The weather is getting cooler, and we can almost smell fall in the air, which means one thing: we’re that much closer to Halloween. Kicking off the scary movie season is You’re Next, from contributing V/H/S and V/H/S/2 director Adam Wingard, written by Simon Barrett. The home invasion horror film features a gang of mysterious, masked killers who have effectively creeped us out in the promo trailers. It seemed like the perfect time to discuss some of the scariest masks in movies, so here are 20 of our favorites. What about yours?
A classic American slasher, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre features the unforgettable villain, Leatherface. The chainsaw-wielding madman, who wears a mask made from human skin (inspired by serial killer Ed Gein), has terrified audiences since 1974. Gunnar Hansen played the original cannibalistic mute, who changes gruesome masks throughout the movie — an expression of his various maniacal moods. The low-budget production forced Hansen to wear the mask around 20 hours a day, seven days a week during filming.
Universal owes its reputation as a monster movie originator to 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera and star Lon Chaney. The success of the picture spawned the studio’s horror classics and numerous sequels. Chaney devised his own gruesome makeup for the movie, which was a closely guarded secret until the premiere. It’s said that even actress Mary Philbin, who played the opera singer and object of the disfigured phantom’s affection, didn’t know what Chaney’s makeup looked like until she pulled off his creepy mask while the cameras were rolling. The most frightening part of Chaney’s uncanny mask is the anticipation it helps build leading up to the big reveal — one of horror cinema’s most iconic moments.
Georges Franju’s brilliant 1960 horror film, Eyes Without a Face, is a gorgeous, atmospheric nightmare. Christiane (Edith Scob) wears an eerie, pale mask to conceal her disfigurement. It’s featureless and not quite human, with a sorrowful expression — an understated symbol of the horror her life has become. The surreal sight of Christiane wandering the mansion that has become her prison — her doctor father trapping her there for his brutal experiments — is breathtaking
The mask of cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter emphasizes the facial feature responsible for his gruesome crimes: his mouth.
Earlier this week, Shout Factory announced the long-awaited release of the director’s cut of Nightbreed. Clive Barker directed the adaptation of his own novella, Cabal. The 1990 film centers on a secret society of misunderstood monsters and the one true monster amongst them. David Cronenberg plays the psychotic psychiatrist whose button-faced alter ego (with a zipper mouth) totally creeps us out.
The strange villagers in Wicker Man (1973) wore these rustic, ominous masks during a twisted version of a pagan ritual that Edward Woodward’s character is forced to participate in. The masks are meant to spook us, but they also symbolize the film’s subversive statement about British social, political, religious agendas, emphasizing foreignness and alienation.
Director Nicolas Winding Refn discussed the unsettling old man mask Ryan Gosling wears in Drive in a 2011 interview:
“The Driver wearing a mask was our way to show that The Driver has completed his own transformation into becoming his own superhero. The movie, if you think about it, is about a man who transforms himself into a superhero and fights the bad guys, and superheroes need their own costume. The mask is his.”
Alex (Malcolm McDowell) wears this phallic mask during one of A Clockwork Orange’s most disturbing scenes. We don’t need to witness his horrifying acts of violence and rape to feel unsettled.
John Carpenter’s screenplay for 1978’s Halloween described murderer Michael Myers in a featureless mask. The director later realized he was probably influenced by the mask in Eyes Without a Face. The Halloween prop crew was on a budget, so they altered a costume store mask of William Shatner à la Star Trek by painting it white, teasing the hair, and changing the shape of the eye holes.
Summer camp killer Jason Voorhees went from wearing a bag over his head to a hockey mask, which didn’t actually appear until the third film in the series. The now iconic prop was a happy accident, chosen at random during a lighting test. It was molded from a Detroit Red Wings goalie mask that belonged to 3D effects supervisor Martin Jay Sadoff. The mask took on different forms throughout the series and became synonymous with teenage terror in the woods.
Nothing says scary like a bunch of dead-eyed dolls — or doll masks in this case. Thanks for the nightmares, Joss Whedon. (Also see: The Strangers)
Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba is a haunting tale inspired by Japanese fables and Shindo’s own experiences with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. The director used a demonic mask, and its terrifying effects, to symbolize the tragic real-life events in his stunning, ghostly story.
You know that creepy, translucent mask that’s basically eyebrows and some makeup? Yeah, that.
That sound you hear is your ovaries screaming.
We already mentioned the creepiness of a mask with buttons for eyes (Nightbreed), but did we mention how hair-raising it is on a child with a pumpkin head?
It’s arguable that the fright factor of Darth Vader’s polished, skull-like mask has declined thanks to the Internet’s love affair with everything Star Wars, but we still think it’s worthy of chills.
This pig mask featured in the Saw series might be scarier than all the torture and mayhem in the seven movies combined.
The owls are not what they seem in Italian horror flick Stagefright. A masked killer systematically slaughters a troupe of actors locked down in a theater. The feathery mask lends a surreal, dream-like quality to the gory murder scenes.
If the world really ends in 28 days, we don’t want to face Donnie Darko’s nightmarish bunny when all apocalyptic hell breaks loose.
We know what you’re thinking: another horror film, another killer in a mask. However, Curtains is so utterly Canadian that it featured a psychopath in a hag mask on ice skates.