Our horror double feature for this week was Roger Corman's The Masque of the Red Death/The Premature Burial (1964/1962).
Masque starts with Prince Vincent Price riding into a village, making trouble for the villagers. He is about to beat or kill peasant girl Jane Asher's fiance and father, and maybe toy with her a little. When he discovers that the Red Death has just killed someone in the town, he changes his plans: He drags the girl, her boyfriend, and her dad to the castle and declares a plague party. He invites all the local dignitaries to hide out in the castle until the plague blows over.
Things at the castle are pretty kinky: Asher is bathed in the Price's wife's bedroom (Hazel Court). There is a dwarf and his midget ballerina wife, who people keep drooling over (since she's played by a child, this is extra skeezy). There is a good deal of wallowing, and some Satan worship.
This is a pretty great Corman/Price combo. Price is at the top of his game, reciting the Poe-inspired dialog with gusto. Jane Asher (Paul McCartney's girlfriend and Peter Asher of Peter and Gordon's sister) does a good job as the innocent ingenue - although she doesn't really come across as "peasant" - maybe she's petty bourgeoisie.
But the best part is the movie's atmosphere - the decadence and rot, the colors and the sickness. It proves that Corman wasn't a terrible director (just cheap) - it doesn't hurt that Nic Roeg was his cinematographer.
Burial is a bit different. For one thing, it stars Ray Milland instead of Vincent Price. He plays a wealthy painter with a morbid fear of being buried alive. He has catatonia, you see, and appears to be dead when a fit is upon him (see also Isle of the Dead). His ex-fiancee, Hazel Court again, shows up at the mansion to try to win him back - he broke up with her because he didn't want to subject her to his neuroses. But while she is coaxing him back to the world of the living, he is building an amazing easy-out crypt, with at least ten ways to escape.
But what if they go on a honeymoon? Somewhere away from the crypt? And he has a catatonic episode? Will his bride be able to save him from... Title of Film!?!? Of course, Milland's firendship with a grave robbing doctor (Alan Napier, Alfred the Butler) keeps him a little on edge - a little recreational grave robbing is fine, but you should let the comic/sinister grave diggers get to you. Even if one of them is Dick Miller.
This one rests mostly on Milland's desperation and sweaty panic. Boy is he good at it. The story is a good one too, but I wasn't entirely pulled in by the sets. The "sticks on a soundstage with dry ice" standing in for a spooky forest was right out of The Undead. Come to think of it, the grave diggers kind of reminded me of mad Digger Smolken.
But, hey, The Undead is actually a pretty good movie, and so are these.