bargain price. I hope MGM will continue releasing more of the AIP horror classics, I know I am looking forward to films like THE RAVEN, THE COMEDY OF TERRORS, TOMB OF LIEGIA and THE HAUNTED PALACE. And while they're at it, PIT AND THE PENDULUM really could use a new 16:9 enhanced transfer.
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