NOVEMBER 20, 2011
Much like last week’s Forget Me Not, Mask Maker (formerly the much better Maskerade) is a surprisingly competent “real” indie movie tossed in the streaming section with the sort of productions that make you wonder if Best Buy should require a permit before you buy a video camera. It’s not as clever or interesting as Forget (which a lot of you are checking out and enjoying – sweet!), but it’s an above average modern slasher that does more right than wrong.
First of all – I liked the group of “kids”! They’re a bit older than usual (they’re in grad school, I think?), but they still act like every other slasher teen victim ever: they go off to the house, horse around, drink n’ fuck, etc. But they’re actually likable and well-rounded for slasher folk; I legit felt a bit sad for a few of the deaths, and even the most annoying of the group (who dies first) would be the only bright spot of something like Dark Ride or whatever. Some of their dialogue is cringe-worthy, however, and I think the script (credited to THREE different people – why?) sometimes tries a bit too hard to make them feel like real people with their playful jabs at each other and in-jokes – it comes across as forced on more than one occasion, and given that it takes a while to get to the killings, this might be a bit too much for a modern audience who are accustomed to folks being killed off starting at the end of the first reel.
And that’s the sort of balancing act that can be really tough for someone making a slasher movie; you want the audience to like the kids, and thus you need time to develop them into real people, which means you can’t kill them off right away. Start the killing too soon, and the audience loses interest after a while, because there’s no reason to care about anything that’s happening. Director GE Furst almost found the right balance here; much like House Of The Devil, he just went a bit too long in the “character” part of the film; take five minutes out of this stuff and apply it to the kill-a-thon, and your movie is twice as good. There ARE a couple of one-off kills in this first part (in flashbacks, plus a very awkward electrician early on), but it’s past the 45 minute mark by the time they off one of the core group – somewhere between 35-40 would have been more suitable, especially since they had already done a pretty good job of giving them some depth and earning our sympathies.
But I don’t need to point this out to Furst and his writers, because they clearly know their slashers. The climax simultaneously borrows from Friday the 13th Part 2 and Final Chapter (plus involves actor Terry Kiser, from New Blood), the title refers to our hulking killer’s penchant for wearing his victim’s faces much like in the Chainsaw remake (his house looks a bit like the one in that film too, actually), and the tragic back-story recalls Hatchet, Madman, and other flashback driven slashers that offer up a little more than the usual “guy in a mask kills people” movie. Furst also has his killer stand around in the background watching his intended victims, not unlike a certain Mr. Myers. Hell I think I even caught a minor homage to 2005’s Venom, of all things.
I’m not dismissing the movie for that; if anything it added to my enjoyment. Even if it shows a bit of a lack of originality, I’m always comforted knowing that the people who have made the movie at least have SOME appreciation for the genre. Sometimes I’m convinced the guys behind things like The Woods actively hate slasher movies, or simply never saw one, and just assume that they can do one anyway. And again, it’s shot incredibly well, which is all the more surprising considering Furst’s background in Asylum productions like I Am Omega (he also helmed Lake Placid 3, which was a vast improvement on its predecessor). Thus, I think this guy might deserve a shot at a real production. He clearly knows how to put a movie together, and make even the most generic stories entertaining – imagine what he might be able to pull off with some dough and a good script.
One thing bugged me though (spoiler ahead!!) – our final girl bites it in the end. Now when it’s one of those Wrong Turn style movies, I think that everyone SHOULD die – the killer has been doing this forever and thus shouldn’t be taken down by some random girl. But here, Mask Maker has been incapacitated for decades and only starts killing because some curse has been lifted – he should be rusty, if anything. So at the end the curse puts him out of commission again, but a dumb cop removes it, and then he goes after and kills the girl who has already started making her way back home. While it’s a nice shock and all, I think for this sort of slasher it doesn’t do anyone any good to kill her off – she’s already been through enough. The curse being lifted again was enough to end the movie on a down/“there will be a sequel” note – killing the girl off on top of it wasn’t necessary, especially when the killer had to go out of his way to do it (when he had no specific beef with her to boot). I know I usually champion grim endings, but I definitely could have done without it here.
But it gets the job done. The backstory is fleshed out enough to be cool without being complicated, and without TOO much exposition – it’s not like Hatchet II where Tony Todd talks for what seems like four hours. And Treat Williams pops up in the flashback scenes as a key player in the killer’s origin, which is a nice surprise (you thought I’d say “treat”, didn’t you?), since he’s not the type of guy you see too often in horror movies. One guy that you DO see a lot is Michael Berryman, who also makes a brief appearance, thankfully as a non-villain. He plays a cryptic local who dishes out minor clues to heroine Nikki Deloach, who is quite easy on the eyes but also believable when it comes to the action stuff. Some of the performances are forgettable, but overall the quality of the cast matches the direction, in that it proves that a little bit of effort goes a long way. It’s not going to end up on my top 10 of the year list or anything, but when someone asks me to recommend them a new slasher on Instant, it will certainly come to mind. Bring on the sequel!
What say you?