Friday, March 6, 2015

The Mask

The Mask
Julian Roffman

Dr. Allan Barnes is a psychiatrist whose patient, Michael Radin, claims to have nightmares about stalking and murdering women. He blames it all on a jeweled skull mask that he feels compelled to wear. After Radin meets an untimely end, Dr. Barnes receives a package in the mail. Inside is a glittering skull that commands him to put it on.

The success of the The Mask hinges on how well its phantasmagorical horror sequences are presented. The movie presents these as reoccurring scenes of a zombie-like being who is on a constant quest for a mysterious woman, only to be repeatedly thwarted by a masked death cult let by a skull-faced female figure. The imagery is bizarre without descending into silliness too often. It also manages to work without belaboring the metaphor for Dr. Barnes’ growing obsession with murdering women.

P-A-R-T-Y? Because I gotta... kill you.
The anaglyphic 3-D is some the best I’ve seen, highlighting the strange nature of the hallucinations. Especially effective, are many of the scenes of the zombie Barnes moving through weird locations. There is a significant amount of camera movement and quick edits throughout these sequences, giving it a propulsive energy. The Mask is bold enough descend into shrieking nightmare for extended periods of time, as it unexpectedly bridges genre and art film. Its rampant psychedelia certainly predates most LSD exploitation films that would become popular later in the decade. The dream sequences feel similar to the one in The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964), with characters engaging in weird, almost balletic movements. I wouldn't be surprised if Ray Dennis Steckler had seen The Mask at some point prior to making his film.

Me on November 1st.
The imagery of The Mask holds up, but does the story? The film keeps its plot to a minimum, there are no grand revelations of how or why this happening to Barnes. The film teases the notion that mask itself contains no real supernatural power, and that we are instead watching  a sort of post-mortem folie à deux. This does serve to keep the story focused, but it comes at a cost. Such a streamlined narrative deprives the viewer of anything to invest in these characters. We watch Barnes’ fate unfold with morbid curiosity and dread of the unknown, rather than any horror at him losing his self.  The one place that the movie could have used some more trimming, is the needless police procedural sub plot. There’s no need to recap the events of the story, they simply aren’t that complicated, and it only serves to pad out the running time.

The Mask is a very enjoyable mix of horror and surrealism. I am surprised it isn’t better known, but perhaps it came out just a few years too early for the movie goers to see something quite so trippy. The 3-D element may not have helped, making it appear to be yet another gimmicky b-movie. I feel that its definitely worth your time to seek out, just make you sure you have a pair of red blue glasses on hand to really experience it as it was meant to be seen.

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