Belfast Film Festival Screening- The Mask (1961): Review by William McClean

The Mask (****)

Directed by Julian Roffman

Certificate: 15

Running time: 83 Minutes

Starring: Paul Stevens, Claudette Nevins and Bill Walker

(Belfast Film Festival event, Beanbag Cinema, 11.04.2013)

FOR those of you who believe that cinema’s love-affair with 3D technology is a terribly new-fangled venture, then I’m afraid you would be gravely mistaken. Hollywood has been experimenting with stereo-vision for decades, ironically directors in the 1950s and 1960s seemed to have a better grasp of the technology than their modern-day counterparts.

Andre De Toth’s 1953 horror feature, House of Wax, is often cited as one of the best 3D features, surprisingly given that the director himself had only one eye and was therefore  never able to see the final celluloid product himself. Another such feature was Julian Roffman’s 1961 feature, The Mask. Somewhat a cult-classic the film was the first ever horror produced by a Canadian film company and also the countries first ever venture into 3D filmmaking.

At this year’s Belfast Film Festival those viewers looking for something different on the festival’s opening night were treated to a screening of the low-budget black and white film at the festival’s Beanbag cinema.

When psychiatrist Doctor Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) receives a strange mask from a deceased patient, he begins to have vividly twisted and bizarre nightmares. The strange mask seems to be the cause for the nightmarish visions and as it remains in the doctor’s possession the hallucinations slowly send him to madness and murder.

It’s fair to say some of the elements of the feature do look a tad dated by today’s cinematic standards, some of the dialogue is particularly clunky and the psychedelic freak-outs become a little tedious, but Roffman’s use of 3D within the film is simply wonderful. There is actually only four 3D sequences within the entire feature, each roughly lasting no more than four to five minutes. Viewers are told by Barnes’ heavily distorted voice to “put the mask on now” and some wonderfully bizarre and outlandish sequences ensue, accompanied by a strange electronic score.

Roffman seems to understand that 3D technology is nothing more than a viewing gimmick,  the film’s trailer explains to viewers that they will only be able to see the dream sequences through the magic of their ‘miracle movie mask’, but surprisingly the 3D effects play only a very minor role within the overall feature. I’d far rather watch a film that uses the technology in this way, than the full-blown, often retro-fitted 3D blockbusters of today.

Those in attendance on the night seemed to draw the same conclusion, The Mask is no masterpiece but then it doesn’t proclaim to be. This is a film that might only have a niche viewership, but I’d recommend anyone to sit and watch it, given the opportunity.

By William McClean

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