My knowledge of Brazilian genre films is…we’ll call it limited. But after watching the latest from writers/director Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman (2016’s Uptake Fear), I’m game for just about anything this batshit crazy and eager to do the most it can with a limited budget. In Skull: The Mask, a pre-Columbian skull mask contains the spirit of Anhangá, the executioner of the god Tahawantinsupay (I did my research). When someone puts on the mask, it adheres to the face and possesses the wearer into committing splat-tastic human sacrifices in order to resurrect his god. I’m guessing at this point, you already have a good sense as to whether this movie is for you, but I will say that if you have an affection for late-’80s/early-’90s gory horror, this one will hit your sweet spot.
At a certain point in the film, the mask latches onto a laborer (played by Brazilian wrestling champ Rurik Jr.), and he becomes the permanent host of Anhangá’s essence, going from place to place in Sao Paolo, killing as many innocents as possible and filling up the blood coffers of his master. But Skull: The Mask is also the story of a disgraced detective Beatriz Obdias (Natallia Rodrigues) who is secretly working for corrupt businessman Tack Waelder (Ivo Müller), who is desperate to get hold of the mask because he believes he knows how to control it. When you find out what Beatriz did that made her disgraced, you may have a tough time seeing her as the protagonist of this story, but it involved kids, some of which Waelder still holds captive so he can feed their blood to the hungry god he plans on summoning.
There’s also a shady priest, Father Vasco Magno (Ricardo Gelli) and a man who is sworn to keep the mask safe and out of the hands of those who would attempt to abuse its power (Wilton Andrade); clearly, he’s not doing a great job, but he’s attempting to retrieve the mask from the man who’s wearing it before Tahawantinsupay can rise again. There are rituals and overly complicated storylines, and more flashbacks and digressive side stories than are necessary, but the impressive and inventive practical gore effects keep things interesting and roaring forward. It is truly funny that when the Skull character goes after people, he uses classic wrestling moves to take them down before he slices their guts out and rips their heart from their chest.
Despite her character’s dark history, I was especially drawn to Rodrigues’s Obdias, who clearly is attempting to dig herself out of the hell hole that her life has become and is hoping that by continuing to pal around with bad guys, she can be there to stop something terrible from going down. It’s a risky proposition, but she doesn’t see that she has a choice or anything to lose. Skull: The Mask feels like an amateur production in the best and worst ways possible. Some of the performances are cringe worthy, while particularly dramatic moments are lost forever because the filmmakers have a crap camera angle in place to capture it, or the editing literally chops out an important reaction. But the sheer audacity of the storytelling and makeup effects make the whole thing highly watchable, and in the horror realm, that counts for something.
The film is now streaming on Shudder.
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