THE MASK 3D – A DVD Review by John Strange

 
THE MASK 3D – DVD Review
 
John Strange
 
Made in 1961, The Mask 3D (called Eyes of Hell for its American run) was the first feature horror film made in Canada.  Shot in Toronto, the film’s story revolves around an ancient mask unearthed by an archeologist.  A mask that, when worn, causes wild hallucinations.
 
But let me set the mood for you.  The film opens with a title sequence reminiscent of the Outer Limits.  The first scene brings us a man, Jim Moran, who sets the stage for us.  Jim tells us he has just returned from a trip collecting strange and unusual masks.  He tells us he is something of an authority on rare masks.  He tells us about man’s desire to change his face to impersonate his gods or frighten away devils is a desire older than the history of language.  He has seen masks from all over the world but none with the power this mask and the horrible curse it bears.
 
I know that Jim is trying to sound calm and scholarly but like so many actors who did speeches much like this to introduce their own horror stories he comes across so emotionless as to destroy the illusion of his “vast knowledge.”  Following his speech he then proceeds to instruct the audience on when and how to use the special “mask” they were handed upon entering the theater.  A reproduction of this mask is included with the DVD of the film. Those of you who purchase the Blu-ray version of this film will not receive a copy of the mask as your version is already formatted to play in 3D.   Should you want a copy of the mask, there are directions on the website to enable you to order additional masks at $3.00 each from Kino.
 
The actual story opens with a young man slowly chasing a terrified young woman through a forest in the rain.  Catching her, he slowly strangles her with his bare hands.  The pair drop behind a tree which conceals the actual death.  Standing up following the death we see that the young man, Michael Radin (Martin Lavut) has been clawed in the face during the struggle.
 
The next scene has Michael at his psychiatrist’s office.  Doctor Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) brings him into his office and asks him about the marks.  Michael tells him he doesn’t know where they came from.  They were there when he woke up that morning.  He remembers the girl and his hands around her throat and he thinks he killed her but he doesn’t know for sure.  Dr. Barnes asks him to give more details about the dream.  Michael asks if the scratches on his face looks like a dream.  The doctor replies that they could have been self-inflicted.  Michael replies that this is not a case of neurosis or psychosis but a living nightmare!
 
Asking the doctor why he does not seem to want to help him, the doctor replies that he does want to but he has to help himself, too. This is when Michael says that it is a curse.  He is cursed.  He doesn’t understand why the doctor can’t see or understand it.  Dr. Barnes reminds the young man that he is a scientist and asks if it is scientific to jump to the conclusion of his nightmares are being caused by a curse or are they caused by some deeper emotional conflict?
 
Michael tells the doctor that he needs help.  It is like he is an addict and that it is as if he is being hypnotized.  When asked who is hypnotizing him, he admits that it is the mask.  What mask?  Dr. Barnes asks Michael to show him this mask.
 
Michael immediately begins to question if the doctor wants the mask  Dr. Barnes says he really doesn’t want the mask but hopes that he can show the young man that the nightmares are not coming from the mask but from within him.  Michael gets irate because he has told the doctor the truth but he doesn’t believe him.  THE NIGHTMARES COME FROM THE MASK!  He calls Dr. Barnes a fool and storm s out.  Dr. Barnes sends his receptionist home sand lies down on his couch to review Michael’s file.
 
Michael goes home and wraps up something in a box and yells for his landlady until she comes upstairs to his room.  She complains about the mess in the room and Michael asks her to mail the package.  When a wad of cash is added to the discussion she relents and decides to mail the package.
 
Michael walks around his room and examines some of the mementos of his career.  He then pours a glass of alcohol.  Downing the liquid, he proceeds to shoot himself.  His body is discovered by the landlady when she comes in to clean.
 
Enter the police.  The detectives arrive at the scene and Mrs. Kelly (Eleanor Beecroft) shows them the body.  She is upset and tells the officers she should not have let him in.  She said he was trouble with his “doodads and his ways.”
 
They are told by Mrs. Kelly that he worked at a museum.  He was OK until the last couple of weeks when he became secretive and hardly said hello.  His boss at the museum agrees to go with the detective to Michael’s home to look at the items he had at home working on for the museum.  They discover that a mask is missing; a very rare Indian ritual mask.  In a monetary sense it wasn’t very valuable but as antiquity it was of great interest to scholars and beyond price.
 
He then tells of the legend of the mask.  That in the wrong hands it can do great harm.  It puts people in a hypnotic trance and they can do cruel and unnatural things.  The detective says that if he believed it this information would solve a lot of things but he’s a policeman and not an archeologist.
 
Lieutenant Martin (Bill Walker) next goes to see Dr. Barnes as they had found his name amongst Michael’s papers.  Dr. Barnes is upset that the death had occurred.  He wished he had stopped the young man from leaving the office and called the police.  When asked why, he said that Michael was under tremendous pressures.  He had told the doctor the story of having fallen under the influence of some ancient right.  Lieutenant Martin asks if this involved a tribal mask and the doctor asks him how he knew that.  He found out from the Museum of ancient history where he worked.   
 
Dr. Barnes tells Lieutenant Martin that Michael blamed the mask for his headaches and nightmare.  The detective tells the doctor the mask is now missing.  He sure wished he knew where that mask was now as the museum would like it back!  Plus they could examine it to see if it was somehow the cause of the suicide or if someone else was to blame.
 
Throughout this scene the box from Michael is sitting on Dr, Barnes desk, right next to the detective.  Lieutenant Martin never even looks at the label on the box.  Completing his interview, he shakes the doctor’s hand and leaves.  The doctor returns to his desk and finally looks at the box.  Seeing Michael’s name on it he aborts the move to set it aside and opens the box.
 
Seeing the mask he picks up the phone to see if the detective might still be in the outer office.  As he looks at the mask sitting there in the box, his lovely girlfriend, Pam Albright (Claudette Nevins) arrives.  He tells her that he lost a patient to suicide and is not sure why.  And he has a package from the man, sent just before he killed himself.  She calls the mask “unearthly” as she turns away from it. 
 
There is also a sealed letter.  She leaves to run an errand while he opens the envelope to see what information the letter contains.  He begins to read the letter and stops to take the mask out of the box and lay it on his desk before returning to the letter.  The letter challenges Dr. Barnes to do better than Michael did to handle the Mask’s power.  This sets up the first of the 3D visions.
 
Michael is present in this hallucination (and all subsequent hallucinations as well).  These hallucinations play out almost like choreographed modern dance numbers at times.  The odd electronic music of Myron Schaeffer sets a tone that blends well with the mists and masks worn by many of the participants to make them more anonymous.  There is also some use of what appears to be fire gel effects and a lot of skulls and snakes.
 
Pam returns to find Allan on the floor.  He tells her that what he saw might be of tremendous importance to the world of psychiatry.    It is something found 3000 years ago and lost to modern science.  She asks if his patient experimented with the mask before he died.  Allan tells her yes but he had no medical training.  He was a fool.  He had no idea what he was doing when he stole the mask.  Allan is also a fool because he thinks he can not just handle it but control it.
 
The doctor continues to use the mask and like any drug he begins to show side effects to the exposure.  He becomes harried as his addiction worsens and his practice and his relationship are affected.  There are also the detectives to consider.  They are still looking for the mask and information to allow them to close the case on Michael’s death.
 
The story is at times contrived (as most of the horror films of this time were as far as I am concerned).  The best reason for watching this story play out is the special effects in the 3D scenes.  Watching this film will bring back memories many of us have of the old show The Outer Limits.  And the two detectives were reminiscent of Joe Friday and Frank Gannon from Dragnet.
 
The lighting of this black and white film looks like those used in television in the 50’s and 60’s rather than those used on feature films.  This adds a dimension to the film I did not expect.  At times it really enhances the feel of the film, giving the feeling of evil a strong foothold on the screen.
 
Eventually Dr. Barnes has to turn to his mentor, Professor Quincey (Norman Ettlinger) for help.  It is a case of too little, too late.  Allan just can’t stop.  Pam confronts him and forces him to go see the professor.  The professor gives Allan a strong sedative and he and Pam step away to talk.  The sedative does not work.  Allan wakes up and puts the mask on again.  This time the trip is the worst yet.
 
Under the influence of the mask, he tries to leave the house.  After a struggle, Allan gets away.  Pam calls the police but refuses to have them arrest him, simply leaving a message for the detectives.
 
Allan goes to his receptionist’s home and takes her out in his convertible.  He tells her he is going to kill her.  She scratches his face just about the same way Michael’s face was and runs away. 
 
Meanwhile Lieutenant Martin returns Pam’s call.  He tells them to take the mask and run.  Before they can do so, Allan returns.  Allan forces Pam to wear the mask.  When she does not experience the same type of visions, he tries to kill her.   He is stopped by the timely arrival of Lieutenant Martin.
 
We never learn what happened to Allan but the mask is put on display at the museum where they make it obvious that someone else will take it and put it on, continuing the evil.
 
These DVD’s always hold buried treasures in the form of the extras on the disk.  For this film we have the original trailer which is worth watching!  We meet Jim Moran.  His is introduced here as “the supreme authority on all things weird; initiate of the strange and mysterious; the world’s greatest connoisseur and collector of masks, Mr. Jim Moran.”  His description of the “miracle movie fright mask” given to each patron who comes to watch the film is a miracle of salesmanship (coincidentally this is one of the things that made Mr. Moran famous in the first place).    
 
Next up is 3D Setup Guide.  This Anaglyph 3-D adjustment is designed to help you get your TV adjusted to allow for the best effect of the 3D scenes.  
 
Mystic Magic is excellent.  In 1982, they did a special showing on national TV with the segment introductions by the famous magician, Harry Blackstone.  This was videotaped in anaglyph 3-D just like the 3D scenes in the movie.  This is 19 minutes of true fun (and magic).  I just wish I could have discovered the name of the actress who plays his assistant.  She spent years in Hollywood as a character actress.  I know you will recognize her face even if, like me, you can’t put a name to the face.
 
As a history nerd, I have to admit that the next extra was my favorite.  "Julian Roffman: The Man Behind the Mask," is a 20-minute documentary about the director/producer of The Mask 3D, Julian Roffman, with information about his life and the films he made.   I had never known that this was the first Canadian feature horror film (or the first Canadian 3D film) until I saw this documentary.  The documentary is an excellent view of the man’s life and what shaped his vision.  It’s told by interviews with his son, Peter Hoffman (author of The Hollywood Social Problem Film) and Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation film historian).
 
His family moved to New York City from Montreal about 1932.  He got his start sweeping floors at Astoria Studios.  He is known for making documentary films.  He returned to Canada in 1939 and joined the Canadian Army.  He joined the National Film Board at the same time.  He made a lot of patriotic documentaries with the film board and was in the second wave on D-day and filmed the invasion of France.  He was injured by a hand grenade and spent time in a British hospital recovering.
 
After the war he worked on second units for films and on TV shows.  He was eventually blacklisted as a communist because he had written film reviews for a communist newspaper.  This forced him to return to Canada where he eventually teamed up with N.A. Taylor to form a film company.  This was obviously a man to be reckoned with.
 
Under “Setup” you have the option for 2.0 Mono or 5.1 Surround Sound (the 5.1 is the default).  On the subject of audio, I have to say that there are a couple of times when the audio levels dropped way down and I had to back the film up and crank up my audio to compensate so I could hear the lines.
 
There is an audio commentary track by film historian Jason Pichonsky.  It was during this commentary that I learned that not only was The Mask 3D the first Canadian feature-length horror film and the first 3D film, it was also the first Canadian film to receive international distribution by an American studio (Warner Bros).  All film history buffs will love this commentary as Jason talks at length about Julian Roffman’s life and career.
 
Despite the couple of poor audio spots, the job the 3-D Archive and tiff did is excellent.  They re-added all of the scenes cut from the various re-releases of the film which gives us the film as Mr. Roffman released it in 1961.  While I can’t say it is a must have for everyone, if you’re a film history buff, this is a film you need in your collection.
 
 
Directed By:
 
  • Julian Roffman
 
Cast:
 
  • Paul Stevens, Claudette Nevins, Bill Walker, Anne Collings
 
Extras:
 
  • * 3-D sequences in anaglyph format
  • * Custom anaglyph 3-D glasses, replicating the cardboard "masks" of the original theatrical release
  • * Newly restored Electro-Magic Sound (optional 5.1 Surround during 3-D sequences)
  • * "Julian Roffman: The Man Behind the Mask," a 20-minute documentary
  • * Original theatrical trailer
  • * "Mystic Magic" (1982, 19 Min.) a videotaped introduction to The Mask hosted by magician Harry Blackstone, presented in anaglyph 3-D
  • Magic Mystic Mask, a replica of the 3-D glasses provided to viewers during the original theatrical release (only available with the DVD not the Blu-ray but extra copies can be purchased through Kino Lorber)
  • Audio commentary by film historian Jason Pichonsky
 
Specifications:
 
Runtime:
 
  • 83 Minutes
 
Studio:
 
  • Kino Classics
 
Release Date:
 
  • 11/24/2015 (DVD and Blu-ray)
  • Film Release Date: 11/1/1961
 
Region:
 
  • 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
 
Website:
 
 
MPAA Rating:
 
  • PG
 
Selig Rating:
 
  • SALE ITEM
 
Selig Rating Scale:
 
BRAND NEW: Should add to your DVD collection at any cost
SALE ITEM: Worth owning, but try to catch it a sale
SECOND HAND: Plan to get it, but wait to buy it used
RENTAL: Worth taking a look at, but not owning
COASTER: Pick it up at a garage sale and use it for drinks
PULL!: Makes a great Trap Shooting target
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