Skull: The Mask indulges in unnecessary table-setting, but once it gets to the good stuff, it’s a throwback, labor-of-love gore fest.
There’s a charmingly roughshod, handmade quality to the low budget Skull: The Mask that goes a long way toward papering over its myriad flaws. Essentially a throwback splatter flick, the film constructs an unnecessarily elaborate backstory involving an ancient evil entity and its corporeal emissary, the titular skull mask, that takes over a human host and compels it to kill (and kill again). Frankly, it’s a bit of a slog when characters are standing around advancing the (needlessly complicated) plot, but it comes to gruesome life when the bloodletting begins.
After a prologue set in 1944, in which a Nazi black magic ritual goes awry and the mask of Anhanga is lost in a fire, the film fast forwards to present day, where the depletion of the Amazon rainforest has revealed its hidden resting place. Construction workers call in Galvani (Guta Ruiz), a museum director of some sort who investigates the finding at the behest of Tack Waelder (Ivo Muller), a creepy businessman who wants the artifact for his own nefarious purposes. There’s also Padre Magno (Ricardo Gelli), a priest with a mysterious past who argues with Manco (Wilton Andrade), a former rebellion fighter who possesses an old mummified hand that warns him of impending danger. They clearly have some sort of shared history, the details of which remain initially obscure. Meanwhile, hard drinking cop-on-the-edge Beatriz Obdias (Natallia Rodrigues) and her partner Carlos (Wagner D’avilla) are investigating a case of missing children. Beatriz suffers from some traumatic incident in her past, of course, which is teased out as some kind of dark secret that motivates her tough-as-nails, take-no-prisoners attitude toward police work. After all these characters and their various histories get introduced, Galvani finally brings the cursed relic home, scheduled to deliver it to the impatient Waelder in the morning. But Galvani’s young girlfriend Lilah (Greta Antoine) lets her curiosity get the better of her, and before you can say “deadly skull mask,” she’s googling dark magic rituals to summon something or other. Of course, the mask comes alive, and immediately murders Galvani and Lilah. After Beatriz investigates the crime scene, the mask returns and kills the men cleaning up the initial bloody mess, attaching itself to one of them in the process and using his body to wander the streets of São Paulo. And so, Anhanga is reborn, a hulking mass (played by Brazilian wrestling star Rurik Jr.) somewhere between Jason Voorhees and a Black Metal album cover. The undead brute proceeds to kill everyone it crosses paths with, leaving a trail of bodies and a perplexed Beatriz, who’s determined to crack the case.
Directors Kapel Furman and Armando Fonseca eventually get to the good stuff, lavishing attention on the detailed scenes of dismemberment and grievous bodily harm. Anhanga tears through chest cavities and rips out hearts, guts, and organs with viscous aplomb, attacking a sexed-up couple in a car, some drug dealers, and eventually a dance club (strangely packed in the middle of the afternoon, but perhaps that’s nit-picking). There’s a fine art to these kinds of special effects, and Furman and Fonseca are clearly aligning themselves with a certain horror tradition by eschewing digital blood and CGI bodies. This is pure Tom Savini stuff, relishing in the potential for gross-out gags — at one point Anhanga attaches an edged weapon to the end of some intestines and uses it like a lasso, so be prepared. Eventually, all the plot threads coalesce, with Waelder peddling influence over the police and revealed to be behind the missing children, and Beatriz crossing paths with Magno and Manco, who have studied Anahanga and collected weapons for its long prophesied return. The final confrontation is appealingly overheated, the stuff of unabashed melodrama, but it’s a credit to Furman and Fonseca that they avoid any cheap irony or attempts at so-bad-it’s-good posturing. Skull: The Mask is an obvious labor of love, and a good time for a certain kind of horror fan. You might have to skip through some of the talkier scenes, but the money shots are worth the price of admission. Long live skull mask!
You can stream Kapel Furman & Armando Fonseca’s Skull: The Mask on Shudder beginning on May 27.