Happy Birthday, Canadian Horror!

Canadian horror cinema hits a major landmark this month. It was exactly 50 years ago that the first feature-length Canadian horror film first hit theaters, kicking off a wave of brutal, bloody and brilliant genre film from north of the 49th. When Julian Roffman concieved the 3-D spookshow THE MASK, it’s doubtful that he could realize the influence and longevity his film would have–he simply wanted to show that a film shot in Canada could achieve U.S. distribution and compete with American films. And it did–THE MASK made it’s U.S. debut on October 27, 1961 in New York City, unnerving Halloween moviegoers with bizarre Freudian visions of ritual sacrifice (as witnessed in the following dream sequence).

Modern moviegoers will get a chance to see that the film holds up quite well when the film screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on October 26. Even though Roffman reportedly had to scale back his grand vision for THE MASK it’s still impressive today on several levels, from the wild use of 3-D during the dream sequences, the William Castle-like ballyhoo of the cardboard masks given to viewers, the experimental music score (which I recently discussed in detail on the Depthsploitation blog) and the identifiable Toronto locations.

And even though THE MASK remains a footnote in serious academic study of Canadian film Roffman’s early foray still holds a place of honour at the Lightbox, where you can still see the original mask and storyboards prominently on display, as seen in the following video:

While many other countries have long traditions of horror film dating back to the silent era, Canada’s horror industry is still extremely young. Even still, we’ve cranked out some of the most off-the-wall, high concept horror films ever seen, especially in the golden age of the late 1970s and early ’80s. Unsuspecting Canadians have been ravaged by everything from killer phone signals to telepathic snakes, from talking anatomical dummies to raging yetis with prominent nipples. But it all started with this ambitious little 3-D movie that replicated nightmares like few other efforts of its time. So let’s raise a shish kebab and wish THE MASK a happy 50th birthday–here’s to many more decades of Canadian horror films!

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