Welcome witches and warlocks,
I had the great pleasure of attending Ghoula Events and The 3-D Space’s recent screening of the horror film THE MASK (1962) at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater and figured I would offer up some thoughts on the proceedings. To best describe what the evening included, I will use my own description:
This special screening of THE MASK, shown in 3-D, will be front loaded with performances by master puppeteer Eli Presser and the Bob Baker marionettes. Following the movie, guests adjourn to the party room which has been taken over by some supposedly haunted dolls. Attendees can delight in the tales of these children’s toys gone bad over a drink or some complimentary ice cream.
After our tickets are ripped we are handed a pair of 3-D glasses and directed into the main theater. The seating alternates between folding metal chairs or some mattresses with pillows that have been laid down on the ground. After picking our spot, we await the curtains to open on the main performance.
Before the movie gets underway Richard Carradine and Eric Kurland, of Ghoula and The 3-D Space respectively, offer up a bit of an introduction. They tell us how this strange feature we are about to see is not only the first Canadian horror film, but also had themed 3-D glasses that were made to look like party masks. While few of these original glasses remain (in fact, Mr. Kurland only had one pair), we were given a set that used to be sold in convenience stores in the 1980’s when 3-D television was briefly a thing. This information provided some interesting context to the picture and whetted my appetite for what was to come.
Then, Eli Presser took to the stage with a few briefcases in hand. He looked rather dapper in his double breasted vest and the retro looking radio he pulled from one of the cases backed up the idea that what we were about to see came from an era long before our own. The marionette he pulled out was not insanely detailed, but the amount of strings attached led me to believe we might be in for something special. As the song St. James Infirmary plays the puppet seems to try and regain its feet even though it is obviously in either a really bad state of drunkenness or mourning. The marionette manages to look shaky, unsteady, and we were sitting close enough where it even looked as if the thing was breathing. It was an impressive performance that left the entire theater in a sort of sad silence as the song drew to a close.
We were cheered up again as the Bob Baker Marionette’s took to the stage to offer up a few selections from their latest show, The Enchanted Toyshop. The sprightly toys brought a more lighthearted touch and there were even two marionettes that fans of the original Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) were sure to recognize. While I did not realize it at the time, this combination of levity and darkness served as a nice way to lead into the film.
With the performances all through, the curtains opened on our feature presentation, THE MASK. Right up top let me say that I was duly impressed with the 3-D sequences in this film. They are structured in such a way that we the audience only put on our glasses when one of the characters puts on the eponymous mask. Every time the mask is worn in the movie the wearer is treated to strange, nightmare like sequences. We, the audience, are allowed to participate in this hazy fever dreams as when we put our glasses on, we see these moments as well in full 3-D. What was interesting to me was that they more often than not used the effect to create depth rather than to make it look as if things were popping out to scare us. I appreciated seeing a picture that is over fifty years old using the technology as a story enhancer more than as a gimmick.
In fact, the plot is actually rather interesting and shares some dark parallels with the similarly named Jim Carrey starrer. Instead of the protagonist turning into a green faced, larger than life cartoon character, their darkest desires bubble up to the surface and they begin to go insane. The focus on psychology was interesting given the hazy nature of the fever dreams.
Granted, there was plenty of unintentional camp along the way. I would be curious to know if some of the things our modern day audience found funny were considered amusing back when this piece was first released. What I found especially funny was the idea that our lead, a psychologist, basically had carte blanche to continue down his dark path in the name of research. In a way it makes his profession seem much more scientific than it is and it was a tenuous excuse at best for the events that followed.
Once the feature ended we were led into the party room where the haunted puppets were taking up residence. While some of the ones on display had little plaques clueing us into their story, others were tales best told by the person who had brought them to the event. It was a fun way to mingle while still getting to tap into the darkness of these potentially cursed playthings.
All in all, Ghoula and The 3-D Space put on a top notch night of entertainment at an incredibly reasonable price. The performances by Eli Presser and the Bob Baker Marionettes served as a nice prelude to the movie while the haunted dolls on display in the party room rounded out the evening nicely. Fans of old horror movies, 3-D puppeteering, or just creepy, “true” scary stories would do well to check out future events by these people.