you grew up in the 1980s, you remember when 3D was considered a tacky
down-market gimmick. Local stations used to distribute cardboard red-and-blue
glasses for the “special” weekend 3D “extravaganzas.” Thanks to the anaglyphic
process it employed, Julian Roffman’s weird tale looked relatively presentable
when broadcast on television. It also happens to be considered the very first
Canadian horror movie (and one of the few not starring Stephen McHattie).
Acting out of patriotic duty, TIFF spearheaded and premiered a loving
restoration of Roffman’s cult favorite, The
screens this weekend at Anthology Film Archives.
Michael Radin has just stalked and murdered a young woman while under the
influence of a sinister ritual mask. Perhaps it was a dream, but don’t count on
it. Regardless, the mask is tearing apart his soul and unhinging his mind. His
new shrink, Dr. Allan Barnes is no help, because he assumes Radin’s obsession with
the mask is just a symptom of a larger issue, as most psychologists would.
However, Radin shows him just how wrong he was by mailing him the mask just
before committing suicide.
Barnes sticks the ominously evil but not particularly comfortable looking mask
on his head, at which point he gets the first of several massively bad trips,
for which the film kicks into 3D gear (the more “grounded” parts being
conventional 2D). Filled with surreal, more than slightly outré images of
skulls, death’s heads, floating eyeballs, temptresses, and sacrificial altars,
these hallucinatory interludes are arguably well ahead of their time. They are
nearly as memorable as the dream sequences in Rosemary’s Baby and Spellbound
(which were a collaboration between Hitchcock and Dalí.
to say, the good doctor is not himself from this point on. His faithful fiancé and
mentor will try to save him, but he is obsessed with the mask’s power to tap into
the human subconscious. Unfortunately, his torch-carrying secretary is most at
risk from his violent, mask-dominated new persona.
The Mask might not
necessarily be scary, but it is still weird as all get out. Barnes’ feverish visions
while wearing the mask have lost none of their what-the-heck power. They are
just bizarre. Although they are credited to Serbian expatriate filmmaker and montage-specialist
Slavko Vorkapich, his concepts were so prohibitively over-the-top, Roffman had
to devise the more practical and macabre phantasms that torment Dr. Barnes.
Yet, somehow he was able to tap into something way out there and deeply messed
an added bonus, the acting is not bad. Paul Stevens, who convincingly loses his
marbles as Dr. Barnes, would have notable roles in Patton, Advise & Consent, and Exodus, in addition to about a jillion TV guest appearances. Future
director Martin Lavut is also spectacularly snide and antisocial as the
imploding Radin. But wait, there’s more, including legendary PR huckster Jim
Moran claiming to be a mask collector while serving as the film’s Criswell in
the hyperbolic cold intro.
Whether you classify it as horror, dark fantasy,
or a psychological thriller, The Mask could
easily sustain dozens of film studies theses. This is how 3D was meant to be—deliriously
nutty. If you haven’t caught up with it yet, its mini-run at Anthology is the
perfect opportunity. Highly recommended for cult film fans, it screens this
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (1/15-1/17).
Labels: 3D films, Canadian Cinema, Horror Movies