Blu-ray Review: Masks

Ultra-violent German giallo Masks is a brutal, stylish low budget wonder

In the gorgeous (gore-geous?) 24 page booklet included in Reel Gore’s splendid Blu-ray/DVD combo pack Special Edition of German giallo Masks, writer/director Andreas Marschall (German Angst) states that although Masks is an unabashed homage to Bava and Argento, his experience absorbing their signature films was a but different than many of his American colleagues. Indeed, it wasn’t via VHS that Marschall saw these sleek European thrillers but rather in the “glamorous” cinemas in Rome during their premieres. That’s right, the director saw Twitch of the Death Nerve, Suspiria, Shock, Inferno et al on the big, glorious screen for the first time, in pristine new 35mm prints with a youth-centric, astonished Italian crowd. That sense of viewing these movies in their maiden opulence is alive and bleeding in Masks. This is no mere ironic, mocked up American “grindhouse” toss off, this is a real deal cinematic stab to the throat, sexy and sick and delicious to look at and listen to.

The film (which was initially released in 2011) means business from its opening frames, a flashback involving some sort of ritual that climaxes in fingernail removal screams galore. Although revolting to observe, the sequence is so stylishly handled that it becomes less exploitation than fetishization, a sense of Grand Guignol that carries through to the psychedelic opening credits and permeates every frame of this histrionic, unsettling psychodrama. In it, a young girl named Stella (the beautiful Susan Ermich) has dreams of being an actress aren’t quite panning out, that is until she is “invited” to enroll in a strange acting school that specializes in an obscure “method” perfected by a long dead Polish acting teacher. Like in Suspiria, the school is of course a front for some deadly and deranged goings on, here these deeds play out with healthy dollops of allegory about every artist or performer’s quest for fame, no matter if the cost is their own sanity or soul.

As the wide eyed Stella, Ermich is a compelling presence. Her face and mannerisms reveal an intellect, making her less a victim than a willing, voluntary participant in the “method”s form of madness. We root for her while shaking our head at her ill-conceived decisions. Marschall directs with a sharp eye for movement, facial contortions and expressions (so vital in a film called Masks!) and, aided immeasurably by Sebastian Leverman’s astonishing progressive rock score, works hard to create a genuine feeling of mounting hysteria. And then, there’s the gore and there’s plenty of it and all of it is both convincing and upsetting. Knives sink into skin, flesh is ripped and, in the movie’s grossest scene, a throat is opened with a pair of sewing scissors. And yet, none of the gore feels gratuitous. Like in the authentic Italian shockers Marschall is inspired by, these passages are so fantastical that they simply become another visceral color in his garish palette.

Reel Gore‘s package is an absolute love-letter to the film and filmmaking in general. The aforementioned booklet is filled with photos and new interviews. there’s uncensored packaging inside the oversized cardboard slipcase (the uncensored image just shows the girl’s bum without underpants) and best of all, outside of the yummy supplements, they’ve included a CD of the complete Leverman score. It’s an unbelievable release.

Forget the other phony giallo inspired indie flicks we’re endlessly subjected to. Masks is a real film first and foremost that just so happens to grow organically out of the remains of those wonderful classic horror pictures. It’s both retro and progressive, all at once. And it’s absolutely not for the squeamish…

You can buy Masks here.



Marvel and DC