Our coverage of the Horror-on-Sea festival continues with the time travelling Mask of Thorn, Mycho Entertainment’s eighth independent horror feature.
Let’s bitch it out…
Bethany Lovell (Eve Kathryn Oliver) has struggled to fit in her whole life. Between over bearing parents and her odd behaviour she has always felt like she was on the outside. That is until Avondale’s popular clique – led by bad girl Olivia (Sophie Bryant) – kidnap her for a surprise birthday party to celebrate her sweet sixteen.
What they don’t realise is that Bethany is now the target of the urban legend known as ‘Thorn’ (Atticus Machiavellian) and tonight he has returned for her and nothing will stand in his way, as the Bloodletting Behemoth cuts his way through the small town in search of his latest victim and only one person can stop him.
It isn’t clear from the outset that Mask of Thorn is a prequel to Mycho Entertainment’s 2016 feature Legacy of Thorn (alternatively known simply as Thorn). Presumably screening the original is not required since I had very little difficulty understanding Mask, which begins in the Feb 1972 when Mina (Maria Lee Metheringham) arrives at an understaffed hospital bearing a baby and a warning that he is coming. Cue the brutal slaughter of hospital staff and the abduction of both Mina and her baby.
Despite some iffy period costuming, this proves to be a surprisingly effective cold open by screenwriter/director MJ Dixon. Not only is there some great violence, there’s the intriguing introduction of a cult of masked followers, which helps to distinguish the film as something more than a straightforward slasher.
The press notes for the film reference The Terminator and it’s not hard to see why. Mask of Thorn takes its cues from the James Cameron franchise, jumping ahead to catch up with Bethany on the eve of her sixteenth birthday. The girl is clearly being groomed for sacrifice by her cultist parents Derek (Martin W. Payne) and Joyce (Tracey Chatterley), earmarked for a terrible destiny just like Terminator‘s John Connor. She, too, escapes with friends at the best/worst possible time, though it’s not long before the impromptu birthday party thrown by her estranged bestie Olivia is interrupted by Thorn and Mina, both of whom arrive in town via bolts of lightning.
Mina has changed a great deal in the interceding time. Gone is the whimpering, helpless mother and in her place is a Linda Hamilton circa Terminator 2-esque fighter, decked out with guns, muscles and attitude to spare. It’s a fun, albeit not wholly original, character upgrade that acts as a foil for Thorn, who presents as a B-grade Jason Voorhees/Michael Michaels.
The premise of the film – Bethany will be sacrificed to Thorn on her sixteenth birthday – is fun, but the attraction of the title baddie is less clear. The character design is, unfortunately, rather cheap looking (close-ups of the the mask, in particular, are quite unforgiving) and the character’s lumbering, non-verbal actions aren’t especially memorable. The idea of an unstoppable killing machine is a genre staple, but Thorn doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.
Thankfully the carnage he brings is highly entertaining. Audiences who are willing to overlook the hard plastic nature of his weapons will thoroughly enjoy the human wreckage that he leaves in his wake. Limbs are regularly cut off, heads are crushed like melons and more than a few folks end up brutally sliced in half. One particularly memorable death involves a girl who is dropped onto Thorn’s machete and cut cleanly in two; the biology of it makes no sense, but that’s entirely forgivable because it is so enjoyable.
One of The Mask of Thorn‘s biggest obstacles is that it suffers from a bevy of unlikable characters. It’s a real struggle to care about pretty much everyone, which in horror isn’t unusual, but cheer worthy characters certainly help to create audience investment. The Mask of Thorn only has a few genuinely tolerable characters – and several actively terrible ones – which means that long portions of the film’s run time is spent waiting for Thorn to appear and kill people so that they are never seen or heard from again.
Sadly this complaint extends in part to Bethany herself. Not every female protagonist is going to take up arms and kick some ass, but Bethany is frequently aggravating and naively stupid. She’s prone to asking inane questions in the face of danger or whining about being a sad sack. Honestly, she’s a bit of pain.
It’s also entirely unclear why Bethany is friends with Olivia, since the latter is far more outgoing, plucky and complicated. Certainly Bethany has an arc from helpless to Final Girl, but the narrative, especially in the middle stretch, relies heavily on Olivia, potential love interest John (George Horn) and Mina to keeps things interesting. In truth, Olivia would have made for a much more engaging lead.
The Bottom Line: I’m intrigued to hear if The Mask of Thorn plays better if you’ve seen the first film and have a greater investment in Thorn as a villain. As it stands, this is a decent independent horror entry with a few issues and some great carnage.
For more info and to buy tickets for Horror-on-Sea, click here.