The key to any successful horror movie is the fear of the unknown. Whether it's a monster, murderer, or any other threat, the mystery is what really sells the terror. The most tried and true way to make a memorable horror villain is to simply cover his or her face with a mask. From meticulous artistry to pure dumb luck, the history of horror movie masks is as fascinating as the films themselves. Here are the stories behind eight memorable horror movie masks.
1. PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)
The expressionless mask star Lon Chaney dons for the first half of the 1925 version of Phantom of the Opera is creepy in its own right, but when it's eventually removed by Mary Philbin's character, a whole new brand of terror is unleashed. The unmasking scene was so traumatizing for viewers at the time that there were reports of people actually fainting during the film's premiere.
2. EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)
In 1960's Eyes Without a Face, Edith Scob's character, Christiane, is forced into a skin-tight, expressionless mask after she is horribly disfigured in a car accident. To get the effect just right, Scob had to show up to set three hours early just to get the mask put on, then she would have to wear it until the shooting day was over. She also had to eat her meals through a straw and couldn't speak because of the stiff facade, leaving her feeling isolated from the rest of the crew. But despite the misery of the makeup chair, Scob credits the restrictive mask with actually helping her performance.
"I was completely alone," Scob recounted. "And that served me enormously well for playing the role." The makeup process Scob had to endure naturally lent itself to the character of Christiane, who is a virtual pariah due to her disfigurement. Getting the mask on might sound like torture, but Scob's performance helped Eyes Without a Face become a milestone in the horror genre.
3. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, like so many horror movies over the years, takes its inspiration from one of the country's most bizarre killers: Ed Gein. But Gein was just a small piece of the movie's foundation; Leatherface's trademark mask of human flesh came entirely from the mind of director Tobe Hooper. This latex monstrosity was modeled to look like it was crafted from his past victims, but there's more to Leatherface's persona than a literal face mask.
During the movie, he wears three separate masks—known as the "Pretty Woman," "Old Lady," and "Killer" masks. The idea is that Leatherface had no personality of his own beneath these masks; instead, the late actor behind the chainsaw, Gunnar Hansen, said, "He changes faces depending on what he’s trying to do." The heavy latex wasn't kind to Hansen, who once knocked himself out cold when he walked into a door frame on set.
4. HALLOWEEN (1978)
Creating a slasher movie icon on a shoestring budget isn't an enviable position to be in, but when director John Carpenter saw the emotionless gaze of a William Shatner mask (well, a Captain Kirk mask, technically) staring back at him, he knew he had his (unconventional) solution. It was the movie's art director who stumbled upon the mask when he went to Bert Wheeler's magic shop in Hollywood in search of something for Michael Myers to wear on the cheap—he also picked up a clown mask as the other option.
The important thing to note about Myers's appearance is that it never looks like Kirk is going around, stalking Jamie Lee Curtis. In fact, the mask kind of looks like … no one. It's just an expressionless facade that Carpenter painted white and widened the eye holes on for a more unique appearance.
5. FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
Jason Voorhees's signature hockey mask is the most recognizable horror prop of the entire Friday the 13th franchise, and one of the most enduring images of the horror genre. However, it didn't even enter the series until the third installment. There have been plenty of stories told about the origins of the hockey mask, but the most consistent one paints 3D supervisor Martin Sadoff as the impetus behind the goalie visage.
During a makeup test for the movie's 3D cameras, the crew wondered what Jason should actually look like in the new installment. Not wanting to spend hours applying makeup to actor Richard Brooker, Sadoff, a devout hockey fan, offhandedly suggested a goalie mask (either a Buffalo Sabers or Detroit Red Wings mask), which he just so happened to have on him at the time. Sometimes, crafting a legendary movie villain is just as easy as some hockey equipment in a duffel bag.
6. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
There must be something about hockey that naturally lends itself to homicidal lunatics, because the famous face muzzle from Silence of the Lambs also has its roots in the sport. When the film needed a fierce looking mask for a captive Hannibal Lecter, the production was given the name of Ed Cubberly, the man behind many of the goalie masks you see in the NHL.
When asked to come up with a piece for "a schizophrenic who goes around biting people," his solution was simple: Use the lower half of an old-time hockey goalie mask with bars inserted over the mouth hole to give Dr. Lecter that unnerving, muzzled snarl. It was even his idea to leave the fiberglass in its original brown/green color to really cement that prison feel. With simplicity comes terror, and Cubberly gifted the world one of the great images of horror with nothing but a little improvisation.
7. SCREAM (1996)
In the horror genre, it seems like luck plays as big a role in a movie's success as anything else. This is doubly true for the creation of the ghost-faced villain in Wes Craven's Scream. The script itself didn't give much in the way of details for the movie's slasher other than saying he was a "ghost mask killer." One day, while scouting an abandoned house to film in, producer Marianne Maddalena happened upon a perfectly shaped ghost mask and knew she hit on something.
Craven loved it; unfortunately, the likeness was owned by a costume company called Fun World. But when a script calls for a "ghost mask" and you find a perfect one by complete luck, you have to find a way to get it done. It took some hard bargaining by both Fun World and Dimension Films (including the creation of a rival mask by the studio), but in the end both sides came to an agreement: Craven got his ideal mask, Fun World became the manufacturer of a horror icon, and Scream went on to gross more than $170 million.
8. YOU'RE NEXT (2011)
In 2011's You're Next, a group of masked assailants terrorizes a family celebrating their reunion. It might seem like a pretty straightforward horror romp until you get a real good look at those masks, each modeled after a different animal: a fox, a lamb, and a tiger. They're terrifying in their own right, but they're also believable. This was something director Adam Wingard stressed, as he wanted to make sure the killers never look like they were "fashion majors in the daytime."
The result was a real-world, gritty group of killers, donning masks that were horrifying in their practicality. The masks also gave further insight into each killer's personality, with Wingard saying, "they do all have unique personalities and they are dressed suitably to bring that out and accentuate that."