The Mask (1961)
The greatest thrill since you saw the first picture move!
We start off with this 3D themed October month of reviews with something old. So old in fact, that not only is it older than me but it also comes from an age when 3D was used as a wonderful gimmick amongst two-colored glasses. Yes, this should be interesting, as this is a movie where in fact only three sections of it are actually in the third dimension - and I see no better way to start it off than with something out of the past to give us a good baseline. Don't mistake it for the one with Jim Carrey, tonight we watch The Mask.
The first thing I'd like to go into about this movie is actually what you hear - the audio side of things. I know we'd expect story or characters or even the effects to come first, but surprisingly audio has left a decent impression on me in this movie. I'll admit, more so than most of it it's one particular track that plays. At first, you think it's just playing some tense notes, ebbing and flowing in pitch to really unnerve your resolve and get you on edge. As it repeats through the movie however, it'll suddenly dawn on you - that's a rhythm. That sound isn't so much an unhinged song, no, it's actually meant to mimic the human heart beat. When it dawned on me I had a simultaneous brief reaction of feeling like an idiot and having my mind blown, but the fact that it works so well is great. As the character starts to calm down, it slows to a more "resting" rate that in turn matches how things on screen are going - making it totally excusable if someone didn't even notice what they did with it. Beyond that, when we get to the more nightmarish scenes the sound effects and music will all fever-pitch and crescendo, giving the entire scene an added chaos that somewhat makes your stomach want to turn from the effect it has on the ears - I wouldn't call it so much enjoyable, but it does it's job amazingly in that regard.
It may be my surround system, but I did find some of the line delivery for characters to be far quieter than I would have preferred.Given the scale of the music and other sounds, I never felt the desire to turn it up, so instead I probably just missed a few lines. This was never too much of an issue though - the actors helped pick up the slack of anything I might have not heard with the expressions. There's quite a few good emoters in the cast here, with the fiancee probably leading the pack in delivering some well placed expressions and eye movements. The doctor does a good job as well, largely filling his roll of looking troubled and in pain, while genuinely bringing the creep factor when it comes time for the crazy moments. When it comes time for nightmares, there's a lot that needs to be conveyed through just the eyes and body language, and the film does mostly a good job in doing so there as well - although it's a bit easier to miss considering all the other crazy crap going on in those segments.
Before I get to those segments though, let me bring to them a bit more context. The movie centers around a mask - an ancient one, said to have powers by legends of tapping into the deep, repressed evils of a man and drawing them out. Back in the day there was even sacrifices with it - as any ancient ritual civilization would do, and is largely the most readily believable part about the mask. The mask itself is a stylized one in the form of a skull, the eyes looking rather bland while the texture to the front looking somewhat like a lot of broken mirror or glass, but there is some nice detail in such things as what looks to be actual teeth where a skull would have teeth. To look upon it for the viewer isn't a frightful endeavor, but to give us the experience of someone putting on the mask it can really change the viewers opinion of that. After his patient commits suicide when his shrink (the doctor) decides to not believe him the mask is causing his problems, the doctor finds himself being drawn into it's clutches.
A detective is trying to figure out what's going on, and the doctor's fiancee is in a similar boat, but more engaged in the story directly considering her proximity and relationship to the doctor. Her's are largely the most logical actions in the movie, with even those a little suspect being easily hand-waved away with a slight application of honest thought. The doctor himself is a little bit less relatable, having a twisted "for science" and power-trip reasoning behind his actions, despite starting off with his heart in the right place. Although he has plenty of scenes, the detective plays much less a role in the movie, feeling more like he's there to service exposition of things going on and adding a little tension here and there. Largely, the movie feels a bit like a drama from all the relationship tensions going on, and a person could probably really draw some thoughts from that if they wanted.
Of course, although that part of the movie is well handled and acted well, the real star of this movie is it's gimmick. "When the character puts on his mask, put on yours too!" - something that is usually brought doubly to your attention by the "call of the mask" saying to the screen "put on the mask, put on the mask." Truthfully, if something in this movie was to haunt the watcher, it would be these scenes. The blending of sounds with the pictures on screen, added to by the third dimensional effects is a nightmare to behold. Yes, of all of these things these scenes were also the ones to experience the most loss from their transfer to BluRay - you'll start noticing that old film grain and splotch during these moments. Some of the 3D effects are also exceptionally cheesy in these moments - bat-skull throwing fireballs repeatedly at you, a very fake looking snake pouncing - but as far as popping out of the screen even I could notice them without going to the lengths of watching it in an enclosed headset - and usually I have a problem with that. The disc is nice enough to include a version watchable in standard stereoscopic for the modern audience, although also mentions that if you have a pair of the old two-tones laying around that's also included in the extras section - and I'm wondering if it's original two-tone inception has something to do with why the effects stand out as much as they do.
During those moments you also get to see the majority of the effects work in the movie. Other violence and the likes is usually either small (like scratches), off-screen, or bloodless. Here though, we have everything wearing a sort of mask - intentionally feeling like masks at any rate. The main damaged goods we follow here is very zombie-like in appearance, outside of the face mask that makes it feel as though is mouth cannot open. We have a woman in a clean mask that keeps getting set up for sacrifice, we have skeletons and cultists, we have a guy with his eyeball falling out. We have some great optical effects such as layers dissolving down to a person turn to a skull and then nothing but eyes.We do still have those very cheesy and very fake effects - some big in your face spiders, the before mentioned snake, the obviously costumed "stone" arm. It is all absolutely a blast to behold however, and the black and white of the movie absolutely adds to the atmosphere.
I'm actually really happy that I watched this. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect going in, but I had fun with a somewhat simple story that had some decent acting, some great use of expressions, and honestly way better than I expected gimmick 3D. I would be fibbing if I didn't say that I wish all 3D would be done like this - not so much in it's segmented form, but more in it's impressive depth of effects. The movie is shot well, and does a good job with forming tension and unease in the viewer. It's not without flaws for sure, and there was at least one moment where I think somebody may have been called the wrong name, but it was an enjoyable romp down things from the past, and for something that came from as far back as 1961 it's always impressive to see how well these things can transfer over to a newer, big resolution format like BluRay. I'd wager check this one out, although I'm not too sure how easy it would be to rent it - as I bought this one.