February, time to celebrate Women in Horror Month here at Castle Blogferatu!
This post is also part of the O Canada Blogathon!
I have to confess, the link between The Mask and WiHM is more personal than obvious. First this review is also, as you can see, part of the O Canada Blogathon. The hosts, Ruth at Silver Screenings and Kristina at Speakeasy, both write movie blogs that I’ve been following for over a year now. While not strictly genre related, horror is still pretty well represented on both sites.
Fear not. There’s more.First let’s talk about this 1961 Canadian 3D horror movie, shall we?
A psychiatrist, Dr. Allen Barnes (Paul Stevens), tries to calm his patient, Michael (Martin Lavut, looking much like a cross between Anthony Perkins and Roman Polanski).
Michael suffers a psychotic break from the effects of a mysterious tribal mask. He soon commits suicide, but not before sending the mask to Barnes. Like any objective (ahem) scientist, he almost immediately puts the mask on.
I’ll be honest. I’m not much of a fan of 3D flicks. The effects usually become distractions and/or attention grabbers resulting all too often in “What can we make jump out at you in 3D?”
The Mask, however, is much more clever about this. The 3D segments are more extended but still only take up about fourteen minutes of screen time. In other words, the 3D effects aren’t chewing up the scenery throughout the film.
There are good reasons for this. One, the 3D scenes only occur when Barnes wears the mask (itself a ghastly looking thing). The mask tells him, “Put the mask on now! Put the mask on now!” This also served as the cue for the audience to put on their 3D glasses. Not a bad gimmick, that.
All the 3D scenes, therefore, take place in this hallucinatory “mask world.” The visuals for this surreal, hallucinatory nightmare world were designed by Slavko Vorkapić, widely considered a master of montage.
What does this have to do with Women in Horror? It’s a fair question. The principal characters, Vorkapić, and director Julian Roffman, all male. Well, it turns out a little backstory is in order.
It starts back in 1990 in Boston. At the time, I was a frequent participant in the open mic at Naked City Coffeehouse, held on the second floor of what was called the Allston Mall. Also on the second floor was the Primal Plunge Bookstore where I first found this:
Yep. The cover is from The Mask. Obviously, I bought (and long since lost) the book. But I never got around to tracking down a copy of the film until recently (at Naro Video of course). Around the same time, I had also been reading New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird edited by Paula Guran.
And that brings me to Caitlín R. Kiernan’s story, “Pickman’s Other Model (1929).” Kiernan’s story picks up shortly after where Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model” leaves off. Blackman, her narrator, relates his association with his friend, Thurber (who Kiernan shrewdly establishes as the narrator of “Pickman’s Model”). Thurber has committed suicide.
Tasked with sorting through Thurber’s papers, Blackman uncovers a number of unsettling sketches of silent movie actress, Vera Endecott. Endecott is described as “a woman whose loveliness might merely be a glamour concealing some truer, feral face,” and compared to such contemporaries as Musidora and Theda Bara.
Blackman himself sounds respectably like one more in a long line of ill-fated Lovecraft protagonists: “the mind may not…simply forget the weird and dismaying revelations visited upon men and women who choose to ask forbidden questions.” It’s straight out of the Lovecraft playbook. Barnes could have said it in The Mask.
There are two connections I want to make to The Mask. One is that the story could have come right out of the Lovecraft Mythos: a cursed object which triggers unexplainable dread leading to obsession, nightmares, bizarre visions, madness, and death.
Sometimes that cursed object is a film. This happens in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s story “Flash Frame.” It also happens in Kiernan’s story. Blackman sees a disturbing film featuring Endecott that all those results mentioned above.
More importantly is the film that Kiernan describes in the story. It’s worth pointing out that The Mask is creepy, underratedly so. But Kiernan’s passages about Endecott’s film look like they could have come directly from The Mask. Her imagery, Vorkapić’s montage work, both are atmospheric, otherworldly, sinister. My point is, reading “Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” significantly ramps up The Mask’s creepazoidinal factor.
Come to think of it, The Mask came out in 1961. “Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” was published in 2008. I wonder if, just maybe…