Terrible doesn’t even begin to describe The Mask: the acting, the dialogue, the plot, the sets, the “special” effects—they’re all so wonderfully cheap and dippy in a way that screams “atomic age.” A pervading sense of overblown naive paranoia and a subtext of sexual transgression and drug abuse add to the fun. I loved The Mask for what it is—cinematic junk food.
Mild-mannered Dr. Alan Barnes (Paul Stevens), a psychiatrist, experiments with an ancient tribal mask that a patient (Martin Lavut) warned him about. Barnes quickly falls under the spell of the mask—which looks a lot like a mosaic disco ball version of C-3PO—and morphs into a monster as he sinks into a subconscious world of horror, much to the dismay of his fiancé, Pamela (Claudette Nevins), and his mentor, Professor Quincy (Norman Ettinger). Lieutenant Martin (Bill Walker), hot on the trail of a homicide, has a hunch that the mask is a big clue to the mystery. Can anyone save Barnes before it’s too late?
The mask world, you see, is in 3D. When Barnes submits to his jones for the mask, a commanding offscreen voice bellows, “PUT THE MASK ON NOW!” This little device serves two purposes: it demonstrates the powerlessness of Barnes over the mask, but it also prompts viewers to put on 3D glasses—which were provided:
With the 3D glasses, we get to see what Barnes sees—oooh! The mask world manages to cram every single horror movie dream sequence cliché into each scene—fog, eyeballs, skulls, snakes, fire, spiders, pyres, hands reaching out of the screen, it’s all there. Despite the potential for eyerolling—and there’s a ton—the mask world is trippy and cool even with its pedestrian take on horror. The restored version I saw had a sharp, crisp look. The 3D effect worked surprisingly well. Ed Wood might have envied this one.
(Gene Siskel Film Center) C-
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