In Sao Paulo, a city already rife with poverty, death and corruption, an ancient evil will be awakened, bringing destruction upon the favelas. Directed by Kapel Furman and Armando Fonseca, the action-packed Brazilian supernatural slasher Skull: The Mask (originally titled Skull: A Máscara De Anhangá) had its World Premiere at this year’s (virtual) Chattanooga Film Festival. It’s a cautionary tale of what happens when power-hungry humans mess with forces beyond their control and comprehension.
Back 1944, a secret society of exiled Nazis uncover an artifact in the heart of the Amazon rainforest: The Mask of Anhangá, fabled to be the executioner of the ancient indigenous god Tahawantinsupay. The Nazis perform a blood ritual on the horned skull using a ring of fire and the entrails of a prisoner. But like the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, their experiment goes horribly wrong, burning them to death or exploding their heads.
“The Skull is like a Brazilian Jason Voorhees […] The kills are delightfully creative and don’t shy away from excess gore…”
Cut to present day: the skull artifact is once again discovered by an archeologist, who brings the skull to her home in Sao Paulo to be transported to the museum the next day. But her curious witchy lover secretly performs a scaled-down ritual she looked up on the internet. The following morning, the two women are found butchered, their torsos opened up and their hearts ripped out. And the Skull has disappeared. The police are baffled with no leads, so they dispatch a cleaning crew to mop up the blood. Little do they know, The Skull has become sentient and is crawling around the crime scene like the severed head in The Thing. An unsuspecting cleaner is possessed by the Skull when it climbs onto his head, setting off a massacre across the city as the Skull attempts to collect enough blood to summon its master.
Not wanting to lose his investment, the museum owner Tack Waelder (Ivo Müller) hires Beatriz Obdias (Natallia Rodrigues), a detective with a shady past, to track down the Skull. But the only man who knows how to stop bloodshed is Manco Ramirez (Wilton Andrade), with the help of his father’s magical severed hand and the spiritual guidance from the less-than-willing priest Padre Vasco Magno.
In many ways, The Skull is like a Brazilian Jason Voorhees. The cleaner the mask possesses is played by wrestler Rurik Jr., perfect for a character who moves like a tank, breaking windows and walls, who’s impervious to blades and bullets. Like a typical slasher from the 1980s, the Skull targets frisky couples mid-coitus, drug dealers and raving teenagers, decapitating them using a jagged machete. However, the Skull is able to slice from a distance, by extending the intestines wrapped around his wrists that shoot out like tentacles, similar to Kratos’ Blades of Chaos from the God of War video games. By the end of the movie, the once white uniform of the cleaner is soaked in blood and gore, making The Skull look more like a member of a costumed death metal band.
The fight sequences are intensely choreographed throughout the movie. The opening sequence features a masked assassin working on behalf of the Nazis, infiltrating a military stronghold. If I had to guess, he uses a Brazilian fighting style called capoeira, which involves acrobatics and grappling. Manco uses a similar style later in the movie, fighting off mercenaries who break into his apartment. Rurik Jr. shows off his wrestling moves, throwing victims half his size across the room with ease. The fight scene that takes the cake for me though is when Padre Magno pulls a samurai sword out a crucifix to fend off the beast breaking down the doors of his church.
There’s a great mix of practical effects and VFX. The kills are delightfully creative and don’t shy away from excess gore, reminiscent of the effects of 1980s horror. They’re supplemented by wet, squishy sound effects, as the Skull tears out his victims’ innards, which then slide across his body. The computer graphics come in when Tahawantinsupay is revealed, sitting on a throne floating in a cosmic plane. Character creator Kapel Furman has an impressive resume, having done special effects for almost 20 years, and has worked on such projects like ABCs of Death 2 and Embodiment of Evil (Encarnação do Demônio).
“Midnight audiences around the world, regardless of nationality, will eat up Skull: The Mask, as if they themselves are gods demanding blood sacrifices.“
My one complaint about Skull: The Mask is that there are too many story threads that have little to do with the main plot. Characters are introduced, who at first seem to be significant, but end up contributing nothing to overall story. There’s an attempt to squeeze in a political commentary near the end, but it falls flat. The gaping holes in the movie’s plot can be is easily ignored, since the action takes up most of the focus.
My knowledge of Brazilian horror is minimal, outside of the Coffin Joe (also known as Zé do Caixão) films. But I’ve enjoyed every film that has fallen onto my lap. Midnight audiences around the world, regardless of nationality, will eat up Skull: The Mask, as if they themselves are gods demanding blood sacrifices. Horror has no official language or flag, we’re all united in our thirst for blood.
Skull: The Maskcelebrated its World Premiere at the 2020 Virtual Editon of the Chattanooga Film Festival. The festival is open to residents of the United States and badges are now available at www.chattfilmfest.org. Be sure to check out all of our Chattanooga 2020 Coverage HERE, and let us know what your favourite films at this year’s fest are over on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!