Sunday, February 28, 2016


Image via 3-D Film Archive

The Mask, 1951 (aka The Eyes Of Hell), directed by Julian Roffman, is officially Canada's first film in the horror genre...and a notable first it was.
A precious ancient Mayan mask possesses whoever wears it, turning them into a mad killer ostensibly taking blood sacrifices for some extinct diety.
Psychiatrist Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) is upset when his disturbed patient Michael Radin (Martin Lavut) commits suicide. He feels he could have done more to help the young man. Radin told Barnes about a horror-mask that was compelling him to murder, a claim that Barnes too hastily dismissed. It so happened that [Radin] mailed the mask to Barnes just before he died. Barnes ignores the warnings of [Radin's] fianceé Pam (Claudette Nevins). Instead of taking the strange object to the cops, he tries it on in private, just to see what happens. He’s immediately projected into a parallel dimension of horror ruled by demonic magic and ritual sacrifices. A ‘phantom Radin’ is there, along with other ghostly phantasms. - Glenn Erickson

Pretty straightforward horror stuffs. But, Julian Roffman had something more in mind:
The legendary 3-D sequences in The Mask are more than worth the price of admission. They’re really quite unique. At three places in the story the obsessed psychiatrist is compelled by a phantom voice that commands him to “Put the Mask on NOW!  Put the Mask on NOW!”  The movie audience follows suit with their 3-D viewers, and participates in a trio of hyper-real 3-D hallucination scenes. Vincent Price’s character in 1959’s The Tingler actually drops LSD in one scene, and communicated the experience through over-the-top acting. The Mask takes the audience right into the acid nightmare. What we see is a great fun-fair spook ride version of a trip to Hell.

The 3-D dream hallucination sequences have little connection to the framing story, but that doesn’t turn out to be a problem. We’re told that Barnes is exploring the dark secrets of his own subconscious, which sounds like a lot of hooey — he’s transported to an alternate dimension of evil, with spooky forests and hellish rivers, all covered by thick ground fog. The damned souls he finds there wear wax masks that turn them into strange puppet people: a creature that corresponds to Radin, a long-haired blonde woman who becomes a sacrificial victim, and a trio of masked demonic priests. - Glenn Erickson
The [anaglyph] 3-D sequences, three in all, last 14.65 minutes (879 s). They were designed by montage expert Slavko Vorkapich. A pioneering electronic music score (billed as "Electro Magic Sound" in publicity materials) enhances the strangeness of the 3-D scenes. - Wikipedia
And that is what makes this film a classic. In the early 1980s, a restored stereoscopic version of The Eyes of Hell was released for television, and in 2015 Kino Classics produced an exceptional release of The Mask on Blu-Ray 3-D and DVD. The original theatrical trailer below transports us to the excitement, and general fun, of 1961 when Canada first unleashed its brand of horror to the world.

Before There Was BATMAN there was BATSOWL

Richard Boucher posted this piece about an early bat-man character, Batsowl, from 1918. The conversation following the post is pretty interesting too. If you want check it out click here.

The notion of costumed 'bat-men' didn't originate with Bob Kane's creation. One such earlier character was Batsowl, who starred in a series of prose stories in the British comic Illustrated Chips in 1918.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that there was any connection of course. Bob Kane was born in 1915, so it's highly unlikely he'd have seen a British comic when he was three years old. However, there are some interesting similarities between the two characters, not least being the costume.
Like Batman, Batsowl's other identity was a wealthy figure. In this case, an Earl, Desmond Devance...He also had a secret underground laboratory, not dissimilar to the Batcave...and his appearance struck terror into people...
Sadly, like most British comics of the time, Batsowl is uncredited. I don't know how long the serial ran as I only have one episode, which is the one I'm showing here. It's from Illustrated Chips No.1477, dated December 21st 1918. This was one of the comics presented as a facsimile in 1972 in the Six Comics of World War One collection...It's highly likely that both Batman and Batsowl were both partially influenced by The Phantom of the Opera, written in 1909, and The Scarlet Pimpernel (which was adapted as a very popular London play in 1905).