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Mask 3-D, The
Kino // Unrated // November 24, 2015
List Price: $34.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
The rarely seen but much talked about horror film with several surreal 3D scenes, The Mask (1961), finally gets a 3D Blu-ray release. Restored by the 3D Film Archive, this movie's 2D scenes may be a bit dated, but the 3D sequences are just as interesting and enthralling as ever. The Kino disc looks and sounds great, and it's packed with quality bonus features.
The Mask was the first Canadian film to cut a distribution deal with a major studio (Warner Brothers), as well as the first Canadian 3D film. That's not why it's remembered today however. This rather standard late 50's/early 60's horror film is notable for its creative use of 3D and the wonderfully bizarre scenes that leap off the screen.
The plot is rather simple: psychiatrist Dr. Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) has a patient, archaeologist Michael Radin (Martin Lavut), who is going crazy. Michael believes a mask that he is studying is controlling him and giving him dreams where he kills people, and he's not sure that the dreams aren't real. Allan eventually gets the mask and feels an urge to put it on. Once he does he enters a horrific dream world (made all the more unearthly by the 3D effects). Once he takes it off however, Allan is changed. He loses his inhibitions. He blows off his girlfriend and puts the moves on his secretary instead. He feels compelled wear the mask again and also starts to think violent thoughts. Soon feels the desire to kill. Chased by his girlfriend and a police detective, will the good doctor be caught before he can take someone's life?
The main plot is rather standard and would have made a typical episode of Monsters or most other horror anthology shows, and this part is in regular 2D. The gimmick occurs whenever Allan puts on the mask. A disembodied voice urges him to "Put on the mask - NOW!" and that's the audience's cue to slip on their 3D glasses. The dream world that Allan discovers is surreal, horrific, and wonderfully strange. With giant floating skulls, a masked priestess shoots fire from her hands, and fantastic images these parts are an avant-garde paradise. They are also accompanied by a wonderful electronic music score that really adds to the strangeness of what's beyond the mask. These are the highlight of the film and well worth the price of admission.
If anything, the 3D scenes work too well. They're interesting and enthralling, and in comparison the rest of the story is pretty dull and predictable. Part of that was undoubtedly director Julian Roffman's plan. The direction is good and technically very sound, and he uses some nice techniques to tell his story. The sets used for the real world are very flat. Filled with stark white walls and almost a minimalist design, they had no sense of depth. The acting too was flat and restrained. All this added together to make the world seem mundane and boring while the world inside the mask was interesting and dynamic. This works in making the mask world even more exciting, but it also makes the main story seem slow and boring. While watching, I kept hoping that he'd put the mask on again so we could get to the interesting part.
The movie isn't helped by the script, which is just so-so. While it's constructed well (the film starts off with a bang and accelerates nicely at the start) the dialog is very bland and dry. It really feels like it would look good on the printed page, but no one bothered to read it aloud before filming began. I was pleased to hear in the extras that director Julian Roffman agreed with me and really didn't like to script. Apparently he spent most of his energy on the dream sequences. That did pay off as those are fantastic.
That's not to say that the movie is bad. It's not, just flawed. It does have that 50's/60's horror film feel but there's nothing wrong with that. I love those films and this one fits into the genre well.
It should also be noted that this Kino Blu-ray includes some scenes that have been missing from the movie for years including the original introduction instructing audiences when to put on their 3D glasses.
The image on this disc is simply amazing. The film was restored by the 3-D Film Archive from a 35mm master fine grain positive (with the exception of one missing reel). They also had access to discrete left/right 35mm footage of the 3D sequences, and the results are very impressive. The 2D sections (most of the film) are crisp and clean with just the right amount of natural grain. The detail is very good and there are hardly any noticeable scratches or print damage.
The 3D scenes are also very, very good looking, but not quite up on par with the 2D parts. Given the nature of 3D, damage to the film is a bit more noticeable, and there are some minor scratches and dirt that appear. Nothing that even comes close to ruining the presentation, but not quite blemish free.
One thing that should be noted is that the film originally employed anaglyph 3D effects (with the red and blue glasses). This disc upgraded those sections to stereoscopic 3D that is used by TV sets today. It was a good choice and for people who want to see those sequences as they originally appeared, the anaglyph 3D version is included as an extra.
One thing I was wondering before I received this disc was how the 3D was going to be encoded. My fear was that only the 3D sequences would be encoded as 3D on the disc, which would mean that my TV would have to switch the 3D effects on and off several times during the film. (That would have put a distracting "3D on" or "3D off" bug on the screen for a few seconds each time it switched.) Luckily, that's not the case. The whole disc is mastered as if the entire film was in 3D, and the results are great.
The mono soundtrack has also been restored and sounds great. In addition, there is an option to listen to the Elector-Magic Sound in 5.1 surround on the 3D sequences. This was a fun choice, and I'd recommend viewing the film that way. While I usually don't like it when studios try to create a multi-channel audio track from a mono original, I didn't mind in this case.
Kino and the 3D Film Archive have put some nice extras on this disc. They start off with a commentary track by film historian Jason Pichonsky who relates some interesting details about the production and exhibition of this film. Give it a listen, it is well worth the time. There's also a 20-miunte documentary, on the director: Julian Roffman: The Man Behind the Mask. It's a bit light on content, but it details the director's history and efforts to kick start Canada's film industry.
There are also some examples of visual consultant Slavko Vorkapich's other work. There are two short experimental films, 9413: The Life and Death of a Hollywood Extra (11 min) and Abstract Experiment in Kodachrome (2 min) as well as a collection of six montage sequences he created while working in Hollywood. In addition there are four trailers and TV spots promoting The Mask, and the 3D scenes from the film in the original anaglyph 3D along with a calibration slide for the anaglyph scenes.
That would be more than enough for most disc, but Kino really went above and beyond by including a short in 3D: One Night in Hell. Though only seven minutes long, it's a fantastic piece that shows a skeleton traveling through the underworld to reach a certain destination. The effects are excellent and the short is very enjoyable. For some reason the creators brought an astrophysicist and one-time University Chancellor in to do the music. The result is amazing, especially the song at the end. Kudos to Dr. Brian May for the soundtrack. I guess being the lead guitarist for Queen paid off.
There is an awful lot to like about this release. While the movie itself does drag in parts, the 3D sequences are wild, imaginative and spooky and it's well worth watching the film just for those. Kino's disc looks and sounds amazing, and the extras are really outstanding. The 3D short One Night in Hell is amazing, and the featurette, commentary and other bonus shorts are just icing on the cake. This gets a very high recommendation.