The Masque of the Red Death, Restored

Few films need to be featured on DVDExotica quite so much as this one.  1964's The Masque Of the Red Death is probably the best, and certainly my favorite, of Roger Corman's illustrious Edgar Allen Poe adaptations.
It's after he took these productions to England, where the production values and supporting cast were enhanced considerably, and also tackles one of the most interesting and challenging of Poe's stories.  Or two, actually, as this screenplay rather smartly inserts another of Poe's stories, "Hop-Frog," as a surprisingly apt subplot that plays quite well with this story's themes of nihilism, sadism and existentialism.  Vincent Price couldn't be better suited for role of the cruel Prince Prospero, and he thankfully opts to downplay his scenes, rather than camp it up.  The (appropriately) colorful production design does more than enough to liven up this story already, and the first class supporting actors (Patrick Magee, Hazel Court, and even the young ingénues are surprisingly credible in their plight) and photography (by director Nicolas Roeg!) elevate this to the "high art" levels Corman was aiming for.
There are obvious correlations with Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal, another medieval tale of the rich and poor alike desperately trying to survive a sweeping plague, and of course an ominous hooded figure of death that has philosophical discussions with the lead characters.  But at the same time, this is very much its own distinct beast, thanks of course to its roots in Poe and Corman's natural instincts towards exploitation.  There's also some surprisingly intelligent discussions on Satanism, and even some odd choices - like dubbing a little girl with the voice of a grown woman, or having voodoo priests and samurai appear in a surreal dream sequence - somehow manage to work.  So Masque manages to walk a very fine line of being high-minded without losing any of its lurid, baser appeals.
A blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment you couldn't have spotted before.
That's especially true of this new, extended cut which includes additional short but dramatic footage of bloody violence, fleeting nudity and blasphemous dialogue.  All previous home video editions were trimmed, until this recent 4k restoration restored the footage on Scream's reissue in the US and the more or less concurrent Studio Canal blu in the UK.  They go the extra, but unnecessary, mile now of retaining the censored "theatrical version" as an option, but I don't know why anybody would want to watch it now that we have the complete version.  At least it makes it easy for me to compare their new and old transfers, though.
Here's a look at MGM's Premature Burial transfer if you're interested.
MGM originally released Masque as a double-feature with another of Corman's Poe adaptations, Premature Burial, as part of their Midnight Movies line in 2002.  Then Scream Factory released it on blu in 2013, but only available in their 4-disc 6-film Vincent Price Collection.  And yes, just to be clear, that 2013 BD is the cut version.  But in 2020, the film was restored in 4k with the missing footage, and released as both part of a revised Vincent Price Collection and separately.
1) 2002 MGM DVD; 2) 2020 SF theatrical BD; 3) 2020 SF uncut BD.
The presentation gets (correctly) wider with each generation.  The DVD chops off info along all four sides to create an aspect ratio of 2.24:1.  The first Scream blu brings most of that back, presenting the film in 2.34:1.  and the new blu reveals even more on the sides in 2.39:1.  The colors have also been significantly improved with each pass, with a funky warm hue cast over the DVD removed for the first blu, and the colors are then further fleshed out on the new one.  The grain on both blus is mostly pretty well retained, but it's definitely more consistent on the 2020, as opposed to the 2013, which has patches where it's smoothed away.  And interestingly, the original blu-ray scan features sporadic print damage that isn't on the past DVD or the subsequent 4k restoration - I suppose it's taken from a different source.  There's a lot of white flecks, but more serious wear pops up occasionally as well.  Look at the strange, dark bands along the bottom of the theatrical cut blu in the first set of shots.  Overall, each edition is a substantial and welcome improvement over its predecessor.

As an independent 60s film, the audio is naturally mono and presented so on each disc.  It's lossy on the DVD of course, though they do also include a French dub and English, French and Spanish subtitles.  Both Scream blus do away with the foreign language options but bump the audio up to DTS-HD and retain the English subs.
The MGM was light on extras, but did include a very engaging interview with Roger Corman that's full of great stories.  But that was it except the trailer, and of course Premature Burial, which had its own Corman interview and trailer.

The 2013 Scream Factory hung onto the Corman interview and trailer, but also added a brief, vintage introduction by Price and an audio commentary by expert Steve Haberman.  He's quite good, if a little stiff (he seems to be reading a script) full of great info about the original story, the production and pretty much everything you'd want to know about the film.  There's a point where he repeats, almost verbatim, every anecdote from the Corman interview though, which is a little tiresome.  But overall, it's a great addition.  There's also a stills gallery.
And for 2020, everything except the old Price intro is carried over.  In its place, we get a new video interview with critic Stephen Jones and a new commentary by Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw.  The Jones interview is nice, though a little repetitive given the other extras.  And the new commentary is much more lively and conversational, with some - though not a ton of - new info.  Taken on its own, it would be a bit of a let-down, but these guys clearly knew they'd be on the same disc as everything else, and make the wise decision not to rehash all the same details over again, and instead come up with something new, which works better in conjunction with everything else.  So, well done!
So this is a real must-have: the first chance for many of us to get this film on its own, with a very obviously improved new restoration, and some neat new extras to boot.  And this is one of those films where the opulence of the imagery is a key strength of the film, so it really benefits from the improved quality.  Take another look at this version of Masque - what once was often written off as just some good, cheesy entertainment, is actually a seriously compelling film by any standard.

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