My biggest cinematic disappointment so far this year was the vulgar children’s horror comedy Psycho Goreman. The novelty of an R-rated version of Power Rangers is something I would have drooled over as a shock comedy and monster movies obsessed ten-year-old, but the film’s So Random! sense of humor was too poisonously self-aware to land with me in my much more cynical thirties. The practical gore effects of its various intergalactic monsters were fantastic, though, and I was frustrated that they weren’t deployed for a more sincere purpose. I mention this because the Brazilian splatter horror Skull: The Mask is much closer to what I wanted out of Psycho Goreman: 80s-metal album cover badassery that keeps its winking-at-the-camera self-amusement to a respectable minimum. And yet I enjoyed it even less than PG. I can’t say it was a bigger disappointment, since Skull: The Mask wasn’t hyped up nearly as much among friends & critics as one of the year’s shiniest genre gems, but it let me down in a very similar way: great effects wasted on a frivolous purpose.
To be fair, Skull: The Mask does at least take aim at a worthwhile political target (instead of just mining our nearly empty well of 90s retro nostalgia like Psycho Goreman). It’s a film about colonialist museums claiming ownership over Indigenous people’s artifacts for the sake of their cultural prestige, removing them from their original, spiritual purpose. In this case, that artifact is the titular mask: a ritualistic object that destroys the body of its wearer then transforms it into a vessel for a muscular, blood-spewing demon. All of the kills are aces, featuring victims’ faces macheted in half, hearts ripped from their chests, intestines wrapped around their throats, and blood pouring from their eyes in impossible geysers of gore. There just isn’t enough substance to the narrative tissue between those gross-outs to make the film feel worthwhile. Even the initial excitement of watching colonialist museum collectors get their cosmic comeuppance fades as the film devolves into a go-nowhere police procedural investigating the grisly deaths as if their cause was a mystery.
There is so much I love about Skull: The Mask, at least in the abstract: galactic psychedelia, black magic rituals, lesbian goths, pro wrestling body slams, heavy metal gore, etc. It’s a shame the movie is far too cheap and unfocused to stand out as anything exceptional despite all those individually badass details. It’s mostly recommendable as a practical effects showcase not as a Movie, which is starting to become a familiar kind of disappointment after recent genre titles on its budget level like Terrifier, The Void, and Aquaslash. I wish I could promote it as a vital antidote to the irony-poisoned ROFLMFAO humor of Psycho Goreman, but it trips over itself in other ways despite that welcome tonal adjustment. Psycho Goreman at least has an appeal as a primer for lifelong horror fandom among the kids who’ll manage to sneak it past their parents’ censorship filters. By contrast, Skull: The Mask is only useful for its eventual YouTube gore reel, which will save you at least 90min of frustrating tedium.