Some might say the ‘home invasion horror movie’ is a packed genre as it stands, but director Adam Wingard’s You’re Next is seeking to bring something new. Sure, it centers on a standard happy family gathering, but by concealing the killer’s faces behind the visages of a Lamb, a Tiger, and a Fox, the movie has caught the eye of casual moviegoers (the film’s eerie viral marketing shouldn’t be overlooked, either).
It’s become one of – if not the single most evident – truths of horror movies: when you hide your killer’s face behind a mask, the fear, terror, and inhumanity skyrockets. And occasionally, the mask itself becomes legendary, and the stuff of nightmares for entire generations.
We don’t know if that same fate awaits You’re Next, but what better time than this to look back on some of our favorite horror movie masks, and the people who wore them. Spoilers lie ahead, but we all know that the best thrills come before the mask is removed.
Appeared In: Scream series (1996-2011)
The Killer: While the identity of the killer dubbed ‘Ghostface’ in the Scream series has varied – always related to Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) – the actor under the mask and robe has largely remained the same. Stuntman Dane Farwell brought life to the Woodsboro Killer in Scream, Scream 2 and Scream 4, but they’re not his biggest roles.
With over 200 credits, Farwell was last seen playing an Extremis Soldier in Iron Man 3. As for the voice; that credit goes to Roger L. Jackson.
The Mask: Originally designed for the ‘Fantastic Faces’ line by Fun World, ‘The Peanut-Eyed Ghost’ was based on Edvard Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’ and Pink Floyd’s album artwork for ‘The Wall.’ The original Scream script only called for a ‘masked killer,’ so when a producer stumbled across the mask, they acquired the rights.
Appeared In: Friday the 13th series (1980-2009)
The Killer: It wasn’t until the second film in the Friday the 13th series that Jason Voorhees, the deformed and crazed serial killer took over machete duties from his mother; but given the number of stuntmen who have worn the mask over the years, a true Jason actor is hard to agree on. English born stuntman Richard Brooker was the first to don the now-iconic mask, but Kane Hodder is the only actor who has played the killer more than once – a total of four consecutive times.
The Mask: The mask itself didn’t actually appear until Friday the 13th Part III (1982), stolen from one of Jason’s victims. The story goes that to help in a lighting test, effects supervisor Martin Jay Sadoff – a hockey fan – threw his goalie mask onto the stand-in for reference. Director Steve Miner loved the mask, and once it was enlarged, and the red triangles added, one of the most iconic symbols in modern horror was created.
Appeared In: Texas Chainsaw Massacre series (1974-2013)
The Killer: Inspired by serial killer Ed Gein, Leatherface’s story has ranged from tragic to unforgivable in the hands of each writer and director. It was Icelandic-born Gunnar Hansen who first wore the mask(s) in the original film, spending time with special needs children to give the killer a touch of realism. Hansen would soon make acting his hobby, going on to write scripts, travel novels, and even become a college instructor.
The Mask: While Leatherface’s mask is simply described as ‘skin from his victims,’ the original idea went much deeper; the killer was unable to express emotions himself, so different masks – three in all – were worn as a way to show his changing moods throughout the movie.
Modern films have cast that idea aside in favor of the most grotesque version imaginable.
Appeared In: Halloween series (1978-2009)
The Killer: Many actors have donned the mask of the disturbed Michael Myers over the years – two actors having done it more than once – but for the first film, director and co-writer John Carpenter called on his friend Nick Castle to handle slasher duties. Instead of reprising his role in the sequel, Castle would go on to co-write Escape From New York (1981) with Carpenter, and direct The Last Starfighter (1984), among others.
The Mask: Despite having the most famous story behind its creation, Myers’ original mask was only vaguely described in the script. A clown mask came first, but when production designer Tommy Lee Wallace took a William Shatner Halloween mask, widened the eye holes, and re-painted it with new hair, the just-barely-human face of Halloween‘s star was born.
Appeared In: Saw series (2004-2010)
The Killer: It may be one of the iconic symbols of the Saw franchise, but as it is worn by the antagonist’s many disciples, who lies underneath is unimportant – they are merely acting out their master’s will. It’s that fact that makes the pig mask more terrifying than that of ‘Billy the Puppet'; anyone who sees the swine is in for a horrible week.
The Mask: While more famous for its grotesque nature than its symbolism, the mask is tied to the Chinese ‘Year of the Pig’ in which Jigsaw’s son was meant to be born, and symbolizes the ‘rebirth’ the killer seeks to induce in his subjects. The mask itself was originally intended to be a real head of a rotting pig by writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan, but the finished product did the job. What kind of pig has a full head of hair?
Appeared In: Black Sunday (1960)
The Killer: Director Mario Brava’s tribute to the black and white horror films of the 1930s, ‘La Maschera del Demonio’ (The Mask of Satan in Italian) took things to a whole new level, being banned in several countries thanks to its gruesome violence. Most of it centered on the star, Princess Asa (Barbara Steele), a vampire-witch returned from the grave to seek vengeance on the descendants of those who killed her (kickstarting Steele’s career in the process).
The Mask: Bringing new meaning to the term ‘death mask,’ the metal mask was actually placed on Asa’s face while living, before being hammered on for good. This grotesque twist on a ‘masked killer’ offended many, but left its mark on even more; both directors Tim Burton and Francis for Coppola have used the film as inspiration in their own darker projects.
Appeared In: The Strangers (2008)
The Killers: As is the case with You’re Next, the villains of this film number three, each sporting an emotionless mask. But it isn’t vengeance, hatred or love that drives the three killers: in this case, the masked gang – consisting of Laura Margolis (Dirty Sexy Money), Gemma Ward (The Great Gatsby) and Kip Weeks – was simply out for a random family to torment.
The Masks: We don’t know what it is about the completely un-expressive masks worn by the killers – known as Dollface, Pin-Up Girl, and Man in the Mask – that chills audiences more than a human face, but The Strangers sold itself on its’ tormenters’ masks alone. To this day, the ambiguity of the masks and title seem to encapsulate everything terrifying about an unknown killer.
Appeared In: The Orphanage (2007)
The Masked: An unconventional ‘horror’ film compared to others on our list, the masked Tomás is looking for more than just revenge from the family that seeks to purchase and revive an abandoned orphanage. While Óscar Casas’ face is covered by a sack for most of the film, the young actor has become a successful TV star in his native Spain.
The Mask: If there’s one thing creepier than a mysterious killer out for blood, it’s a mysterious child out for blood. The diminutive stature of Tomás might make him less of a physical threat than some on our list, but his mask makes up for those shortcomings. The Orphanage proves that nearly any child’s plush doll can be turned into a nightmare by removing an eye, adding some dirt, and asking its wearer to ‘just stand there.’
Appeared In: The Purge (2013)
The Killers: The masked killers of The Purge are never named or revealed – aside from the ‘Polite Leader’ (Rhys Wakefield) – but his female companion is as seasoned as any of the film’s cast. Stuntwoman Alicia Vela-Bailey hides behind the mask of the ‘Female Freak,’ having already doubled for starlets in Transformers 3, Avatar, and Ender’s Game. After she danced as one of The Pussycat Dolls in Las Vegas, of course.
The Mask: There’s no need to explain why these masks worked to attract horror fans from their first appearance; the exaggerated smiles and hollow eyes look more at home on a ventriloquist dummy than a human being. But the true terror of these masks was that they aren’t necessary (the leader of the group first politely introduces himself without one). The killers have no need to conceal their identity or motives while murder is legal, which means… they just want to wear the masks. *shudder*
That concludes our list of the horror movie masks we’d love to forget (but still make our hearts skip a beat at Halloween parties). You’re Next is tripling their odds of joining that company by cramming three masks into one film, but if the early critical response is any indication, it may owe its success to more than a few pieces of plastic.
There are plenty more in the history of horror, so we invite you to add your own most memorable, most terrifying, or most laughable in the comments below.
You’re Next is in theaters now. Be sure to read our review.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.