Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Once Upon a Time in Sweden: Mask of Murder (1985)

Arne Mattsson's Mask of Murder have never been a movie with a good reputation in the horror community. Even the most fanatic and open-minded fans out there seems loving to bash it. I think this hangs together with the bully-system that the Swedish film community - lead by Ingmar Bergman - started against Arne Mattsson, and both colleagues and critics joined the herd and continued to bash him for the rest of his career. Why? Well, first of all - Arne was an easy target. He was a sensitive man, he didn't like to be trashed and was out-spoken in the matter. He was also a controversial man who often, through what seemed like shallow entertainment, loved to bring up subjects that few others dared to touch. Another reason was his love for crime stories. He wasn't forced into movies about murder and mayhem, he loved it and sported his own impressive collection of detective novels. This "weakness" for the commercial part of culture made him an easy target for the fancy critics and pretentious colleagues. By 1985 his career was since long more or less dead, but he continued to make movies and Mask of Murder seemed to have been a smaller hit on video shelves everywhere. I hope Arne got some of those money...

In a Canadian wintery town a serial killer is on the loose. He's has a white rubber mask with red lips painted on it. Some locals spots the suspect and calls the police. Bob McLaine (Rod Taylor),  Ray Cooper (Sam Cook) and their superior Jonathan Rich (Christopher Lee) heads out to the house where he hides, but it all ends in disaster and Jonathan gets shot and Bob executes the suspect in cold-blood. Everyone thinks the killer is dead, but some nights after someone is back with the mask - slashing the throats of young women!

It's a lot more to the story, but the less said about the twists and turns the better. Mask of Murder is a cheap movie, it looks quite rushed - and believe me, it's not shot in Canada or anywhere close to that continent. It's shot on Arne's own backyard, Uppsala and nearby areas. Uppsala was Arne's favourite town and used in many of this movies, and it's always a pleasure finding the locations he used. The script could have needed one or two extra passes, but it still works quite fine as a bleak and nasty murder mystery. Arne's favourite camera techniques is still there and makes the cheap locations looks way more nice than if a less competent director would shoot the same script. Like Hitchcock, Mattsson knew how to tell a story without unnecessary dialogue and tells a lot of the drama just by moving the camera in the right moment or the use of logical and intelligent editing (an art form that's totally forgotten nowadays...especially in bigger, mainstream movies).

Mask of Murder is also a very dark and cynical movie with a lot of nasty and bloody murders on women plus some bloody squibs. There's very few - if none - sympathetic characters to root for which might be the reason why a lot of fans have problem liking it. Personally I think that's just fantastic, because movies like that is needed. The world isn't a happy place, so why fool the audience?

The trio of lead actors, Taylor, Cook and Lee, makes excellent performances - but I find the supporting actors even more interesting. For example we have Heinz Hopf, more famous for his legendary role in They Call Her One Eye, as a slightly unstable hairdresser. In two even smaller parts we have Legendary (yes, with a big L) Hjördis Pettersson in, I think,  her last part + another veteran from the screen and stage, the brilliant Sif Ruud.

Mask of Murder is out on an okay-looking DVD from Studio S in Sweden and I guess that's the best way to go if you, as a serious movie collector, wants this movie in your collection. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"bully-system that the Swedish film community - lead by Ingmar Bergman - started against Arne Mattsson,"

Yeah...Bergman could be vicious....he appearently did the same to Arne Sucksdorff too.

Heinz Hopf, Sif Ruud...?

Cool...never even heard of this before...thanks Ninja.