Friday, September 9, 2011

Top 5 Masks in Horror

Masks have always been good for horror movies. They conceal the identity of the killer providing the twist reveal for the end of a movie. They give the killer the faceless, emotionless expression that sends shivers down our spines, and they can just plain look cool.

I believe these to be the five most iconic horror mask of all time. Not just ones that horror fans will recognize, but people outside of the genre will recognize.

5. Silence of the Lambs (Hannibal Lecter)

I’m sure many may not consider Silence of the Lambs as a “horror” movie, but just because there isn’t a supernatural element to the story, doesn’t make it any less horrific and perfectly apt for the genre. Hannibal Lecter does more horrific things staring into your soul than any villain could do slicing you up.

Played by Anthony Hopkins, Hannibal Lecter is just as iconic of a villain as Freddy or Jason, even if his screen time in the movie is just a little more than 16 minutes, but what a glorious 16 minutes it is.

Unlike other villains however, he isn’t a powerhouse of brute force nor can he absorb bullets. Rather he uses his brilliant mind for his evil manipulation of the human spirit, and has a taste for human flesh.

Lecter is the type of character who thinks discourtesy is “unspeakably ugly”, and forces a character to swallow his own tongue just by talking to him (after said character throws semen at Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster). Though swallowing your own tongue to death, may be impossible, it is still certainly a cool way to kill someone.

Though swallowing a tongue piercing, is totally possible.

In the movie, Lecter isn’t happy with his current warden and in order to help Starling solve the case of Buffalo Bill, a wannabe transexual who is killing women, skinning them and making dresses out of their skin, Lecter asks to be transported to a more comfortable cell in exchange for his help. During this transportation, and due to his extreme deadliness, we are gifted with this iconic mask.

I've never had fava beans or Chianti, now that I think about it.

The mask is only shown for this one scene and last just a few minutes, but the impact it makes in the movie and has made in pop culture is earth shattering. Because he’s a cannibal, you see that Lecter is so dangerous that even though he is completely restrained, even his mouth had to be guarded to keep from fiercely biting people.

In 1989, costume designer Coleen Atwood called up creator Ed Cubberly to create the mask.

Ed Cubberly wearing the Lecter mask.

Cubberly, known for making custom goalie mask for hockey players, had no idea what the movie was about or who Anthony Hopkins was, and needed to be told about the scene. Atwood replied, "Well, he's a psychizophrenic who goes around biting people". Cubberly replied "So, you want me to make you a muzzle? "

Atwood asked him to go back to the drawing board and come up with something else. With years of experience making hockey masks that fit exactly to the face, he decided on taking the lower half of an old school hockey mask and cut a hole for the mouth so Hopkins could be heard when he talked and added bars over it to “make it look mean”. Cubberly suggested that the props department keep the mask made of fiberglass in its original color so that it looked jail-made and rugged.

I think that mask, though simple, is brilliantly designed. It works so well and is so amazingly scary because it does two things: first, Cubberly was right—the bars do add that extra meanness to the look and second, the mask accentuates Hopkins eyes more, which is very important in the film because Hopkins gives Lecter’s character the inability to blink the whole movie.

He makes the character always stare intently, never blinking, as if he's stealing your soul just looking at you.


After the movie won five academy awards, that year the scene with that mask was so iconic that Billy Crystal did a little special intro for the Oscars he was hosting that year coming out as Lecter. Crystal walked up to Hopkins, who was sitting in the crowd, and told him he was having the academy over for dinner and if Hopkins would join him.

In the sequels (Hannibal) and prequels (Red Dragon and the other awful early Lecter movie, Hannibal Rising) , the film makers brought back the mask, but Lecter was a free man, and it never really made sense why he would re-wear the mask other than wanting to capitalize on it's popularity. The audience is just supposed to get excited about the mask at mere sight. Hannibal and the other movies, still sucked regardless. Mainly because it served no purpose for him to wear the mask again (he wasn't trying to hide his identity or keep himself from eating people), and you know, the other movies weren't as good.

You know the producers were like, "Yeah, it's okay, but it needs more mask..."

It was hokey and forced and never had the same impact as the original scene, which to this day is still one of the most memorable and iconic of a horror villain that was barely present on the screen.

4. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Leatherface)

I live in Texas, and it never fails that I have a few friends or acquaintances that tell me, “I know where the house is that the massacre happened.”

Usually after a deep and saddening sigh, I go into a long spiel about how it’s really based off of the real serial killer, Ed Gein, and the creators just combined all the stuff he did into an original tale.

Without fail, however, they tend to disagree and really believe that the killings in the movie happened in real life. Genius marketing is responsible for that, as it was marketed to be real, but it is no more real than The Blair Witch Project, another movie with brilliant advertising.

The movie came out in 1974, and almost 40 years later, people still think it happened. Perhaps that is the ultimate power of the movie, though; that it's so gruesome and insane, it might be real.

The farmhouse near Round Rock, Texas where it was filmed. Scary, huh?

Texas Chainsaw Massacre is considered one of the most influential horror films of all time. That may sound hyperbolic, but it is credited with originating several common elements in the slasher genre such as using power tools as murder weapons, the fear of hitchhikers, and the most important feature, the characterization of a large, faceless killer. Thus, Leatherface was created.

Why we fear hitchhikers.

Leatherface was so popular that he led the film, which was created for $300,00 and used unknown actors from central Texas, to make $30 million and spawn several sequels, remakes, comic books and video games.

Too bad the game was absolute shit.

The “dead skin mask” that Leatherface wears is perhaps one of the most terrifying masks in horror. This is mainly because the mask is made out of the skin of his victims.

Slayer knows of this evil. They know of all evil.

Director Tobe Hooper has said that Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a director slight towards politics at the time. The quote at the beginning of the movie and the marketing behind “the film you are about to see is true” is a response towards the US government lying. Such fallacies included Watergate, the 1973 oil crisis and the horrors of the Vietnam War.

While watching the local news, Hooper saw a cast that showed “brains spilled all over the road.” It was this, along with his thoughts on a lying US government, which led him to believe that “man was the real monster here, just wearing a different face.”

Leather face wore three different masks: the “killing mask,” the “grandmother mask” and the “pretty woman mask.” According to Gunnar Hansen (the actor who played the original Leatherface), the reason Leatherface wore different masks was to determine his personality.

The three original masks.

In the scene where the cook comes home with Sally, for instance, Leatherface is wearing “grandmother mask,” and he’s wearing an apron and carrying a wooden spoon, wanting to be helpful in the kitchen. During dinner, he switches to the “pretty woman mask” and has a female wig and black suit on, symbolizing “dressing up” for dinner. And his “killing mask...” well, that’s for killing.

Even though he was an emotionless and faceless killer, the masks were to invoke personality into a horrible and frightening figure that underneath the masks had none.

I feel the remake is complete garbage, and a disgrace to the brilliance of the original. Though Leatherface is more hulking and arguably scarier due to higher production values and more visceral gore, the psychology of the character is gone. Yes, though he is brainless, the masks subtly represent the chaos going on within the character in the original movie.

The remake mask also looks like he is wearing lipstick.

By boosting up the gore, the remake loses the psychosis of the original. With the original Leatherface, we get a terrifying mute killer whose influence carried over into other classics like Jason Voorhees, Mike Myers and several other horror classics.

The original killer badass.

3. Scream (Ghostface)

The Scream mask is truly ubiquitous. You can’t walk into a Walmart, CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Target, K-Mart or any Halloween store without seeing the iconic ghost-like mask during the fall season. Since the appearance of the mask in Scream, the costume has become the most worn and sold costume for Halloween in the United States. Seriously.

Normally colored white, with black frowned eyes and a mouth that's wide open, the mask in Scream is truly one of horror's most iconic masks and has resonated through all four of the Scream movies.

It has become so popular that several different renditions have been made:

The one that fills with blood.

The demon mask.

The toker mask has several faces.

Scarecrow mask.

Zombie mask.

There is also a green face, an orange one, color changing, metallic, and several other versions.

Revitalizing the horror genre in the 1990’s from being mostly a direct-to-video garbage dump, Scream was a return to form harkening back to the golden era of slasher films in the 80’s. It’s one of Wes Craven’s most critically praised movies and, at the time of its release in 1996, was the highest grossing slasher film ever made in the US (it’s since been surpassed by The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity.)

Most importantly, however, it brought back the notion of an icon—like Freddy, Jason, or Mike Myers. In this case, it was the ghostface killer, aptly named “Ghostface.”

Whoops, wrong guy.

The mask is based on "The Scream" painting by Edvard Munch.

It was created and designed by Fun World employee Brigitte Sleiertin in 1991 as a series of Halloween costumes known as “Fantastic Faces,” and they referred to it as “The Peanut-Eyed Ghost”. That’s a pretty terrible and non-scary name for mask that would soon become amazingly popular.

Craven and producer Marianne Maddalena found the mask while scouting housing locations to shoot the film. Craven believed the mask had a unique look and was adamant about it being in the movie.

However, Craven wanted an original version of the mask. He didn’t ask permission to use the mask, so an original mold was made based off the design to avoid copyright issues.

More ugly than scary.

He was displeased with the way all the molds came out. Eventually, he went to Fun World and asked for the rights of the mask to be used in the movie unchanged from what could be bought by anyone in stores.

This served as an ingenious tool within the story of Scream as well. Firstly, it hides the identity of the killer. Secondly, Craven wanted a product that could be easily bought in stores—so the killer’s identity could not be traced.

The reason the mask works comes precisely from its design. The mask looks like it is both screaming and crying at the same time, and it was thought to be a great point of irony that the killer seemed to be mocking victims (i.e., their screaming) with the mask.

I personally think the mask works because you never knew who was behind it, and yet it’s a very simple costume—looking like the grim reaper/a ghost that’s almost childish—and then the killer brutally disembowels victims.

Though the killer was never supernatural, I think that made it scarier because you knew that it was a real person with this faceless expression killing you.

This is by far one of the best kills in the first Scream movie, which also shows good nips from Rose McGowen.

There are better ways to escape, just saying…

2. Halloween (Michael Myers)

According to this article, a study was conducted by California State University's Media Psychology Lab, on the psychological appeal of movie monsters. This included Vampires, Michael Myers, Predator, Freddy Krueger, Ghostface, Frankenstein, Jason Voorhees, Godzilla, Chucky, Hannibal Lecter, King Kong, The Alien, shark from Jaws and so on.

The survey had 1,166 participants nationwide in the U.S., ages 16-91, choose their favorite movie monster and reasons why a monster was chosen as their favorite. The article was published in the Journal of Media Psychology. Dracula was considered "the king of monsters." Women found vampires (thanks Trueblood and Twilight) along with the Ghostface Scream killers to be sexier villains.

Younger surveyors preferred more recent, violent and murderous slasher monsters, and liked them for their killing prowess. Older surveyors were more prone to choosing non-slashers villains and attached to a monster's torment, sensitivity, and alienation from normal society. All agreed they liked a villain that showed the darker side of humanity.

This is what I consider the darker side of humanity.

However, all surveyors agreed Michael was ranked highest as the character who shows audiences the "dark side of human nature", highest as the "embodiment of pure evil", highest rated with psychological problems, highest "monster is an outcast", and rated second highest as the "monster who most enjoys killing." People think he's a sick dude.

"I'm actually quite lovable once you get to know me." - Mike Myers

John Carpenter's inspiration for the "evil" that Michael would embody came when he was in college. While on a class trip at a mental institution in Kentucky, Carpenter visited "the most serious, mentally ill patients". There he saw among those patients was a young boy around twelve to thirteen years-old. According to Carpenter, the boy gave a "schizophrenic stare", "a real evil stare", which Carpenter found "unsettling", "creepy", and "completely insane".

Or Carpenter wasn't paying attention to what the kid was staring at.

This experience would inspire the characterization Dr. Loomis would give of Michael to Sheriff Brackett in the original film. The scene where Michael kills the Wallace's German Shepherd was done to illustrate how truly evil he is, in that he just kills any living thing completely unprovoked.

Michael Myers mask however, is perhaps one of the most iconic mask of all time, and I'm not just talking in horror. That face is synonymous with evil, stabbing and the Halloween theme. The blank expression on it, with the dark receding eyes hiding the hatred within the character is brilliantly portrayed through a mask, to which we never see Michael's true face.

That face is actually a mask of modeled after William Shatner's face. Yes, that William Shatner.

The face of evil.

The film was shot on a shoe-string budget. Yet, they wanted Michael to be a humorless, faceless evil or, "sort of pale visage that could resemble a human or not." They first came up with clown mask, which the makers thought was scary and evil. Tommy Lee Wallace said, "A clown mask really shakes you up a bit, so we knew we were on solid footing."

They are unsettling.

Then came the Kirk mask. Wallace visited Burt Wheeler's Magic Shop on Hollywood Boulevard. He bought a Captain Kirk mask for $1.98. He then widened the eye holes and spray-painted the flesh a bluish white. According to Carpenter's script, it said Michael Myers' mask had "the pale features of a human face" and Wallace thought he had achieved a spooky look while still remaining human-looking.

"It didn't look anything like William Shatner after Tommy (Wallace) got through with it," Carpenter said.

Can you see the resemblance?

Needless to say, I think it worked. The mask truly captures the emotionless evil monster that Michael Myers is. Just forget the horrible Rob Zombie remakes.

1. Friday the 13th Series (Jason Voorhees)

What is it about hockey masks that's so unsettling? As we've seen above with Lecter's mask, it is constantly used and none more popularized than by Jason Voorhees's mask. You can't wear the damn thing, even if you're playing hockey, and not think of Friday the 13th.

There is something unsettling about hockey masks for sure. The sport in and of itself is perhaps one of the most violent. It encourages fights, slamming opponents against glass, and you can't avoid getting hit in the face with a speeding puck as players with missing teeth equates a badge of honor. The need for a goalie to wear something over their face became one of necessity, but I think as hockey masks evolved that the need for visual intimidation came as well.

Goaliesinspiration for murderers.

Interestingly and often forgotten by the masses though, Jason Voorhees was never intended to carry the series as the main antagonist, and his iconic hockey mask doesn't even make an appearance until the third movie and originally only intended to be a four-part movie series.

The character of Jason has gone through many physical appearance changes, with various special makeup effects artists making their mark on the character's design, including makeup artist Stan Winston. Tom Savini's design however, has been the basis for many of Jason's later incarnations.

Tom Savini in all his glory

Unlike Michael Myers, Jason's mask isn't one to show he is emotionless, rather it's one that hides his horrible disfigurement. Whereas Michael kills because he is evil incarnate, Jason's motivation for killing has been cited as being driven by the immoral actions of his victims and his own rage and personal dilemmas.

However, the original film Jason was only a kid, and one who drowned at that. His mother, Mrs. Voorhees was the killer. It wasn't until the second movie that filmmakers decided to make Jason go from a deceased kid into a adult killing machine. In the second movie, Jason's mask was a burlap sack.

Equally as creepy.

Friday the 13th: Part III is where the script called for Jason to wear a mask, but the design for his mask had not been decided yet. The movie was released theatrically in 3-D, and is notable as the first Paramount Pictures film produced in 3-D since 1954. During production, Steve Miner (the director) called for a lighting check. None of the effects crew wanted to apply any make-up for the light check, so they decided to just throw a mask on the actor playing Jason.

3D sucked then as it does now, and the movie poster quality represented this.

The film's 3D effects supervisor, Martin Jay Sadoff, was a hockey fan, and had a bag of hockey gear with him on the set. He pulled out a Detroit Red Wings goaltender mask for the test. Miner loved the mask, but it was too small.

Using a substance called VacuForm (a process where a hot piece of plastic that is stretched across a single surface mold and held by a vacuum until the plastic cools), staff enlarged the mask and created a new mold to work with. After the molds were finished, red triangles were placed on the mask to give it a unique appearance. Holes were punched into the mask and the markings were altered, making it different from Sadoff's original goalie mask.

Since that movie, the mask remained a staple of Jason's look. For over 20 years and from Part III all the way to Freddy vs. Jason and even the horrible cyber Jason in Jason X, the mask stayed.

The worst incarnation by far...

Regardless of quality of movie, Jason's hockey mask is by far the most recognizable in pop culture. Despite age, everyone knows it and the terror that follows. Perhaps nothing is as pop culture smashing or ubiquotous though, as Jason's appearance on the Arsenio Hall show.

He may not have killed him, but Arsenio's career was all
but dead shortly after this.

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