The Mask (1961)

JANUARY 27, 2013


I've mostly abandoned 3D as of late; apart from Texas Chainsaw 3D (which was a press screening), I haven't seen a film that way in months, opting for the 2D version of things like Wreck It Ralph, The Hobbit, and Hansel & Gretel. Mainly it's because the extra cost doesn't seem that appealing to me, but also I've started getting headaches at a few of them, which didn't used to be the case. But I'm bummed that the print of The Mask that we saw wasn't in 3D, because it was only for a few sequences that make up less than a quarter of the film, and those sequences are pretty much the only reason to watch the flick.

But don't get me wrong, they're awesome even in 2D. The movie concerns an ancient mask that, when worn, will allow the user to see another realm that no other medium can show you. This realm is filled with tons of 3D-ready stuff like eyeballs and hands flying at you, skull faces appearing in mid air, etc - but also insanely creepy images of folks wearing skin masks as they stalk human prey. It's all very surreal and psychedelic, so the 3D (which is anaglyph but apparently one of the better examples; it reportedly even looks pretty good on TV) would have made it that much more insane and enjoyable. There are three such sequences, each nuttier than the last, and even if you hate the rest of the movie you're bound to get a kick out of these bits, at least.

The rest of the movie is OK, but without the promise of another gonzo mask sequence (which starts with a disembodied voice saying PUT THE MASK ON NOW over and over, which works as goading for the characters as well as an instruction to the audience, whose glasses were in fact shaped like masks)) I doubt it would be much use to anyone. The best non-mask scenes are at the top; a troubled archaeologist kills a girl while under its influence, and then kills himself before things get worse. But before he blows his brains out, he mails the mask to his shrink, who starts down the same path. See, the mask is sort of treated like a drug; with each "hit" it becomes harder to resist, so we meet that other guy at the end of his rope and now we see the shrink go down the same path. Will he be saved, or will it end in another tragedy?

Unfortunately, by the time this question is answered, the movie has lost a lot of its momentum. A detective who features prominently in the first half largely disappears for the second, and part of the climax involves a character who appears out of nowhere and suddenly gets treated as a primary player. It'd be like if Han Solo's first appearance in Star Wars was when he opted not to join the rebels on the Death Star assault. The detective should have taken this character's place, keeping things more compact and focused. It's also got some clumsy (read: unintentionally hilarious) plotting, like when the detective comes to the shrink's office early on asking about the mask's disappearance from the archaeologist's apartment, neither of them seeming to notice the giant, recently mailed box that is sitting on the desk between them. Not to mention padding; at one point the shrink's girlfriend returns the mask to the museum and he goes there looking for it, seemingly inspecting the dinosaur exhibits for it, as if it would be dropped over a Pterodactyl skull or something? These bits of goofiness are seemingly at odds with the film's focus on addiction, murder, etc. - not to mention don't help the general "Someone put the mask on!" feeling that you're likely to have as it plods along to the finale.

The mask itself is pretty awesome; the skull face is a mosaic made of what looks like colored glass squares, and has a working jaw (nice touch), plus it wraps around the sides of the head as well, leaving just the back exposed. If the 3D "glasses" looked like it, I will totally hunt one down on eBay and wear it in place of the normal glasses whenever I load up Friday the 13th Part 3 or whatever at home. And while it had no bearing on the film itself, I liked the history behind it - this was the very first Canadian horror movie, which is pretty awesome when you consider how many of our favorite genre films came from our northern brothers. My Bloody Valentine, Black Christmas, my beloved Cathy's Curse... all of these movies came to be because of the trail blazed by this weird little 3D movie. I may not have loved the film, but damned if I don't respect it.

I do quite love the venue I saw it at though. The Jumpcut Cafe in Studio City is a delightful coffee/sandwich shop that, in addition to the usual selection of coffee/tea and sammies, stocks two of my favorite "foreign" food items: the quesedilla and Thai Iced Tea. And even better - it caters to film buffs! On the walls are posters for things like El Topo and The Stunt Man, plus lobby cards of just about every 60s-80s filmmaker you love, and they host screenings like this fairly regularly (it's also where they had the horror trivia night that I won!). I highly recommend it if you're in the area.

If you get a chance to see this in 3D, please take it - it's one of the more justified uses of the "gimmick" in the medium's history, and since it's only a few sequences you don't have to worry about hurting your eyes (or nose, in the case of those heavy glasses that some theaters use). It's just a bummer that the 2D sequences don't really come to a life of their own; this would make a fine double feature with The Tingler, in that respect - the gimmick more than makes up for the shortcomings of the actual movie.

What say you?


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