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Director: Julian Roffman
Writers: Frank Taubes, Sandy Haver, and Franklin Delessert
Cast: Paul Stevens, Claudette Nevins, Bill Walker
Length: 83 min
Label: Kino Classics
Release Date: 11/24/2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Audio commentary with film historian Jason Pichonsky
- Julian Roffman: The Man Behind the Mask: Featurette on Roffman’s career
- Anaglyph 3-D Sequences from the film
- One Night in Hell: 3D Short Film from Brian May
- Three Short Films from Slavko Vorkapich
- TV Spots
- Theatrical Trailer
- Reissue Theatrical Trailer
Canada has always been a sort-of unsung home for genre cinema. Of course, the greats from the country are acknowledged — filmmakers like David Cronenberg — but a cursory glance over the country’s output will reveal a great deal of gems that are not often linked to each other. Classic films like Bob Clark’s Black Christmas and Deathdream and contemporary outings like Ginger Snaps, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Martyrs, and the films of the Soskas and Astron-6 all carving out their own niche areas, make for a country rich in a diverse and healthy cinematic output in the genre world. One film that has flown somewhat under the radar is Julian Roffman’s 1961 surrealist horror-thriller, The Mask. While somewhat falling victim to its gimmickry (3D), The Mask is certainly a film deserving of attention — at least Kino Lorber believes it does, releasing a 3D Blu-ray via their Kino Classics imprint.
The film opens with a lengthy prologue, given through a faux-psychological, direct addressing of the audience. The narrator gives the story to the titular mask, while simultaneously explaining to audiences the mechanism in which the film will work (put on your glasses when he puts on the mask). While it, principally speaking, serves a practical guide for viewers, the prologue does have its charms in that it feels very much of the era (something that Spider Baby seems to almost parody three years later when its production began). Following the prologue, the first images of the narrative follow a stalking, raving lunatic running through the woods after a young woman before killing her. Eventually, we learn that this man is suffering from delusional nightmares and he believes has drawn him to murder, a fact that is suggested by the character’s tactile scars that exist beyond the potential opening dream. The dreams began with his discovery of an ancient mask, to which he believes have been causing them. No longer able to understand the boundaries between dreams and reality, the man takes his life, but not before sending the mask to his psychiatrist. The rest of the film follows Dr. Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) as he discovers the Mask’s powers, and begins to slip down the same trajectory as his former patient.Admittedly, The Mask is far from a classic film on par with the best from the era (William Castle for instance) but there are many aspects that deem it a necessary viewing for film and genre film fans alike. The script by Frank Taubes, Sandy Haver and Franklin Delessert is patchy and dull. It’s not very shocking to learn that neither of three have appeared to do anything in the industry since then. The story is a mix between noir and horror, seeming to borrow a lot of the psychologically driven narratives of both genres. The films stark black and white visuals and deep interest in psychoanalysis seem to suggest a Spelbound or Psycho influence, but the latter is largely a superficial comparison based on Psycho’s immense impact only a year proir. Due to the rather weak script, The Mask is somewhat laboriously paced and can be, at times, a bit of a struggle to make it through. The Mask was the second (and last) film directed by Julian Roffman. The strange aspect of the movie is that there is a very schizophrenic feeling it gives off. While the non-3D sequences are somewhat tame (while still being expertly shot in stark black and white by cinematographer Herbert S. Alpert), the 3D sequences are quite brilliantly directed and shot, almost as if they were created by an entirely different crew. They have this cerebral and surrealist vibe to them, something akin to the best aspects of Georges Franju, FW Murnau, Dali, and William Caste put in a blender, that results in a beautiful fever dream (literally) captured on celluloid. Serbian-born artist and filmmaker Slavko Vorkapić was contacted to write and storyboard the sequences, but his work was dropped in the end when it was deemed to expensive. Vorkapić’s name remained in the credits due to a contractual clause and it seems that (based on his other work) Roffman used him as a influence in crafting his own scenes. All in all, the strength of the film and the reason that people should continue watching The Mask despite its shortcomings — beyond its importance in Canadian cinematic history — lies in these scenes.
The film print was originally digitally restored through the Toronto International Film Festival when it was feared that soon it would become too deteriorated to be performed. TIFF commissioned the restoration through the 3-D Film Archive, who lovingly (and painstakingly) returned the film to its original glory. The 3-D Film Archive state, “Like many independently produced films, The Mask has not been well cared for over the years…the film changed hands a dozen times. Each subsequent owner cared less about the property as a motion picture and owned it strictly as an asset. At one point, the rights were held by a company whose primary business was the placement of advertising in airport terminals!”
While, overall, Kino’s 1.67:1 transfer is very strong, there are a few kinks, most of which I assume are the results of the deteriorating print. The original camera negative and audio tracks were lost, so the 3-D Film Archive compiled the HD master sourcing numerous different prints. They describe the process, “TIFF agreed to scan and oversee restoration of the flat footage in 2K while Greg Kintz tackled the 3D segments (with our 4K scans) and the mono optical audio restoration. Technicolor in Toronto did new scans of our superior 35mm elements and the TIFF release print was used for seven minutes (the missing reel in our fine grain) and a handful of damaged shots in our discrete left/right 3D footage. The Archive utilized its arsenal of digital tools to extract the left/right images from the select anaglyphic shots needed for the final restoration master. Damaged segments in our discrete 3D scans were sent to Thad Komorowski for additional dirt and scratch removal.” A ton of work went into this restoration and it really shows. There are a couple of scenes where the edges of the image have a slight fade to them, making the edges of the screen lighter than the middle area. Further, the 3D scenes are a bit rougher than the rest of the film, which is perhaps understandable given the more primitive 3D technology of the time and the fate of the lost negatives. Other than these instances, the transfer is extremely well balanced and stunning looking, featuring rich, crisp blacks and a strong filmic grain left intact. One thing that is sadly missing from the release is the ability to watch the entire film with the 3D sequences presented in Anaglyph. As presented, the film can either be watched in true 3D or 2D, with the Anaglyph 3D only available via the special features.
Kino provides both a 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio that both offer strong representations of the aural components. While potentially limited by the production, there are no outstanding imperfections to be noted.
What really makes this collection a worthwhile buy is the fantastic array of features that Kino has collected for this release. For those buyers out there who do not own a 3D TV and 3D Blu-ray player, fear not because you can still enjoy the 3D sequences using the old-fashioned two-toned glasses (however, glasses are not included in the package). It’s definitely an added bonus, even if it’s a shame that they are not integrated into the 2D version. There is also a nice commentary track from Candian film historian Jason Pichonsky, as well as, a twenty-minute featurette, Julian Roffman: The Man Behind the Mask, that tracks Roffman’s career and the impact, which really historicizes the film. Finally, in addition to TV Spots, Trailers, and a 3D film by Brian May (One Night in Hell), there are three short films by Slavko Vorkapich, who had written what were originally to be the dream sequences in the film.
The Mask is perhaps a bit too sluggish for its own good, but the 14 minutes worth of dream sequences really do go a long way in the film’s otherwise short, 83-minute runtime. Kino’s release features a nice transfer that is friendly for 3D and Non-3D users alike and a strong slate of extras, making this a recommended release for fans of 3D, psychological horror, and classic horror cinema. The Mask is an important title for Canadian cinema and it’s great to see Kino given this somewhat overlooked title some love.