The 1980s were a different time for fans of obscure films. If the little-known film in question did not show up on VHS, on broadcast television, or onscreen at one of a handful of repertory theaters, said fan was simply out of luck. Two publishing events caused this situation to slowly change: The book RE-SEARCH #10: Incredibly Strange Films appeared in 1986 and Michael Weldon’s invaluable Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film hit bookstore shelves in 1987. Both of these books described hundreds of weird, wild films—some of them so wild that some readers thought the authors had made some of them up! (But really—what kind of insane sociopath would just MAKE UP a bunch of obscure films?)
Spurred by the popularity of these two books, some small video companies began to selectively release these undiscovered… uh… gems. Little by little, the video floodgates began to open.
The fine folks at RE:SEARCH Publications graced the cover of their book with a still from an obscure horror movie—actually the first Canadian horror movie ever made, and the first Canadian film in 3-D to boot: The Mask from 1961. Ever since I bought the book some 29 years ago, that cover image has been burnished onto my brain, and I have wanted to see The Mask in its original glory. The image—and the book’s description of this weird, weird movie—inspired myriad unanswered questions within my fevered, obscurity-loving 24-year-old mind. What was that enormous Aztec skull? Why is that scantily-clad lady on that altar? Is the disembodied skull going to kiss her… or eat her? Is that her real hair? And most importantly… When would I get my own “Magic Mystic Mask,” so I could watch this film the way that God (well, Canada’s God) intended?
Babies, I finally have my answers.
The Toronto International Film Festival and the copyright holders, 3-D Film Archive, have restored The Mask for this 3-D Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. The 3-D segments were mastered for the first time from original 35mm left/right elements. The restoration of the 3-D elements (and the original cinematography) is out of this world. Seriously, this is one of the best-looking archival releases of the year.
Dr. Barnes, as befitting his Canadian heritage, is one of the most polite and well-groomed monsters in history. His idea of going wild is to loosen his tie and not shave. He spends a lot of screen time wearing the mask and writhing around on a neatly made bed; these sequences are like watching someone have a headache. Barnes actually informs most of his victims of his desire to kill them well in advance, which makes it easy for all of them to avoid being done in!
The new Kino-Lorber disc is full of extras, including a 20-minute documentary about director Julian Roffman, in which his son politely makes the (rather weak) case that there would have been no Canadian film industry at all without his father. The disc also includes the 3-D sequences in anaglyph (red/green) 3-D for those viewers without a 3-D television, although by not integrating them into the rest of the film and by not providing any cardboard 3-D glasses, Kino-Lorber makes it very difficult for a home viewer to watch the film this way. An odd bonus feature is the 2014 3-D short film "One Night in Hell," which uses modern CGI to animate a series of antique glass stereopticon slides with music by Brian May (yes, the Brian May from Queen. Because why not?)
I guess I am glad I saw this movie—after almost 30 years, my curiosity about that book cover has finally been satisfied. Do I recommend it? Not really—but only YOU can decide whether to “Put The Mask on NOW!” or “Put The Mask AWAY!”