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UK indie horror export”Mask of the Devil” promises a grindhouse-inspired hell of a good time. Is it as devilishly good as it looks?

Mask of the Devil just landed on digital (1/13/23). Read on to find out if you should Rent it, Stream it, or Skip it.

I love indie horror from the UK. While I regularly consume independent fare from the States, much of it is forgettable schlock. But the Brits, for their part, seem to revel in the opportunity to create art that transcends the genre’s exploitative trappings.

Troma’s Eating Miss Campbell and Nathan Shepka’s When Darkness Falls are two very different examples of how my cousins across the pond are making a significant impact on the scene.

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of trash to go along with it. But what filmmakers like Richard Rowntree seem to have learned is that if you play to your strengths, you can overcome any budget-related flaws that might normally stand out and sully the reception of your movie.

In the case of Mask of the Devil — written, directed, and produced by the talented Richard Rowntree and Matthew Davies (Dogged, Nefarious) — these strengths would be raunchy humor, interesting characters, an evident love of splat from the past, cool camera tricks, and a brisk pace.

Mask of the Devil has all the makings of a cult classic.

It’s the kind of movie, like Dead Alive (a.k.a. Braindead), Evil Dead 2, and The Toxic Avenger, that genre fans can watch multiple times for the laughs and the gore and talk about with their friends for years to come (e.g., “Hey, remember that one scene where the guy gets a huge dildo shoved through his mouth and out the back of his skull?”)

After a back story that takes place in deepest Africa (featuring skilled performances from Tony Manders, Geoff Woodman, Phelim Kelly, Matt Wignall, and Marlin Roberts) of how the mask from the title came to be in the possession of an oddities shop owner, we are introduced to Mary (Nicole Katherine Riddell, White Sky), her dysfunctional family, and her chastity espousing boyfriend.

Riddell shines as a frustrated tween who is tired of taking orders from her overbearing father and is ready to get her own place – just as soon as she can get a job, that is.

Unfortunately, the best thing she can find is a gig as a “fluffer” for a low-budget film company, a job title she’s never even heard of…but for 300 brass a day, she can probably do just about anything, right?

Meanwhile, the set designer for the company (Emma Feeney, Nefarious) stumbles across the aforementioned oddities shop whilst procuring props for an African-themed skin flick.

The props include the mysterious and hideous mask from the opening scene, which is smuggled out of the back room by a shady employee against the wishes of the shop owner (the excellent Kemi Kentebe, TV’s Quentin Quarantine).

Back at the studio, Mary meets the cast and crew of the adult film to which she is about to offer her services, including the seedy director (Kemal Yildirim), set designer Kimmy (Feeney, who arrives with mask in tow), hilariously affected studs Julius (Ryan David Harston) and Otto (Alex Nathan-Woods), and techies Milo & Mike (Martin W. Payne and Gregory A. Smith).

Smith nearly steals the show as a sleazy crew member of the wise-cracking, eyebrow-raising variety.

Before long, the cursed mask begins to manifest its evil powers, and once its first victim rips off his own face to replace it with the mask,  it’s a non-stop thrill ride to the end chock full of creative kills, superb acting, a clever script, plenty of laughs, and lots and lots of gore.

Lee Wignall’s seamless editing deserves some kind of award (it was an Austin Revolution Film Festival nominee for best editing) for the pacing and slick transitions throughout the film.

With a diverse cast, strong female leads, buckets of blood, and eerie occult themes, Mask of the Devil is a fine successor to the kinds of films that inspired it — like Lamberto Bava’s Demons, Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

RENT IT. The cinematography, visual effects, and soundtrack all work in tandem to provide a fun, funny, and frighteningly good time you might not expect from an indie picture that borrows a lot of inspiration from exploitation horror and 70s grindhouse.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4

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