3D has been quite the rage recently. Personally I’m not really a fan. Aside from the obvious issues like making the film darker, most of the time 3D doesn’t add anything to a film, it’s something used merely as a gimmick. I don’t have an issue with gimmicks, I love guys like William Castle, but they have a time and place when they should be used. Everyday mainstream movies are not the proper format for gimmicks like 3D. 3D works best when used with B-movies. Sure you have your occasionally Hugo, but B-movies are the way to go. One film that used this gimmick properly was 1961’s The Mask.
The Mask has a pretty thin and straight forward plot. The film opens with an archaeologist visiting his psychiatrist Dr. Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens). The archaeologist is convinced that a mask he recently found has cursed him. Dr. Barnes does his best to console him and convince him that it’s all in his head but the archaeologist will have none of it and storms off. Once home, the archaeologist commits suicide but not before mailing the mask to Dr. Barnes.
Once Dr. Barnes receives the mask he puts it on so he can prove to himself that the mask is harmless. This turns out to be a big mistake for the doctor. Once the mask is on Dr. Barnes begins to experience disturbing visions that over time become more and more violent. The mask basically takes him to a dream like world. Eventually he can’t tell the real world from the dream world of the mask. Before long Dr. Barnes begins to change and the mask takes over his reality driving him mad.
The entire movie is literally put on the mask, see crazy things. Take off the mask and try to calm down. Put the mask on, see crazier things. Take the mask off and try to calm down once more. Repeat.
This paper thin story is ok because the film uses 3D. When the doctor puts the mask on the visuals get a strong psychedelic vibe and this is all done in 3D. Over time the visuals become more and more violent and incorporate a little bit of gore. These sequences are actually pretty cool. They were put together by Slavko Vorkapich, a montagist who mastered the technique of a montage long before they became pretty common place. As someone who loves a good montage, I’m all on board with this.
This is the type of 3D I enjoy because it is a gimmick but it knows it’s a gimmick. It doesn’t try to pass it off as anything more. The entire film isn’t in 3D though, just these sequences when the mask is on. To let you know this is a gimmick every time someone puts the mask on the audience hears someone repeat over and over “Put the mask on, now!” As the audience we know that when we hear this we are to put on our 3D glasses because the movie opens up with someone telling us as much. There’s no hiding it. I appreciate that.
I didn’t actually watch the film in 3D, however. The recent Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber actually gives you the option of watching a 3D or 2D version which is nice. Even in 2D all the moments with the mask were a lot of fun, especially the last couple as we see a man with a deformed face that has an eye popping out. It’s pretty solid makeup work for a low budget film from the 60’s.
For what The Mask lacks in story I think it makes up for in importance. The film was directed by Julian Roffman and filmed in Toronto, Canada. It’s important for two reasons. For starters it was Canada’s only entry into the 3D craze that got going in the 50’s. That’s fairly important, but the bigger deal is that The Mask received US distribution from Warner Bros making it the first Canadian feature to receive US distribution from a major studio. That’s pretty cool. Even if the movie was garbage it would have a special place in history. The fact that it’s entertaining is a bonus!
The film is out now on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber’s Kino Classics label. This is a pretty fantastic Blu-ray release. So much so that had I watched it last year it would have likely made my list of best Blu-rays from 2015. The transfer looks incredible, highlighting a lot of the detail that runs through the movie, specifically that of the actual mask. I’ll have to view it in 3D to see how that looks but something tells me it’s going to look pretty great. The audio is a little unbalanced at times but I think that has more to do with how it was recorded initially than what was done to it on the Blu-ray. If you like bonus features, you should enjoy this release because it’s pretty stacked. There is a variety of short films, including three from Vorkapich, a commentary on the feature, a documentary and some TV spots. It’s good stuff all around.
The Mask is a fun B-movie with some Canadian film significance. It’s silly, it’s schlocky, it has interesting visuals and it’s just an all around good time. It’s like a Canadian version of a William Castle movie. Who doesn’t love the sound of that?
The Mask is out now on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.