We don’t need to tell you we live in a pretty scary world right now. So let’s indulge in a brief distraction.
This is an old promotional clip for the Walker Art Center, featuring American master of horror and what we presume a praying mantis would sound like if it could speak, Vincent Price.
There’s a certain whimsy and nostalgia to this clip, not just because it was made in 1985 with a crisp and very much alive Price, but because it’s encouraging us to visit a museum—which, as we all know, is no longer allowed.
According to the Walker, Price was an art collector himself, and visited the museum several times since the 1950s. As he mentions in the video, the Walker has even favored some of his films—including the delightfully demented House of Wax.
But the clip isn’t just a distraction. Price was an expert in fear of all kinds, and one of his works in particular has achieved a disquieting sort of relevance in this, our new pandemic age.
The Masque of the Red Death, a 1964 horror film based on an Edgar Allan Poe short story by the same name, follows the story of Prince Prospero (played by Price), whose land is beset by plague. Stone-hearted, he locks himself and his jaded court away in his castle, where they pass the time amusing themselves with dancing, drink, public humiliation, and the occasional Satanic ritual.
Now, in 2020, the specter of the Red Death has been invoked again—this time about various pandemic parties and retreats offered to those wealthy enough to flee to them. Among them is "Harbor"—a two-month luxury retreat in California, where the wealthy can survive COVID-19 in style, so long as they test negative in advance and are willing to pay several thousand dollars.
It promises daily yoga, live music events, even fun trivia nights with you and “some of the brightest, forward-thinking individuals.”
“No facemask required,” the website says.
Even if the forward-thinkers behind Harbor didn’t make the connection, Twitter sure did.
this is literally - LITERALLY - the plot setup of Edgar Allan Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" https://t.co/o7hFFgsfTj— claire says STAY INSIDE (@clairewillett) March 31, 2020
Lol rich motherfuckers are literally going to recreate "The Masque of the Red Death" and I'm absolutely here for it https://t.co/ESIti8iYZN— TomGuycot (@IkariWorrier) March 31, 2020
this is literally Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" but with white people saying "Namaste" https://t.co/7JGLfe0av9— AntiFash Gordon (@AntiFashGordon) March 31, 2020
2020. "All right, you've all got suggestions? Let's do the pitch session."— David Hines (@hradzka) March 30, 2020
2019. "It's the Masque of the Red Death -- but with a twist."
2020. "What's the twist?"
2019. "Prince Prospero charges rent."
2020. *slams palm on table* "GREENLIT"https://t.co/7EgUlmZuYx
It’s impossible to know what Price would have thought of our current situation, but we can at least take a few lessons from his Prospero. One is that the insulation or escape wealth provides from catastrophe is but a thin illusion. The other is that holding secluded parties when there’s a plague going on might end badly.
Stay home, wash your hands, maybe boot up an old Price movie or two, and plumb the depths of your fear.