Skull: The Mask opens in 1944, where we see an ancient artifact being used in a military experiment and religious ritual. The object is a grotesque mask in the shape of a skull called the “Mask of Anhangá” who was the executioner of Tahawantinsupay, a pre-Columbian god. The experiment fails of course, with bloody repercussions. The mask disappears and resurfaces many years later at an archaeological dig.
It is brought to São Paulo, where a CEO for a foreign company may or may not have designs of his own for the mask. Before it can be delivered to him the mask goes missing once again, not before leaving two eviscerated bodies behind. Detective Beatriz Obdias is put in charge of inspecting these crimes, but she is not the only one looking for the mask. Simple laborer Manco Ramirez is now looking to recover it and honor his family's inheritance.
Let's get straight to it, the reason any of us is here. The reason why any of us should watch Skull: The Mask is for the gore. There was an admitted moment of concern when the prologue of the film (looks like it) was shot mostly on backlot and greenscreen. Initial impressions were that it was done this way but we have since be kindly corrected on it. It was the lighting and touchups in post that gave that initial impression.
Primarily because when it's use as evident as it was in this prologue it is commonly a sign of doing things... ‘efficiently’. Read, micro budget, 'making a movie in our garage' budget. At the end of the ritual there is a bit of computer aided violence to cap off the moment so you cannot help but wonder if this is a sign of things to come.
The rest of the gore in Skull: The Mask is simply fantastic. It is really top notch, chest ripping stuff. The real beauty of it is that it is mostly practical as well which is so good as a victim's viscera is ripped from their body. The filmmakers appreciation for the ways of old school slasher-killer films is on full display throughout the rest of their movie. The story was built upon pre-Columbian mythology with the character design coming from one of the co-directors Kapel Furman. Skull looks formidable, built like a Brazilian Kane Hodder, and only gets more and more disgusting, sticky, and gross as he claims more victims in the streets of São Paulo.
It is not a chock a block kill fest. In this movie the acts of horror act more like a chapter reference, a segue, a 'Hey! Remember me? I ferociously kill random people" kind of moment. The omniscient narrative (more on this later) plays the rampage of Skull alongside the story of Officer Beatriz Obdias. She is investigating the disappearance of three girls and is brought in to also investigate the grisly murder victims, but she never truly knows there is a connection between the two cases as the story goes on.
The murders are random in nature with seemingly no connection. Rather than say that there is not enough violence and murder we feel that there is just enough violence that you don't become weary of it, that you’re not repeatedly bludgeoned to death by endless acts of it.
In addition to Skull’s rampage there are these moments when Tahawantinsupay communicates to them from their spectral world. They are these wonderful moments of bizarre cosmic horror, done again with practical effects and puppetry. It's rather silly but absolutely delightful to see. Then there is the priest who helps Manco fulfill his destiny to defeat Skull. In what could be a tip of the hat to Father McGruder from Dead Alive (because we will always think that any priest who trades physical blows with evil after 1992 owes something to that character) Manco goes tete-a-tete with Skull and has a sword hidden away somewhere I can only describe as Heaven Sent.
What caught us pleasantly by surprise was just how much thought went into the look of Skull: The Mask. You normally give the look and the production values of a lot of horror films a pass. you establish a scene, you set a mood, and cue the blood! As we said earlier the prologue set in 1944 for Skull: The Mask featured a heavy dose of backlot and green screen produced shots, so we were preparing ourselves for something with a style that was indicative of what appeared to be small budget horror.
However, once the story switched to present times you can see that co-directors Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman with director of photography Andre Sigwalt put a lot of effort into making their horror flick look as good as possible. They took Skull: The Mask beyond the realm of a standard spiritual killer movie with careful thought and intention in a sincere effort to bring a little sophistication in the look of their movie. Just moments where you stop and you think to yourself that there are no shots that were by accident but well thought out with good framing and purpose.
Which is probably why what ends up being Skull: The Mask’s weakness is that it feels like it is two different films stitched together at the hip. One one side you have this very silly and inescapably fun spiritual killer flick going on, laying waste to random victims through the city, ripping out hearts and guts. On the other you have this police procedural flick going on, with Officer Obdias following Skull’s trail of murder and mayhem. Attempts to give her a back story, that of an officer caught in a corrupt law enforcement system, to make her story serious, are thrown into the edit and they don’t quite work.
When you go back to that omniscient narrative structure Obdias not once engages with Skull. Even in the final fight between Manco and Skull the filmmakers allude to her taking to the streets to hunt Skull down, and allude that she sees him, but by the time she catches up the fight is over, not helping connect the dots.
It feels like two separate films were made then there was an attempt to edit them together and make a cohesive whole. It doesn’t quite work on an energy and story flow level. On the other hand it becomes unintentionally humorous because of its randomness. It doesn’t so much come at a cost to the film as a whole but it takes some getting used to at first.
If you’re looking for great practical gore effects then Skull: The Mask is bound to deliver what you need. Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman have created a fun mythology surrounding their spiritual killer and made him an absolute beast. Their work behind and with the camera shows a sincere attempt to take their movie to a level higher than just the average killer rampage flick. While the chunky edit makes it feel like there are two films sandwiched together that isn’t so much to its detriment as in most parts, perhaps accidentally, it makes the movie more fun to watch.
Skull: The Mask (SKULL: A MASCARA DE ANHANGA) has its world premiere during the virtual edition of this year’s Chattanooga Film Festival.