As pertaining to motion pictures, describes any film that exploits, in its marketing or promotion, the use of stereoscopic (3-dimensional) filmmaking techniques.

This blog is my notepad as I research a nonfiction book spotlighting 3-D genre films of the last century. While the book will focus primarily on films from the 60's, 70's and 80's this blog has no restrictions.

All articles on this blog are copyright 2010-13 of its author,
Jason Pichonsky, unless otherwise stated.

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Psychology & The Mask

We have another guest blogger on the site today. James Burrell is a Toronto-based writer who has written about Canadian genre cinema for such publications and online sites as Rue Morgue and Canuxploitation! He is currently working on a book detailing the history of Canadian horror films. Thanks for contributing James.

When The Mask was released in October of 1961, few moviegoers could have anticipated the nightmarish and surreal netherworld they'd be plunged into by obeying a command within the film to “Put the mask on now! Put the mask on now!” With the use of red and green anaglyph placard “magic mystic mask”, audiences were treated to several 3-D sequences that combined DalĂ­-esque imagery like bizarre figures and landscapes with funhouse-styled gag effects of floating eyeballs, giant snakes and fireballs hurtling off the screen at them in the third-dimension. Both weird and inventive, The Mask was quite unlike anything audiences had seen up to that point.

Naturally marketed as a gimmicky exploitation horror flick, The Mask wasn't expected to deliver anything to cinema-goers beyond the promised phantasmagorical visuals and 3-D effects. However, along with the bizarre imagery, the film managed to go a bit further than other B-movies of the era by providing some interesting social commentary. Exploring such issues as addiction and mental illness, the film was both an allegorical look at the dangers of drug use as well as a thinly-veiled criticism of the psychiatric industry.

Like Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Mask also deals with the duality of human nature, and the terrible consequences that can result when man's repressed side is unleashed. The trigger is of course, the titular object, an ancient Aztec ceremonial mask that alters the behaviour of anyone who wears it. A none-too-subtle allegory for drug use, specifically that of LSD, the hallucinogenic reaction that psychiatrist Dr. Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) has each time he puts on the mask could be considered akin to a “bad trip.” Transported into a surrealistic environment populated with shrouded figures with flayed skin, a skull-faced being who shoots fireballs from its hands and a mysterious young woman who bears a resemblance to his fiancee Pam Albright (Claudette Nevins) and is slated to become a human sacrifice, Barnes' visions are deeply paranoid and anxiety-ridden.

Eventually, he is transformed from a respected, buttoned-down professional into a sweaty, wide-eyed psychotic whose violent impulses include trying to kill his secretary, Miss Goodrich (Anne Collings).

Offering up a pretty blatant anti-drug message, the film's producer/director, a veteran National Film Board (NFB) documentary filmmaker, Julian Roffman may have been inspired by the real-life use of LSD and other psychotropic drugs on patients by the medical establishment of the day. From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, LSD was sometimes prescribed to patients by their psychiatrists; as part of a psychotherapeutic regimen, it was believed the drug assisted individuals in unblocking repressed memories, which could then be confronted and presumably treated.

Dr. Ewen Cameron
More nefarious in nature though were a series of mind-control experiments beginning in the late-1950s that were funded by the CIA but undertaken at Montreal's Allan Memorial Institute. Dubbed “Project MKULTRA”, the studies were conducted on dozens of unwitting subjects by Dr. Ewen Cameron. The Scottish born-American psychiatrist believed that by administering numerous drugs like LSD and electroshock therapy, individuals could be reprogrammed and any existing mental illness could be cured through the erasure of their memories. As Cameron's experiments were not well-publicised at the time, it's difficult to say whether Roffman would have had much, if any knowledge of them at all while masking The Mask, but it is nevertheless interesting to note how drugs like LSD were employed by medical professionals for purportedly atruistic intentions.

In addition to being Canada's first full-length horror production, The Mask was the country's first (and still only one of two) 3-D films and the first Canadian effort to be released by a major American studio (in this case, Warner Bros.). A box-office success, the film would continue to find success when it was re-released in 1971 under the new title Eyes of Hell and would even find itself (courtesy of a then-new company called New Line Cinema) distributed to college campuses across the U.S., where audiences were no doubt more than cognizant of the film's many drugs references.

James Burrell

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