Monday, September 22, 2014




     During the early 1980's there was a resurgence of the 3D film ballyhoo which was initiated by 1981's spaghetti western COMIN' AT YA' and was followed by a glut of releases including FRIDAY THE 13th 3D (PART III), JAWS 3D along with AMITYVILLE 3D (all of which handily tied into part "III" of the respective series). In addition there was the horror film THE PARASITE (1981) along with the sci-fi/fantasy by way of Star Wars knock-offs SPACEHUNTER : ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (1983) and METALSTORM : THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN (1983).

    At the same local TV stations began digging through the vaults seeing what they could put on for special Saturday night 3D programming which was heavily promoted through area rock stations, TV spots & various local businesses. If you were lucky perhaps you might get to catch Vincent Price in HOUSE OF WAX (which even had a limited theatrical re-release) but more often then not it was something akin to 1954's GORILLA AT LARGE. You went to a local Burger King or 7-11 where you got your special 3D glasses and settled in for a fun nights entertainment with a headache inducing presentation on your 19" television, plus as an added bonus it may have even been presented by a local horror host (In Detroit we had local DJ Tom Ryan as Count Scary - "Oooh, that's scaary").

    One of the films that occasionally popped up was this 1961 Canadian oddity. The first horror film produced in Canada, it came out sometime after the initial 1950's 3D craze and was directed by Julian Roffman (who later would produce 1973's THE PYX with Karen Black) and in addition had directed the beatnik-sploitation THE BLOODY BROOD from 1959 (which featured an early appearance by Peter Falk). Not a true 3D feature THE MASK features several 3D sequences that are perpetrated by the characters putting on a creepy ancient Aztec mask. At the same time the movie character puts on the mask, a baritone voice intones "Put on the mask !...put on the mask !" at which time audience members would put on their specially designed 3D glasses/mask and view the same weird hallucinatory visions that the films protagonist were seeing through the mask.
    Starring Paul Stevens (best known as George C. Scott's ass kissing adjutant in PATTON) as Dr. Allan Barnes, a psychiatrist who has under his care a distributed young man named Michael Radin (Martin Lavut) who works for a local history museum. In a beautifully shot and atmospheric opening sequence we had seen Radin stalk and murder a young woman and later in Barnes office he relates how he is under the control of an ancient ritualistic mask which he has been studying. Dr. Barnes dismisses his claims and Radin stalking out of the office returns to his rented room where he commits suicide, but not before boxing up the mask and mailing in to Dr. Barnes. Radin's suicide sets in motion the to be expected (and plot filling) police investigation which is led by Lt. Miller (Bill Walker).

     Upon receiving the mask Barnes is drawn to put it on and immediately is thrust into a weird nightmare like world with flying skulls, shooting flames, huge candelabras made out of hands and sacrifices upon altars. There is also a masked female present in the visions that appears to be Barnes's receptionist Miss Goodwin (Anne Collings) who who was hinted at earlier to being attracted to Barnes. Also getting caught up in the infatuation with the mask is his girlfriend Pam Albright (busy TV actress Claudette Nevins), who in a strangely paced scene attempts to return the mask to the museum by stealing it and then engaging in car chase with Barnes in pursuit (the effective and creepy museum interiors were filmed in The royal Ontario Museum). Barnes seemingly uncontrolled compulsion to keep wearing it soon leads him to being compelled by the mask to commit murder.
   Weather intentional or not, the plot does seem to have vague drug references in relation to Barnes "addiction" to wearing the mask and in addition each time he wears it he emerges more disheveled with dark circles under his eyes and unshaven face almost being a Jekyll and Hyde like transformation, as the mask seemingly takes over the wearers mind & body (with Barnes beginning to look much like Radin, as they both end up with scratches on the same area of their face). In addition, another sequence has him trying to force the mask on Pam, trying to push in onto her face with almost orgasmic like glee.

    There are three separate 3D sequences (lasting a total of about 20 min.) in the movie and they're strategically placed in the beginning, middle and end to help keep the plot moving along. Although credited to special effects/montage director Slavko Vorkapich the vast majority of the 3D sequences were designed and directed by director Roffman after Vorkapich's proposals were deemed to expensive. Although obviously filmed on a low budget (with ever present mist helping hide the limited sets) the 3D nightmare sequences have an alternately startling & creepy atmosphere to them with some limited stop motion animation and make-up effects. The standard sequences feature some terrific moody B&W cinematography and although the story drags a bit at times (especially in regards to the above mentioned police investigation) the evenly spaced out running-wise 3D stuff helps keep the plot interesting and engaging. The mask itself is a terrific prop with its staring eyes and teeth baring grin.

     Back in the laser disc days THE MASK had brief release by Image that quickly turned into a collectors item, along with a VHS release by Rhino and a currently available DVD from Chezzy Flicks (which seems to be a copy from the Rhino tape). The 3D Film Institute has been promising a restored release from 35mm materials in both polarized and anaglyph 3D  at some point, but in the meantime there's a nice German DVD release (whose legality might be suspect) that presents the film in its proper aspect ratio from a decent looking print (with some minor damage & German credits) with and the 3D working surprisingly well with the supplied glasses. The German DVD also restores several sequences that were cut after the initial release including some great William Castle like pre-credit hyperbole by "mask expert" Jim Moran (actually Hollywood publicist Jim Moran) expounding on the history of ritualistic masks. Cool stuff !!




  1. Great post. I haven't seen The Mask in decades, and I don't remember liking it all that much. But you've got me wanting to see it again.

    1. It's pretty cool (and I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff).

  2. A thousand years ago while working at a video store I bought an entire run of Elvira's Midnight Madness VHS tapes - at cost! - (which still set me back three figures, because retail for each tape was $19.99 and at cost they were still $13-$14 a movie) But there were some really fun movies on there - and The Mask was one - with the 3-D sections intact! It came with two pairs of 3-D glasses too! I like the movie - it's a little slow getting to the next 3-D part - but overall a fun experience.