MST3K Halloween Special: The Mask Review

Last Updated on November 1, 2022

PLOT: On October 28th at 8 pm ET / 5 pm PT, join Jonah and the bots for the premiere of The Mask 3D, a 1961 horror film about a cursed skull mask, and the first time the crew of the Satellite of Love will be subjected to a 3D movie! Filmed in iconic anaglyph 3D, the episode will be viewable with any pair of red and blue 3D glasses. A non-3D version of the episode will also be available.

REVIEW: Anyone familiar with the history of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will know that the holidays of Christmas and Thanksgiving have been regularly celebrated by the movie mocking crew of the Satellite of Love in their past 12 seasons over the past 33 years on Comedy Central, The Sci-Fi Channel and Netflix. But with the show’s 13th season now airing all this year long on the show’s crowdfunded indie streaming platform The Gizmoplex, Jonah and his Bots are crossing into the all new territory of Halloween, and the resulting episode is just as much fun as you’d want from an MST Halloween special, amidst a new season that’s largely lived up to the original show’s 90s heyday even more than the revival’s past two seasons on Netflix, right down to a cheap DIY look and a completely independent production process which fits into the old MST3K aesthetic like a glove.

Now since picking a cheesy horror movie for a Halloween special is a bit redundant for MST3K, they’ve picked a truly special film to riff on here: The Mask, a 1961 Canadian horror thriller (the first Canadian flick to be marketed in America since the silent era!) produced during the heyday of horror B-movie producer William Castle’s cheap movie viewing gimmicks like buzzers underneath the audience’s seats (The Tingler, 1959) or skeletons being dropped into the theater (House on Haunted Hill, 1958). And what gimmick did The Mask have to offer? Three dimensions! And none of that fancy schmancy James Cameron garbage, we’re talking red and blue 3D viewers from the days of 50s sci-fi and Spy Kids 3: Game Over, which MST3K’s Kickstarter backers will be receiving in the mail themselves to watch MST3K’s very first 3D episode in the format in which it was intended. (Don’t worry, there’s a 2D version available for streamers simultaneously.) While I didn’t have these 3D effects on my own screener, it’s just the type of chintzy gimmick that’s perfect for a movie about a psychiatrist whose archaeologist patient tells him of a mask he’s found during a dig that treats its wearers to a surreal nightmare world, one which drives the archaeologist to his suicide. But before taking his life, the man sends this mask off to his doctor in a package so the psychiatrist can wear it for himself, even if it means risking that same transformation into a bloodthirsty psycho. In many ways, the plot is much like SMILE, and as someone who loved that flick in the theater recently, the similarities between these two movies 60 years apart from each other were neat to spot.

The Mask is just the type of old school black and white horror flick which I love to watch around Halloween time every year, with the surreal dream sequences having some amazing visuals right out of a Mario Bava film, and the only real problem I’ve got with the film being the same slow dialogue sequences which bog down many of the movies on MST3K (not to the riffers’ fault, of course). Overall, it’s probably one of the least abjectly terrible movies that Jonah and the Bots have had to watch for this show, but then again, they’ve had to sit through both Mac and Me and MUNCHIE, so take that as you will. Jonah Ray Rodrigues, Baron Vaughn and Hampton Yount as our riffers–along with welcome contributions from Rebecca Hanson as GPC (formerly Gypsy)–are better than ever, as they’ve now grown a familiar and funny rapport over their past few seasons as the “new guys”, carving their own style and sense of humor just as much as Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson did with their casts in their respective runs on the show. No longer is there that initial shock of these guys not being the “old guard” (whom you can still see doing funny movie riff stuff at RiffTrax and Dumb Industries), because they now feel like the old guard themselves, especially as they’ve been sharing Season 13 with the equally funny Emily Marsh, Kelsey Ann Brady, Conor McGiffin and Yvonne Freese transitioning from the MST3K’s live show cast to the actual show’s cast for half of this season’s 13 episodes, along with welcome reappearances from old cast members Joel Hodgson, Mary Jo Pehl and J. Elvis Weinstein.

Nowhere is Jonah and Co’s improved chemistry more evident than in the skits which they perform between the film segments, which is probably the one front where the Netflix run lagged a little bit. Particularly hilarious is their trick or treat skit, where Jonah Heston dresses up as Tom Atkins (yes, the star of Halloween III, The Fog, etc.) and the Bots’ complete ignorance of Mr. Atkins leads to expected befuddlement. Even as the show has had to transition to green screen sets as opposed to the brick and mortar sets of previous years due to COVID induced production limits, this feels more like an upgrade in the case of MST3K. The digital set look isn’t too different from that used by all the YouTube bad movie critics who’ve sprung up in MST3K’s wake, after all, and it likely allows for the show’s production crew to make episodes easier and quicker.

All that matters in this humble reviewer’s opinion is that any cast of MST3K just be funny and genuine in their own regards, and that’s where Jonah and his cast particularly excel, especially in the range of pop culture references they make over the movie: from Mike Nichols and Elaine May to Simple Plan and Hot Topic, doing flawless singer impressions through Baron Vaughn’s velvety pipes, and making plenty of jabs at the title’s similarity to a certain Jim Carrey comic book superhero movie… no, not Kick Ass 2! And kudos to Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt who are also coming into their own as the new mad scientists Kinga and Max holding our hapless riffers up in space. These guys are pretty busy icons of nerd culture who, after Netflix’s cancellation, could’ve easily jumped off this show to collect Walking Dead or Marvel movie checks for the rest of their lives, but are sticking around because they just love this show that much, as much as the loyal viewers who’ve been loyally watching and keeping MST3K afloat through Kickstarters, social media and circulating the tapes/URL.

In this day and age of corporate media conglomeration, it’s frankly heartening to see a property like MST3K return to its indie roots for a new season and come out the other end with a show that feels in just about every regard like the one that I grew up with as an 8 year old. The faces may have changed, but the show’s mission to keep us laughing at the absurd and awful remains the same and essential as ever in 2022, and The Mask is set to be a Halloween favorite in the viewing rotation of loyal MSTies everywhere. On behalf of an awkward teenager who never thought he’d grow up to see the day when MST3K or Beavis and Butt-Head would both return to the TV screen, I hope the Satellite of Love stays aboard in space for a long time to come. May all their foreheads grow like the mighty oak.

THE MASK is currently available for rental/purchase on Gizmoplex.com, alongside the rest of MST3K’s 13th season and the rest of its past library of episodes. Anyone with a season pass or ticket can join its livestream on the MST3K site or app tonight 8pm/9pm CT.

MST3k

AMAZING

9

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