Review: Restored Canadian 3D Horror Classic THE MASK

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TIFF restores the classic 3D film THE MASK to its full anaglyphic glory.

The last time I saw Julian Roffman’s 1961 Canadian horror movie THE MASK (aka THE EYES OF HELL). It was via an Elvira branded/hosted VHS release in the late 1980’s, spat out by good old Rhino Video and it was a bummer to say the least.

It wasn’t the film that was lacking. On the contrary, THE MASK (which is, in fact the first Canadian horror film ever) is an effective, imaginative psychodrama that plays out like an extended, extra-weird episode of dark fantasy anthology TV series’ like ONE STEP BEYOND or THE OUTER LIMITS. No, it was the 3D that brought me down. Rhino presented the film with its anaglyphic 3D segments intact and even threw in a couple of pairs of glasses to decode the imagery. But, alas, like most 3D home video releases of that period, the transfer just didn’t work. I spent many a night fiddling with the color and tint controls on my television to no avail as the red/blue doubled visions generally stayed frustratingly split and headache-inducing.

Which makes the Toronto theatrical re-release of THE MASK (opening Friday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox ahead of its DVD and Blu-ray release via Kino Lorber) something to get excited about. The braintrusts at TIFF in collusion with the 3-D Film Archive have in fact gone back to the negative and painstakingly restored the picture; now, not only is the black and white framing footage extra crisp and high contrast, the 3D sequences are nothing short of astonishing.

As a 3D junkie, tried and true, I can assure you that you’ve never, ever seen the old red and blue 3D presented as good.

THE MASK tells the tale of a psychiatrist Allen Barnes (Paul Stevens) who, when he his inherits a bejeweled tribal mask from a suicidal patient, becomes fixated on it, developing a symbiotic, destructive relationship with it, almost an addiction. Every time Barnes touches the mask, a disembodied voice commands him to “put the mask on now!”, which he does. And when he does, we, the audience, are urged to don our own mask (a pair of designer, green cardboard-matted 3D specs) and experience the terrifying, baroque visions he is subjected to…all presented in glorious anaglyphic 3D.

Grab a pair of red/blue 3D glasses now and check out this screen grabs:

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These sequences are nothing short of mini surrealist masterpieces; audio/visual nightmares come to life, designed by famed Serbian montage expert Slavko Vorkapich. Human skulls grow eyeballs, snakes pop out of sockets, women are sacrificed and burned alive on alters and masked ghouls reach for the screen. The restored 3D imagery is absolutely breathtaking and otherworldly. Forget what James Cameron has said of using 3D with restraint, for my money, 3D should be outrageous, over-the-top and sense-slapping. I want to jump and duck when things are thrown at me and I want to grab at the air when I momentarily forget that the film I’m watching is flat and that I’m suffering from a color-tinted-cellophane induced illusion.

Here in Canada this week, we had an election that caused a radical shift in government. And while that turnaround is cause for some vague public interest, the fact that Canadians can now watch their own homegrown horror epic THE MASK in all its intended comin-at-ya luster on a big screen is truly a reason to celebrate our National heritage.

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Weekend: Nov. 15, 2018, Nov. 18, 2018

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