The Mask (1961)

When I was just getting really into psychotronic film, I was obsessed with the RE/Search book Incredibly Strange Films. It’s where I learned all about obsessions like Blast of SilenceSpider BabyGod Told Me To and the movies of Russ Meyer, Herschell Gordon Lewis, David F. Friedman, Ed Wood, Radley Metzger, Ray Dennis Steckler, Ted V. Mikels and many more. If you don’t have a copy, I find it indispensable even in today’s internet era.

The cover of that guide had a photo of The Mask, AKA Eyes of Hell, that blew me away. It’s at the same time so goofy looking and yet so sinister, like a piece of outlaw art ready to steal your soul.

It’s taken me around thirty years to get around to watching this movie, because I was sure that it could never live up to that image. Guess what? It’s even better.

The story itself is pretty simple. Dr. Allen Barnes (Paul Stevens, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, The Black Six) has just received a tribal mask from one of his patients who has committed suicide. Whenever he puts on the mask — which demands to be worn — he goes into a trance with visions that become more violent, like some lo-fi version of Videodrome.

The thing is, how that story is told is astounding. The dream sequences shift to 3D, with some of the most bizarre imagery to ever appear in a studio picture, seeing as how this was put out by Warner Brothers. This wasn’t some movie they hid, either. It had a ton of hype behind it and patrons even got a pair of Magic Mystic Masks to see the other world with.

The majority of the movie is just fine, but much like any time a giant monster walks into a Toho film, the movie comes alive any time you hear a voice say, “Put on The Mask!” That’s when things get out of control, with fog, flame and pseudo-occult rituals filling every part of the screen. Seriously, just wait until you see just how wild this movie gets. Somehow, it’s a drug movie in 1961 with practical effects that blows anything made today with full technology out of the ozone.

Director Julian Roffman would go on to write and produce The Glove, as well as produce another startling strange movie, The Pyx. He can claim that he made Canada’s first horror movie, of the country’s first films to be exported to the United States and its only 3D movie, too.

You can get this from Kino Lorber.

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