M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Six of my year-long Retro-Best in Horror I’m recapping the Countdown beginning officially on October 1, 2015 and going through September 30, 2016. I have posted compilation lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t! Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!

Released on September 13, 2016. Available on DVD, BluRay, and On Demand! Also on Amazon Prime!

MASKS (2011)

Directed by Andreas Marschall
Written by Andreas Marschall
Starring Susen Ermich, Magdalena Ritter, Julita Witt, Michael Siller, Sonali Wiedenhöfer, Teresa Nawrot, Michael Balaun, Dieter-Rita Scholl, Dörte Manske, Stephanie Grabner, Franziska Breite, Simon Baptiste Mayer, Norbert Losch
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here

Fame oftentimes turns people ugly. Maybe that’s why horror stories about fame are so effective. Harkening back to such films like BLACK SWAN, Lucky McKee’s THE WOODS, Argento’s classic SUSPIRIA, and even the 80’s schlocker CURTAINS and the classic PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, MASKS follows an actress who will do anything to become a star and the horrors that can come from those lofty aspirations.

MASKS begins with a gruesome scene. Focusing on what looks to be a cult ending in a memorable fingernail breaking scene, the scene shifts to a fantastic animated opening sequence filled with Argento-ian harpsichord music and twisted red imagery. Though this film is German, it owes a lot to Argento in both style and plot as it is revealed that the cult at the beginning are actually a group of method actors following the tuto`ring of an eccentric and controversial acting teacher. When the film begins to focus on its central character, Stella (Susen Ermich, who looks a lot like Elizabeth Banks), many will be reminded of one of Argento’s most famous works, SUSPIRIA, in that in order to improve her acting skills Stella decides to enroll in an elite acting school. The shadowy hallways and corridors of the school serve as the perfect canvas to cast a mysterious and ominous mood and director/writer Andreas Marschall takes full advantage of creeping his camera in and around every nook and corner.

But even though SUSPIRIA is the most like MASKS in plot, the film is structured much more like Argento’s earlier giallo work such as DEEP RED, OPERA, and FOUR FLIES ON GRAY VELVET in terms of elaborately executed kills and heavy attention to mystery and psychology. Argento isn’t the only giallo master Marschall pays homage to. While the kills are elaborate, they also embody some of the best from Bava’s BAY OF BLOOD, as the camera follows the weapon instead of the killer. There are some absolutely toe-curling scenes in this film, as if it were resting on the handle of the saber that is the killer’s chosen weapon. Instead of switching kill tools like most slasher films, the killer in MASKS sticks with the saber every time, yet Marschall makes every kill inventive, fresh, and extremely scary. The thin line the saber cuts across the screen as it pierces through its victims made me jump more than once while watching this film. This has everything to do with Marschall’s excellent pacing and tendency to attack when expected, but the dire damage the saber does during the kills is more thrilling than every Hollywood kill sequence released this and last year combined.

Whispers of a secret method of acting that is not to be talked about resonate in the halls of the school, and Stella wants to find out all about it, but these aspirations end up biting her in the end. Channeling the darkest of emotions, this method proves to be absolutely chilling upon being revealed. Susen Ermich is perfect for this role as she embodies the defeated actress persona, yet is able to exude spunk and attitude making her stand out in class and ultimately puts her in line to follow the secret method. Julia Witt also shines in her role as Cecile, an older actress who is currently studying the secret method and warns Stella about it to no avail. Both actresses go through hell in this film, being beaten, drugged, hung upside down, slices with razors, and psychologically tortured.

Though, I felt I could predict how this one ended, the sheer energy MASKS exuded in every scene while echoing some of the best elements from some of the best giallo masters. If you love the works of the Italian masters of horror, you should make it your duty to seek out MASKS.

Click here for the trailer!

THE 2015-2016 COUNTDOWN!

#10 – MASKS
#13 – BODY
#16 – MORGAN
#20 – DECAY
#21 – EMELIE
#23 – HUSH
#28 – BASKIN

M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.

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