All the way back in August 2020 I, along with some of the other fellow Jumpcut writers, covered films from Frightfest’s first online film festival. One of those films that I was due to cover was the Brazilian gorefest Skull: The Mask but this, unfortunately, fell through thanks to my poor internet connection at that time. But the mask has given me another chance as the film is due to be added to horror streaming service Shudder.

Skull: The Mask is a Brazilian film that follows an ancient artifact that is found in Sao Paulo after previously been used for horrific Nazi experiments. It is discovered to be the mask of pre-Columbian god Anhanga. Curiosity takes hold of a few unfortunate people, not realising that this mask possesses its victims and makes them carry out sacrifices in gruesome fashion. With bodies piling up, it’s up to Officer Beatriz Obdias (Natallia Rodrigues) and museum owner Tack Waelder (Ivo Müller) to find the mask and stop the bloodbaths.

Skull: The Mask is 90 minutes of pure, unapologetic gory chaos. And it’s an extremely fun experience if you have the stomach for it. The first aspect that hits the viewer right at the start is the gore and beautiful practical effects. This is a film that aims to be a love letter to the video nasties; gruesome effects, exaggerated kills with a plot to connect it all together. And it works. It really works. The practical effects are impressive; the first kill viewers are treated to is a head explosion. Not only does this happen in the first ten minutes, but it lets you know exactly what kind of film it’s going to be straight away. The gore is aplenty here and does not stop for anyone and it looks fantastic (I also witnessed more facial degloving’s than I was expecting!). The actual mask design is also great. It’s striking and unique with its deformed mouth and spiky head, giving it a punkish look, while also making it seem like it has history. It’s scratched up and stained, presumably by previous bloody experiments. This was a great attention to detail that makes the mask intriguing; it demands your attention from the second it’s onscreen. Plus, it’s a cool design and something that we’ve never seen before!

But Skull: The Mask does have a plot and, while it is a basic cat-and-mouse chase scenario, it’s necessary for this film and the story it’s telling. It’s also very well paced; Skull takes its time to tell its story and develop its characters as the film goes on. The film feels surreal, not just from the frequent visions from the depths of hell that appear after each kill sequence but also due to some scenes having an absence of sound. This is extremely effective, as it not only makes the film feel nightmarish, but it also helps to enthesis that current scene. The atmosphere is further elevated by the score. The majority of the music is made up of keyboard and xylophones, making Skull: The Mask feel haunting and eerie. It’s mysterious yet creepy and along with the effects, is an aspect that makes this film stand out. However, not all of the score works with the visuals: a couple of scenes in the first act feature smooth jazz, which feel extremely out of place, given that the rest of the score is consistent with its instruments and sound.

My only other issue with the film is the character Officer Beatriz. She is, essentially, a corrupt cop. In her opening scene, it’s revealed that she’s been leading a kidnapping case in which she was actually the culprit. And her personality throughout the film is of a hot-headed and trigger-happy woman. While other films might try to give her some redeeming qualities, Skull is hellbent on making her an unlikeable character. And, while she gets to do one good act at the end, it’s too little too late as a whole.

But, if you can move past that, you’ll find a highly enjoyable and gore-filled film. Skull: The Mask is fantastic, and I’m delighted to have finally experienced it. The practical effects are not only impressive, but gruesome too. The film isn’t afraid to show viewers exactly what type of film it is straight away, and I applaud it for that. The plot is also interesting and engaging, and it’s very well paced considering the amount of blood that is spilled throughout its 90-minute runtime. This would’ve made for a perfect film to watch with the Frightfest crowd but, for now, I look forward to this arriving on Shudder.

Rating: ★★★★

Skull: The Mask premieres on May 27, 2021 on Shudder