If Tomb Of Ligeia is the finest adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe story, The Masque Of The Red Death surely earns the runners-up spot, sticking closely to its source material and coming up trumps in several departments.
Vincent Price excels as the deliciously evil Prince Prospero, who plays host to aristocratic hangers-on while the Red Death plague rages outside his castle walls. This is the real class war, where the poor and downtrodden fall victim to a terrible disease, with just a brave handful of their number willing to enter Prospero's exclusion zone for a possible showdown with 'Old Nick' himself.
Shot on leftover sets from Becket, Masque is hugely impressive on a visual level, with Nicolas Roeg's sumptuous photography laying out a steady stream of eye candy. MGM's 2002 DVD release (part of a double bill with The Premature Burial) treats Masque to an absolutely gorgeous transfer, with bags of detail in exterior scenes and luminous colours that turn Prospero's cursed abode into an Argentoesque labyrinthe of eye-popping beauty. Price's supporting cast also benefit from this pristine version: Hazel Court seems better than ever as a self-appointed handmaiden of Satan, while Patrick Magee will make your skin crawl like never before as his perverse courtier voices impure thoughts concerning tiny dancer Esmerelda. Corman's film was partly based on another Poe story titled "Hoptoad", and the script uses this to draw a moving relationship between Esmerelda and her friend, Hopfrog, played by the excellent Skip Martin. Skip is so good here, it's a source of genuine regret that his screen time is somewhat limited. The only other disappointment relates to Jane Asher, who rarely hits the right notes as a lover and a daughter in the depths of despair.
Watch out for a bloody raven attack; an alternative version of Russian Roulette (this one features poisonous daggers), and a Roger Corman interview after the main feature. Here, the great man gives us the Masque lowdown which includes a tongue-in-cheek riposte to all those comparisons with Bergman's The Seventh Seal.