[review by JA Kerswell]
Sadly, Arne Mattsson's Swedish/Canadian co-production MASK OF MURDER is a misfire on pretty much every level. Unsure whether it wants to be a slasher film or a giallo-influenced crime procedural, it is a thriller with precious few thrills. Even as a whodunnit it doesn't work, as it features the easiest-to-guess killer since that virtual neon finger appeared above Roy's head in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING (also 1985). Even its veteran cast struggle with the threadbare material. Only some colourful peripheral characters, an abundance of 80s cheese and a generous spattering of – presumably unintentional – humour and Eurotrash style dubbing keeps it from being a total bust.
|When Mr Blobby made that ill-advised slasher movie crossover.|
The small, snowbound Canadian town of Nelson (don't expect any Moosehead beer this was shot in Uppsala, Sweden) is plagued by a series of killings of local women. Five have already fallen to the straight-edge razor of what the police have dubbed the 'black stone' killer. We see two rather listless murders in the first couple of minutes, by a man in a shapeless white mask with what looks like a smear of lipstick for a mouth. The twist being that the killer pulls off the mask barely two minutes into the film to reveal a mad-eyed loon who randomly flings himself into snow drifts (played by actor Frank Brennan, who has gone on to have a lengthy screen career in US screen and TV).
The police would be hot on his heels, but not before they celebrate Chief Supt. Jonathan Rich's (Christopher Lee) birthday party with a specially baked cake! Attending the party are friends and colleagues, including Supt. Bob McLaine (Rod Taylor) and his wife Marianne (Valerie Perrine), and fellow cop Ray (Sam Cook). But before the celebrations really kick in, the killer is spotted and cops are in hot pursuit and he is eventually cornered in an abandoned building. Lee's character wants him to be taken alive so he can study his psyche. On the way to the scene he thoughtfully posits: “The psychiatrists have already taken a look at him and they can't decide whether his problem is in his head or his balls.” But on seeing the killer with a pistol, McLaine sprays him with bullets from a machine gun as he sits in his cop car; taking out the windscreen in the process! He then proceeds to spray the body with more bullets for good measure. Hold on. Do cops carry machine guns in Canada? McLaine stays behind at the scene and finds the killer's shapeless mask; picks it up and stares off into middle distance …
After taking a couple of bullets to the stomach, Chief Supt Rich is rushed to hospital (conveniently keeping Lee's role to not much more than a cameo interspersed throughout the film's running time). Marianne heads to Bermuda, but not before complaining about the “icky stains' on her husband's clothes. However, she is not really heading there at all, but is holing up in the apartment of McLaine's police partner Ray. McLaine immediately discovers their affair after watching their lovemaking (and some full frontal male nudity) through binoculars and consoles himself by sniffing his wife's underwear. However, despite the 'black stone' killer having been machine-gunned to death, someone in the very same mask starts killing women with an identical straight-razor …
|That moment when you hear the DJ put on a Toyah record.|
It would have helped if the director had chosen one type of thriller style and stuck with it. MASK OF MURDER opens with and is peppered with onscreen dates, places and times – as if he was looking to make a 'true crime' film in the style of something like IN COLD BLOOD (1967). Yet the goofy, ill-fitting mask and not very gory murders (everyone dies within two seconds of metal touching flesh and expels about a teaspoon of the red stuff) is reminiscent of a mild slasher or a giallo. This would have been excusable if Mattsson had taken more care with the suspense scenes – which are generally over nearly as quickly as the murders themselves. They are handled in a perfunctory way which rarely rouse the viewer out of the slumber they invariably will have succumbed to. Even a murder scene in a cinema (possibly flinched from HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE (1980)) doesn't exploit its full potential. However, it does raise a chuckle when one witness mistakes the killer's smooth-topped mask for Yul Brynner! It's a shame, as the script – for all its shortcomings – has a couple of good ideas. And MASK OF MURDER has a clever sting in its tail – but by then it is something of a case of too little too late.
However, not all is lost. The film has an inherent ridiculousness that's almost charming. It is difficult to know whether the director had his tongue firmly in cheek or not. Mattsson started his lengthy career in comedy before branching out into thrillers – including MANNEQUIN IN RED (1958), a film seen as an influence on the giallo (featuring murders at a fashion salon a good six years before Mario Bava's seminal BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964)). There's some fun to be had with a brief nightclub scene – The 'Coco Cabana' (which one cop calls a “Mix of meat rack and barnyard.”) Where bored looking new-wavers dance to a very not new wave song called “Juicy Lucy”. As the film was written by a 75 year old (Volodja Semitjov) and directed by a 65 year old it's as painfully unhip as you might imagine. There's also a scene where the young son of an exotic dancer killed by the murderer describes him as a snowman with his nose fallen off (well, a middle-aged woman pretending to be a little boy in glorious Eurotrash style dubbing does). And the doctor who, in all seriousness, ponders if the killer might be a psycho because a “woman laughed at his prick.”
Christopher Lee manages to be both bombastic and look bored in equal measures, but at least adds a bit of gravitas to the proceeding in the scant scenes he's in like the seasoned pro he was. Rod Taylor looks perpetually hung over (and who could blame him)? But it works for his role. As for Valerie Perrine, she looks like she wishes the production had really sent her to Bermuda – or she was at least back in the disco-bathed sunshine of CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC (1980). The film has cameos from notable Swedish actors such as Heinz Hopf as a hysterical hairdresser (who is probably best known for his role in the infamous THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (1972)). Plus Hjördis Petterson as a potential witness in her final role. The veteran actress once quipped about appearing in bad movies: “The shame lasts longer than the money.” Who know what she thought about MASK OF MURDER?!
Filmed in 1985 for an international audience (it doesn't even appear to have a Swedish language title), MASK OF MURDER eventually appeared in 1988 on VHS. It is often erroneously given that later date, but anyone with a keen eye for the 1980s will place it bang in the middle of that decade. Arne Mattsson went on to collaborate with Mats Helge Olsson in the late 1980s on a number of projects. Olsson was the man who brought us Swedish hair metal slasher BLOOD TRACKS the same year. There must have been something in the water in Sweden in 1985. Possibly Aquavit.
female: 5 / male: 2
1) Female has throat cut with a straight razor
2) Female has throat cut with a straight razor
3) Male machine-gunned to death
4) Female has throat cut with a straight razor
5) Female has throat cut with a straight razor
6) Female has throat cut with a straight razor
7) Male shot dead
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