Friday, 16 January 2015


d. Julian Roffman (1961)

Psychiatrist Allen Barnes has a patient who has stolen an ancient tribal mask from an University archive. It’s a chilling, horrible artefact, a crystalline skull with beady eyes and a hinged lantern jaw with jagged teeth, the sort of thing that looks like it should be encrusted in blood. The young man has become addicted to putting on the mask and experiencing an altered state, a sort of parallel dimension full of danger and horror. When he removes the mask, he feels the overwhelming urge to kill*.

Falling apart, the young man commits suicide, first posting the mask to Dr Barnes. Barnes, a rationalist and seeker of truth, cannot resist the temptation to put the mask on himself. What happens next is a form of Hell, as the psychiatrist sees the same terrible visions as his patient, undergoes the same ordeal, feels the same urges – and, almost instantly, begins to go completely insane.

A tremendous, supremely leftfield film, The Mask is good throughout but superlative in its four surreal 3D sequences. These nightmarish scenes have an extraordinary primal power: savage, pagan, occult, violent, disturbing and discombobulating. I've watched them with the glasses on and off and, actually, prefer the blurred reds and blues of the unprocessed image. The scenes are accompanied by the swoops and bleeps of an analogue electronic score and are absolutely outstanding, perhaps the best use of 3D ever.

On the film’s release, the audience were given a ‘magic, mystic mask’, a shaped set of 3D glasses. When a voice from the screen demanded ‘Put the mask on, NOW!’ they would don the glasses and enter the warped fantasy at the same time as the increasingly frazzled hero. My God, how I wish I’d been there.

* So many psychotronic films hinge on ‘the urge to kill’ that, in real life, the human race should technically have all been murdered long ago.  

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