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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Mask (1961)


Director: Julian Roffman
Cast: Paul Stevens, Claudette Nevins, Bill Walker
Production Company: Beaver-Champion Attractions
Runtime: 83 minutes

The Mask (1961) is the first horror movie ever made in Canada. It's also the first Canadian 3-D movie. You'd think it would have a larger following because of those lofty credentials, but instead it has a small, though highly devoted fan base. It deserves more...

In the movie, Dr. Allen Barnes (Paul Stevens) is a psychiatrist who is sent a mysterious tribal mask by a troubled patient. He is compelled to put the mask on, which exposes him to a nightmarish world of the subconscious mind. Eventually, the terrible visions drive him completely mad.


Does the concept sound a little familiar? Jim Carrey's The Mask (1994) has a very similar premise, but the execution is totally different. The older film has horrific scenes that must have shocked audiences in the sixties. Other than the title and the basic idea, there's no further connection between the films.

The film is only in 3-D during the nightmare scenes, which makes them oddly special, and a lot more eerie. Moviegoers at the time were treated to special glasses shaped like masks, that they were urged to put on before the sequences began.


The movie's gimmick may remind you of the tricks often used by William Castle to engage audiences. The film opens with actor Jim Moran introducing himself as an authority on rare masks from around the world. This scene is very similar to Castle's introduction to The Tingler (1959).

The nightmare sequences are both surreal and psychedelic in nature. This must have been a very odd and progressive film for the era in which it was made. I can't help but wonder if David Lynch ever saw this movie. Eraserhead (1977) is somewhat similar in tone.


The cinematic style of the movie harkens back to that of film noir. Dark shadows, backlighting, and focal point spotlights are used to create a sinister mood. The film has a greater than usual number of close-ups, which draw us close to the action in a claustrophobic way.

Many Canadians will recognize Bill Walker, who plays Lieutenant Martin in the movie. Walker was a well-known television personality in Canada, and was the second host of CHCH's The Party Game. The Mask holds a special place in Canadian history. It should also be more widely recognized.

- John Migliore

For more information on the film, check out the links below...