Since the beginning of time, the use of masks has been a vital tool to tell stories and terrify people. All around the world, they have symbolized and stood for various legends, myths and terrors alike. They continue to play a significant role, especially in the world of cinema. Everyone from the most notorious serial killers to the psychotic characters we find in our favorite horror movies don a mask to create a sense of anonymity, and to provoke fear by the emotionless or menacing looks etched upon them.
So let’s take a walk down memory lane, and pay tribute to the movies that have brought us some of the most horrifying characters, and the masks they used to scare the hell out of us!
This really needs no introduction. We’re all familiar with the notorious mask worn by the serial killer in the Scream movie series. The iconic mask also has a name, and is known, very fittingly, as ‘Ghostface’.
The design was based on the Edvard Munch painting of (you guessed it) Scream and the end result proved to be one of the most infamous and influential masks in the horror genre. Originally, it was developed for novelty stores during the 1991 and 1992 Halloween season by Fun World, and brought to the attention of Ghostface creator Wes Craven who obtained its rights for use in the Scream series.
Ghostface brought us all to the edge of our seats as he went on his killing spree. The mask worn by several characters with the sole intent of terrorizing its victims and scaring us all… Let’s face it, you can’t really talk about Scream without referencing the mask! Not to mention that it has since been used all across the board, from the Simpsons to the parody movie, ‘Scary Movie’.
So much so that you will find that people and criminals alike are still using the mask to strike fear into our hearts! And it works, every single time!
You know you have given birth to an iconic idea, story and image when all you need to do is mention two letters, one word, and it strikes a sense of recognition and fear immediately. Stephen King’s IT is hands-down one of the scariest clown movies out there, a classic within the horror genre.
What is most recognizable about the movie is, of course, Pennywise, and the clown mask that has struck terror in us all. Fun childhood memories of the comedic circus character? Yeah, that’s gone! IT has had such a timeless impact that the concepts of fear and clowns is something that still go hand in hand. In fact, during the months of September and October, 2016, the number of crimes in America committed by individuals wearing clown masks spiked, from the chasing of children in parks, to robberies and attempted kidnappings. On October 17th, 2016, even Target reported pulling clown masks off their shelves.
So maybe you’ll think twice the next time you think of hiring a clown for a birthday party! There’s never knowing what’s behind that mask!
Now this fellow right here is bound to give you chills. The character, Leatherface, featured in the movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was inspired by real-life killer Ed Gein.
Edward Gein, also known as The Butcher of Plainfield, was a murderer and body snatcher, who gained notoriety after authorities discovered that he had exhumed bodies from local graveyards and made trophies out of the bones and skin. The fact that he made his masks from human skin, the name of the game for our fictional Leatherface, he was also the inspiration for many other characters, including Psycho’s Norman Bates.
Let’s just say that it’s a mask that you’re bound to never forget! Nothing says spooky more than when it’s based on real life!
Since we’re celebrating Halloween, it only makes sense that we take a trip down memory lane to have a look at yet another memorable mask worn in one of Horror’s classics, John Carpenter’s Halloween. Halloween is on a pedestal of its own within the genre of horror, and the masked terror that is Michael Myers, introduced us to how effective a simple, yet menacingly memorable mask can be.
The story behind the mask is almost as simple as the mask itself. During the making of the original Halloween in 1978, the prop department was tasked with finding a mask that the killer could wear. It wasn’t an easy task, seeing as they were on budget, and couldn’t really go all out. The ‘search party’ came back with a 1975 William Shatner as Captain Kirk mask, bought for around two dollars. The eyebrows and sideburns were removed, the face painted white, and the eyes opened up and reshaped. The crew loved it, mainly because it was flat and expressionless, much like Michael’s character.
The rest, as they say, is history! This is certainly one ‘face’ that you’ll never forget.
Friday the 13th gives us a prime example of how something we overlook and perceive to be normal can be transformed into a horrific icon with just the right recipe of casting and direction.
Friday the 13th follows the fictional character, Jason Voorhees, who had drowned in a lake due to negligence in Camp Crystal Lake. Although the famous Goaltender mask only appears in the third installment of the franchise, it’s hard to imagine the horrible Jason without it. It has become one of the most lasting images of the horror genre, a recipe for nightmares.
There have been many theories behind the origins of the mask. Some say that the Jason make-up had been destroyed and they needed to shoot, and all that was lying around was a hockey mask. At A Screamfest Panel in 2007, 3D supervisor Marty Sadoff stated that they used the hockey mask as some kind of 3D make-up test. Even creator Sean Cunningham was reported saying that Steve Miner was behind the use of the iconic mask.
Whatever the real story behind the mask is, most horror fans will agree that it has definitely added the ‘fear factor’ into the franchise. And one that would be impossible to forget! Try putting on a hockey mask with three red slashes on it and see what kind of reaction it produces!
Eyes Without A Face
This is a one of a kind mask, and the same goes for the story behind it. Unlike other masked horrors that are forever engrained in our psyche, this mask holds a twisted and sad story, bordering on pure madness. The person wearing the mask here is only driven to a certain kind of madness because of her circumstances; she had been victim to an accident that caused her face to become deformed, and as a result, she resorted to wearing the death-ridden emotionless mask. But only until her father, a plastic surgeon, managed to get enough bits and pieces off of other people’s faces to put her face back together. All in a day’s work, really.
This mask is as haunting as it is because as an onlooker, you don’t know whether to be overwhelmed by absolute horror, pity, disgust – or all of them together.
We really cannot pay homage to horrifying masks without tipping our hats to the good ol’ Saw series! And what would a Saw movie be without a couple of traumatizing masks here and there, coupled with the gore and psychological trauma? Certainly not Saw at all!!
Even if you’re only remotely familiar with the Saw franchise, then you’ve definitely heard of Jigsaw, the maniac in the pig mask. It’s amazing what a character can add to a lifeless mask! The origins of this mask are explained in the series as a tribute to the ‘Year of the Pig”, which was the year Jigsaw began his work. When working on the original SAW, Writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan wanted their antagonist to have some sort of mask. After some discussion, the idea of a rotting pig’s head was chosen, a symbolic approach to the antagonist’s pessimistic view of the world and the disease rotting away at him.
We will forever live in trauma thinking of that pig mask with its luscious long hair, torturing us in our nightmares.
The Wonderful World of The Masks of Terror
One thing’s for sure – using masks to add substance to an event, or a movie’s fear factor is something that is never going to go out of style. Masks, while hiding the perpetrator’s true identity, always adds a sense of otherworldly intensity full of either an excess of, or simply too little expression. And both are bound to give those exposed to them a scare they will never forget. For there’s nothing worse than not knowing who stands in front of you, and what their intentions are.
Hollywood has definitely been able to take that fear of the unknown and really throw it in our face. Audiences have been subjected, over and over again, to a timeless fear of the ‘thing behind the mask’. It has become more than just a tool to hide a character’s true identity and give rise to a new and terrifying one.
The masks have found their way into our nightmares, and they’re definitely here to stay!