Monday, October 31, 2011

MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1991) - if life is one big costume party, just be happy you were invited at all

My room is a garden of earthly delights; the earth's beautiful pleasantries filtered down into media, into images and words. After all, the real world is crumbling outside, so these works are an attempt to weed out beauty from the horrors and ugliness of reality. As it is now Hallows Eve, I demand some proper entertainment, so I pop in a VHS copy of Masque of the Red Death. How fitting; a film from the mind of one Edgar Allen Poe, about a grand costume ball that is free from an outside plague, only to grow sinister upon the threat of an intruder. After all, I am a man that prefers the classics, and this…wait a second, I appear to have made a mistake. The release date on this film is apparently 1991. I thought maybe it was the Vincent Price version. You know what, that’s quite all right. A man that cannot appreciate innovative twists on classic material is a man afraid of change.

Sure enough, some hot blonde stuff is driving along in her stylish convertible, a Penguin Classics version of "Fall of the House of Usher" sitting on the passenger’s seat. Alas, the post-modern flourishes are already out in full force. Our blonde hero parks and steps into a tomb, finding a heart sitting on an altar. Lo and behold, her chest appears to be missing that most crucial of organs, and then she awakes from what was a dream. I don’t recall a sequence of this type appearing in the original story, but it would appear that the film deviates from the text in order to expound on the heroine’s troubles of the heart slumbering within her subconscious. Might it be said that director Alan Birkinshaw understands the humanity of characters better than the man from which these characters sprung forth? I will let the scholars sort it out.

Dressed as a saucy cupid, our heroine enters the costume ball in a grand Bavarian castle. The cupid is not a conduit for love, but an undercover reporter with a camera hidden in her bow. She seeks to find publishable material related to the scandalous queen (Brenda Vaccaro), thematically supposing that love is merely another form of exploitation. Soon, the queen is murdered, and her death becomes a more profitable scandal than her life could ever be. Well, subtext aside, this beautiful old castle and the wild variety (an late 80’s modernist take on the medieval) of costumes worn by the guests provides a parade of garish entertainment. Oh yeah, and this happens…

HOLY FUCKING SHIT. Yeah, the song isn’t the greatest, but that might be the greatest visual front for music I have ever seen. According to the credits, the band is accompanied by “neo-punk dancers”, and the “Razzle Jazzle Dance Company” is responsible for the choreography. I imagine I could be thoroughly entertained for an eternity by this band alone. Alas, art has a humanist core, so let us get back to the characters. We get to know the duke, played by…FRANK STALLONE?!?!


I’m speechless. He seems to be just playing himself and even then, he’s fucking that up. Jesus H. Christ.

I’m beginning to sincerely doubt that these characters actually represent various post-modern subtexts in light of this Frank Stallone revelation. Maybe these are just images thrown together to cash in on dear Edgar’s name. Alas, the spell hath been broken. My eyes start to wander, no longer enchanted by the magic box, and I notice a cobweb in the ceiling corner. There is a monster loose in my room! I thought the room was properly sealed. What other creatures might have entered through various portals and have since found homes in the various crevices of my lair? I thought I was safe from my own little red deaths, but have I accidentally sealed them inside? Is my safe room but a tomb of monsters, and I am locked in with no escape? Well, if my situation is hopeless, I may as well brush these creatures out of mind, letting them live quietly in darkness while I return to the movie.

So, apparently, the castle is not sealed off from a plague because there is no plague, only a menace in a red cloak wandering the halls, picking off the party goers using "Pit and the Pendulum"-style traps (innovatively including a giant sewing machine). The entire point of the story, that of the rich falsely believing they can escape the horrors of the world, seems to have been lost in translation, and we are left with a stalking phantom wandering around an illustrious castle and offing them in stylish, somewhat Argento-esque fashion. Just as I probably shouldn’t worry about the horrors of the outside world, or the tiny horrors inevitably creeping inside and around me, maybe I shouldn’t worry about whether or not the art I intake contains allusions to these horrors and plagues. I should just be happy that I’m an invited guest at such a ball, surrounded by garish costumes and fancy murders and hot chicks and a kick-ass band. Monsters may have snuck into my room, but hopefully they won’t come after me if I don’t bother to go looking for them.

P.S. This is the final post in my 2nd annual Lazy Baker Halloween Horror Countdown. Eleven down, zero to go. Happy Halloween! Don't overdose on candy or Pumkin Ale or embalming fluid or whatever it is the kids do on Halloween these days.

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