Last Call | Retro Review: Pandemic Partying in ‘Masque of the Red Death’

Last Call | Retro Review: Pandemic Partying in'Masque of the Red Death'

The Legendary Drive-In King producer Roger Corman remakes hisownself, but instead of Vincent Price, there’s Patrick Macnee and the guy from the ‘Highlander’ TV show who isn’t Christopher Lambert

Editor’s note: This review was originally syndicated on Nov. 10, 1989, and some stuff has changed since then. The Edgar Allan Poe short story that inspired this movie that is based on a movie based on the short story is available to read here.

One of my favorite great aunts, Vera Glasscock, on the Bardwell side of the East Texas Briggses, just got a job working in the Men’s Billfold Department of J.C. Penney’s in Fort Worth, and I’ve been put in charge of watching her so she doesn’t commit any indecent public acts or otherwise embarrass the family.

Vera is the only 89-year-old woman with a full-frontal photograph in the Texas Connection swingers magazine.

We told Vera it’s not gonna work, there’s no such thing as 89-year-old swingers, and even if there IS such a thing, they STILL don’t wanna see any nude pictures of her, but Vera believes that after 55 years of daily goats milk skin treatments, she has the face, body and personality of a 29-year-old. That’s what she’ll tell you. “I have the face, body and personality of a 29-year-old,” she’ll tell you. “Billy Tompkins said so.”

And I told her, “Vera, Billy Tompkins also DIED in 1955.”

Also, I’m the guy that has to deal with the Texas Connection editorial staff when they call me up. “Please, Joe Bob, make her take the ad out,” they say. “We’ll pay her money. We’re getting letters from people that think it’s a picture of a suffering animal being used for medical research. We don’t want the animal-rights people on our backs.”

And so I tried to talk to Vera once or twice, but she said, “They advertise FREE photos for unattached female swingers, and by God I’m unattached, and by God I’m female, and by God I’m a swinger.”

“Well, could you at least tone down the copy a little bit? Take out the stuff about the garden hoes?”

“Joe Bob, I’m surprised at you! I thought you were one of the more LIBERAL Briggses!”

“I am, Vera, but it makes people think you’re a tropical plant.”

You can’t reason with the woman. She’s the most sexually active 89-year-old on the planet. And so now what happens, but she goes and she gets a JOB. And she not only gets a JOB, she gets one where she’s been trying to get a job her whole life — J.C. Penney’s Men’s Billfold Department — and she did it for one reason. She’s gonna SNAG one of those guys before he knows what hit him. AND she gets to see what’s in his billfold first.

So I drove out to Fort Worth to try to talk to her. But when I got there it was already too late. She had some of the finer cowhide models OUT of their plasticene-covered billfold gift boxes, and what do you think she was doing with em? She was REMOVING the photo of Vic Damone, and she was REPLACING it with HER picture.

And it was the one from the Texas Connection Magazine!

“Vera, I’ve got two choices. I can wait here till you pass one of those billfolds to a customer and J.C. Penney’s fires your hiney and the Fort Worth Vice Squad comes in here and hauls you off to the Texas State Institute for the Feeble-Minded. Or you can REASSEMBLE those plasticene covers RIGHT THIS MINUTE and GET THOSE BILLFOLDS BACK INTO THEIR ORIGINAL CONDITION. The choice is yours.”

But right at that moment, I had to stop talking, cause a well-dressed, grey-haired gentleman ambled up to the sales counter and said, “Excuse me, but I’m looking for something in lizard.”

“Natural lizard or imitation lizard?” Vera said.

“I’m looking for a lizard that . . . er . . .” He hesitated.

“Go ahead,” she told him, “I think I can help you.”

“I would like to speak to the lady who . . . uh . . . it has to do with a photograph . . .”

“You looking for the Lizard Lady, honey?”

“You mean it’s YOU! I want seven more pictures, and I want you to have dinner with me. Sorry, I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.”

“It’s all right, hon, happens all the time.”

I can tell that Vera’s gonna soil the Briggs family reputation all over North Texas again.

And speaking of actors who REFUSE TO GO AWAY, Patrick Macnee is back again in Masque of the Red Death — not the REAL Masque of the Red Death with Vincent Price, made by Drive-In King Roger Corman in 1964, but a NEW Masque of the Red Death made by Roger Corman. Roger decided, “Hey, everybody’s forgotten by now, 25 years, that’s long enough, right?” Always remember, they don’t call him King of Exploitation for nothing. The original Edgar Allan Poe movies starring Vincent Price are great, but when they made this one, they did something a little different. They not only wanted to portray the red death, they wanted to use dead actors, for enhanced reality. It’s a pretty amazing feat, all of them talking like they’re dead, moving like they’re dead, even DANCING like they’re dead, and the director, Larry Brand, made everything real dark so that you can’t quite see anything, so after a while you go “Nothing happening in this scene — oh! I get it! They’re dead!”

Adrian Paul is Prince Prospero, wandering around his castle like a doorstop on quaaludes, saying stuff like “Now it is death that serves man!” Clare Hoak is the village virgin brought in by Prospero’s army to entertain the horny troops. Tracy Reiner (Rob’s daughter) is Prospero’s sister and wife he has to keep in line with a hot poker. And Patrick Macnee is the Red Death, galloping through the countryside in a scarlet cape. Put them all together and you’ve got . . . a real snoozer. Not even much torture or pillaging. Sure, there’s a little hot boiling oil on the peasants, some skull crushing on the rack, some stomach carving. But it just doesn’t have the old Vincent Price EVIL in it.

Seven breasts. Forty dead bodies. Three pathetic zombies. Dungeon aardvarking. Skull cracking. Throat slashing. Bloody hand spiking. Peasant boiling. Hot-poker head branding. Pitiful orgy. Gratuitous minuet dancing, the kind they teach in third grade. Drive-In Academy Award nominations for Tracy Reiner, as Lucrecia, for saying “I’ve removed the color red from my veins!”; Patrick Macnee, as Machiavel, for saying “So shall death exact his charge against man”; Jeff Osterhage, as Claudio, for saying “God no longer acts in creation — he simply watches”; and Adrian Paul, for the movie’s truest moment, when he says “We’ve brought this upon ourselves –we’ve called death to us.”

One and a half stars. Joe Bob says check it out.

Communist Alert! The McArthur Drive-In in Orange, Texas, was torn down in 1987 so they could build some apartments, and they STILL HAVEN’T FINISHED CONSTRUCTION! According to Larry Gregg, one of the mourners down on the Gulf Coast, you mess with sacred ground, you’re gonna pay. Didn’t these people see Poltergeist? Remember, without eternal vigilance, it can happen here.

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Joe Bob Briggs

Joe Bob Briggs is the drive-in movie critic of Grapevine, Texas, currently resident in New York City, where his pop culture commentary appears in print, on television and at various dive bars that defy the modern world by allowing the smoking of cigars.

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