Thursday, 29 November 2018

Masque of the Red Death/Phantasm

Masque of the Red Death (1964)

The short story is brilliant, one of Poe's best, but I did come into this wondering how Roger Corman would stretch it to 90 minutes.

By expanding extensively, it seems. I saw his Raven and his Black Cat too long ago, but of course Corman loves his Edgar Allan Poe, his Vincent Price, and his very loose adaptations. You know what you are going to get with Corman - garish colours, slightly OTT performances, and some wonderful cinematography. Vincent Price's entrance, literally unveiled in all his villainy, is one great example of the camera work, as is the framing of Hazel Court as she wakes up from her nightmare and walks through the castle. Price is fairly restrained in his performance, allowing others to shine, but is unmistakeably the star, and the film suffers when he's not on screen. Not keen on the adapted villainy, Prospero's uncaring nature in Poe transforms into pure Satanist torturer - see early on, when he forces a Sophie's Choice on a female villager - but this is pure 1960s ham, and done with not a little flair either.

"You killed them!"
"It was a kindness, my dear, can't you see that"

 Phantasm (1979)

(contains spoilers)

Phantasm starts with a sex scene in a graveyard and blatant tits, a scene which ends in the woman stabbing her lover to death as she turns into Angus Scrimm. I suppose both of these things would be a right turn off. Surprisingly, this is not out of context within the world of Phantasm. Next up, his friends are discussing how he had to have committed suicide... despite presumably the blows coming from a high angle above him. Phantasm starts lurid and weird, like a story already halfway through, and the chief thing in its favour is the incidental music. There's also some wonderfully clunky dialogue:

"It was a good idea not to bring Joey to the funeral."
"Yeah at mum and dads funeral he had nightmares for weeks."

There hasn't been this immediate disconnect between imagery and content since The Weekend Murders, another film which seemed to ape Argento. Pretty sure the grandmother is actually dead. The music is also hilarious. Man drives car? Ominous. Tall Man shows up? Normal. The fact its all the wrong way round adds a sense of unease to the film - its ¤¤¤¤ing with us, basically. But then, does that detract from the wooden actors? Mostly, yes.

Really, this film is all about loss. The younger brother is afraid the older brother, who is seen as cool because he has guitars and bikes, is drifting away from - there is a 10 year age difference. All the horrors blend into the background with the realisation this is about childhood horror, and that might explain the lucid dream nature of this ¤¤¤¤ing wacky thing. When the twist arrives, it throws everything else into whack - did it actually happen? Or is it merely trauma? The Tall Men and spooky creatures are child's play next to the loss of an actual sibling.

This film is tough to judge. The acting is abysmal from all bar, ironically, Scrimm, who had very little acting experience. He gets to "look scary" and stand tall and say very little, all 3 of which he excels at. The music is great, the cinematography all the place, and when things get weird, the entire thing is a bit like a drugged out hallucination. The films or mine, I'm not sure.

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