Now that we’re officially in the Halloween season, many movie fans will be watching some of their favorite horror films to celebrate. While there’s many subgenres to choose from, nothing says a scary movie night more than a collection of good slasher films. Not only have these films provided thrills and screams, but our fascination with these masked villains have led us to dress up as them on October 31st.
The creation of an iconic horror mask is a difficult thing to do. Simplistic in its design, more than concealing the killer’s face, the mask should personify the evil that person wants to inflict on the world. Whether you believe a mask gives them an air of invincibility or heightens their true dark persona, masks in horror movies just exude absolute terror.
A horror film is only as good as the main villain, and arguably no one does it better than the masked figure. From the more mainstream films to the lesser known ones, we guide you through a collection of masked maniacs that make up our 15 Best Horror Movie Masks of All Time.
Warning: several spoilers lie ahead.
15 CHRISTIANE (EYES WITHOUT A FACE)
Sometimes the mask doesn’t belong to the monster itself but to the source of its evil. That is the case with 1959’s Les Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face), the French horror film about a disfigured young woman forced to wear a haunting mask. The story revolves around Dr. Genessier, a plastic surgeon who is responsible for a car accident that disfigured his daughter, Christiane. Torn by guilt and driven to madness, Dr. Genessier kidnaps and murders young women in an attempt to graft their faces onto Christiane.
A prisoner in her father’s mansion while she waits for a successful operation, Christiane’s forced to wear a white, almost featureless mask, making her a sad but haunting figure. As the film’s title indicates, Christiane’s eyes are the only sense of humanity we see behind the expressionless mask.
The movie plays like an updated take on the Frankenstein story, with Dr. Genessier taking on the Victor Frankenstein role, while Christiane becomes his monstrous creation. The elegant yet eerie mask has become a symbol for the film, leaving behind an indelible mark on the horror genre. John Carpenter has cited the pale mask as an inspiration for Michael Myers’ look (more on that in a bit).
14 SAM (TRICK ‘R TREAT)
The origins of this Halloween troublemaker started in animated form with Michael Dougherty’s 1996 short film, Season’s Greetings. Wearing the orange pajamas and burlap sack for a mask, Sam’s signature look took live-action form in Dougherty’s 2007 fright flick, Trick ‘r Treat. Described as the mischievous spirit of Halloween, Sam’s mask with button eyes and a stitched-up grin is cute and creepy at the same time. What that dirty sack conceals is Sam’s true appearance -- a pumpkin-shaped head with a demonic jack-o-lantern face.
Child-like in his appearance and stature, Sam has quickly grown into a horror and Halloween favorite over the years, as Trick ‘r Treat has built a cult following on home video after it’s lackluster theatrical run. In Dougherty’s horror anthology, Sam serves as the guide between stories, making sure blood is spilled and Halloween traditions are enforced. What makes Sam’s mask terrifying isn’t necessarily its appearance, but the character’s actions behind it. Sam’s playful glee juxtaposed with the graphic violence he inflicts on those that cross him is what makes his mask disturbing. This is one trick-or-treater you’ll be sure to avoid come Halloween night.
13 MRS. TREDONI (ALICE, SWEET ALICE)
Translucent human masks are commonplace at most Halloween stores. On their own, there’s nothing particularly terrifying about them, but pair them with a yellow raincoat and suddenly they’re the stuff of nightmares.
That mask and raincoat is the costume of choice for the killer in the 1976 horror film, Alice, Sweet Alice (also known as Communion and Holy Terror). In her feature film debut, Brooke Shields plays Karen, a young girl that is murdered before her first communion. Her masked killer then proceeds to go on a rampage, claiming the lives of Karen’s family and friends. Part slasher film and part murder mystery, the masked killer ends up being Mrs. Tredoni, a troubled housekeeper who believes she’s doing God’s will.
Designed to be a fun female mask painted with a cheerful look and heavy makeup, this visage takes on an ominous look. Translucent masks like these are devoid of humanity, leaving the one who wears them with a vacant, soulless look as they peer out of the eyeholes. While the film has a small cult following, the “Alice” mask is known to larger audiences as having influenced the design of other masks such as those featured in The Purge franchise.
12 ANIMAL MASKS (YOU’RE NEXT)
The home invasion subgenre has risen to prominence over the last ten years or so. There’s no place like home until an unhinged criminal(s) breaks-in, takes everyone hostage and decides to torture the unlucky souls that decided to enjoy a nice night in. Incorporating familiar elements and tropes from the slasher film genre – such as the masked, seemingly motive-less killer – these chilling movies bring real world terror inside our most private spaces. The 2011 horror/thriller You’re Next successfully introduced audiences to a group of sadistic killers that use innocent looking animal masks to commit brutal crimes.
Many selections on this list are store bought masks that were later slightly altered for their appropriate stories. Filmmaker Adam Wingard smartly stayed on that path, using novelty plastic masks for the fox, lamb, and tiger. A quick recoating of white paint, and, just like that, these professional life-enders truly become blood-thirsty animals hunting their prey. The “animal” killers were so distinct and intimidating that they played a prominent role in the marketing for the film. The masks’ influence has even gone beyond the world of horror and into the ring of professional wrestling, with the devious Wyatt Family using modified versions for their characters.
11 JIGSAW – PIG MASK (SAW)
The figure most synonymous with the Saw franchise tends to be the little creepy puppet on the tricycle. While hideous (with the red-swirls on its white face), Billy the puppet is just that, a puppet. The real killer in this money-making horror franchise is John Kramer, aka Jigsaw (played by Tobin Bell). For those of you that haven’t seen any one of the 7 feature films (with an 8th on the way), the world of Saw revolves around Jigsaw, a man suffering from inoperable cancer that decides to place people he deems unworthy into horrific traps, testing their will to live.
Throughout the series, when Jigsaw would abduct a subject, he would do so wearing a pig mask. It was implied that the large disgusting pig mask was a “real” pig’s rotting head instead of a plastic mask. To make it more fearsome, long black hair was added to complete the look. In the series, other apprentices of Jigsaw have worn the mask, a passing of the mantle if you will. Some have also cited Jigsaw’s use of the pig mask as an homage to the one used in the 1980 horror film, Motel Hell.
10 DR. DECKER (NIGHTBREED)
When the creative forces of Clive Barker and David Cronenberg team up, it’s a safe bet that a scary mask can be conjured up between them. That’s exactly what audiences got in the 1990 film Nightbreed, written and director by Barker and starring Cronenberg as the masked killer. A visionary director in his own right, Cronenberg dabbles as an actor as well. In this movie, he plays Dr. Philip K. Decker, a psychotherapist by day and serial killer by night. There’s also the element of real monsters in the film, as a patient of Decker’s stumbles upon a tribe of monsters in an old cemetery. Obviously, it’s not your typical horror film.
In a movie that has monsters and creatures designed by Clive Barker, for a masked killer to hold his own, you better believe that the mask’s design is visually compelling. Looking like a villain in Batman's rogues gallery, Decker’s mask is totally style over function. It’s made up of some sort of sack with button eyes and a crooked zipper mouth, which makes you wonder how he can see in it. Regardless of how practical it is, the mask does what it’s intended to do: scare.
9 THE PURGERS – (THE PURGE FRANCHISE)
12 hours of legalized mayhem where anything goes, including murder, is the foundation on which The Purge franchise is based. This highly successful series, with the most recent entry being this summer’s The Purge: Election Year, has a plethora of grinning and unsettling humanoid masks.
In each of the three films, the masks are key in how the stories play out. In addition to the night of “The Purge” being a government-sanctioned event, the use of masks releases the inhibitions of these psychopaths and killers, as they roam the streets to commit their crimes. The act of covering their faces and taking on another persona allows them to do things they wouldn’t dare do outside of that 12 hour window.
Inspired by several of the other great masks on this list, the filmmakers in this series have been able to create some memorable ones of their own. Three of our personal favorites used by the Purgers: the smiling faces, the cross and the ‘kiss me’ mask. These exaggerated masks used to elicit fear have risen in popularity as Halloween costume options over the past couple of years.
8 STRANGERS (THE STRANGERS)
Fans have seen variations of the sack and baby doll masks used by the “strangers” in other horror films. What makes these masks in this film standout is that we never learn who is behind them or why they do the evil things that they do. That element of the unknown is terrifying, because these human “monsters” can be anyone.
The Strangers, a highly suspenseful 2008 film, has Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman playing a young couple that are trapped inside an isolated house as they’re tormented by three masked assailants. Filmmaker Bryan Bertino skillfully uses atmosphere and tension to elevate the presence of the evil trio. The three individuals consist of a man in a suit and tie wearing a burlap mask with cutouts for eyes, a blonde woman with a doll-face mask with the eyes blackened out, and a brunette woman with a pin-up girl porcelain-style mask, with the eyes blackened out on that one as well.
There’s some real life truth behind the film as Bertino was inspired by a childhood experience where a stranger came knocking on his door one night, asking for someone who didn’t live there, spooking the young man.
7 THE PHANTOM (THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN)
As we saw in The Strangers, killers prefer sack masks, which apparently must be on sale or sold in bulk, considering how often their used.
The reason why the full-face mask or hood is an unsettling image ties directly to our very real dark past. Dating back to the pointed hoods of the Ku Klux Klan, this type of mask has been a symbol to instill fear and intimidation into societies. Several other real-life murderers, such as The Zodiac, have used this mask of evil to commit some truly heinous acts. Naturally, the horror genre adopted the look, with the father of the “baghead” killers widely considered to be The Phantom. The horror villain of the 1976 film The Town That Dreaded Sundown is actually based on a real life murderer, The Phantom Killer, who is tied to the Texarkana Moonlight Murders of 1946.
In the film (just like the 2014 remake) the Phantom wears the sack mask with two eye holes, as based on real eyewitness accounts of the actual killer. One of the earliest slasher films, the Phantom’s look notably influenced the first incarnation of Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part II.
6 SILVER SHAMROCK MASKS (HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH)
“It’s almost time kids. The clock is ticking. Be in front of your TV sets for the horror-a-thon. And remember the big giveaway at 9. Don’t miss it. And don’t forget to wear your masks.” This was the classic commercial reminder that counted down the days till Halloween in 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch. The only entry in the Halloween franchise not to include Michael Myers is actually a highly underrated horror film. The most loved and memorable part of the film are the Silver Shamrock novelty masks, consisting of a witch, a skull and a pumpkin. The masks are the centerpiece of the story about the Silver Shamrock Novelties company (practitioners of dark magic) trying to kill children through the use of their Halloween masks on Halloween night. Microchips inside the masks unleash snakes and bugs, turning the kids heads to mush!
Most of the entries on this list started off as store bought masks that ended up in a movie. Conversely, the Silver Shamrock masks were created for the film but ended up becoming Halloween masks due to their popularity. The villains also use the masks as weapons rather than a disguise, which is unique.
5 HANNIBAL LECTER (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS)
With only a few precious minutes of actual screen-time, this mask became iconic because of the terror it tried to shield from the rest of the world.
Even though Dr. Hannibal Lecter first appeared in the 1986 film Manhunter, he didn’t explode onto the pop culture consciousness until the 1991 thriller Silence of the Lambs, where he was played by master thespian Anthony Hopkins. Created in the novels by Thomas Harris, Dr. Lecter is a genius psychiatrist that uses his superior intelligence to aid his serial killer ways -- specifically, his taste for human flesh. Hannibal the Cannibal, the most famous cannibal in cinematic history, instantly sends chills down your spine, because he truly is a monster in human form.
Just like a vicious dog needs a muzzle, Lecter needs a muzzle to prevent him from eating you. Lecter’s mask is the only one on this list that is used against the villain. In the film, he’s forced to wear it as he’s transported by authorities to a new prison. Designed by Ed Cubberly, the half-mask with metal bars over the mouth is simply designed and perfect for the character, as it conveys his ugly true nature.
4 LEATHERFACE (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE)
Wearing a mask out of human skin, comprised of other people’s faces, is simply grotesque and horrific. It’s probably one of the most shocking things you’ll ever see in a horror film, and only a sick, lost soul like Leatherface could find pleasure in collecting and wearing these skin masks. The infamous chainsaw-wielding cannibal from the seminal 1974 horror classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is the first true slasher that set the bar of what to expect from masked killers.
Tobe Hooper’s classic horror film, stripped everything down to the most basic raw elements of terror, creating a visceral viewing experience for audiences in the '70s and today. The dilapidated ranch of the thriving cannibalistic Sawyer family serves as a nightmare setting, where the giant Leatherface is the boogeyman. While the events in the film are not really based on a true story, in creating the Leatherface character, Hooper took inspiration from real-life serial killer Ed Gein, who wore masks made of human skin.
In the 7 films of the franchise, Leatherface has worn various type of skin masks, but in the original movie, the three most recognizable and iconic ones are probably the killing mask, the old lady mask and the pretty woman mask. Honestly though, they're all scary as hell.
3 GHOSTFACE (SCREAM)
After the 1980s, there was a lull in horror, specifically in the slasher sub-genre. Audiences grew tired of films starring killers like Jason and Michael, as they had gotten stale and predictable. That all changed in 1996, when Scream hit theaters and became a massive hit. The self-referencing satirical horror film revolved around a group of high school teens being hunted and killed by a trivia-loving masked killer. The mask of choice by the various killers in the franchise is the ‘Ghostface’, inspired by Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ painting.
As we’ve highlighted numerous times already, store bought masks have become invaluable when creating an iconic horror mask. The story behind the Ghostface mask is no different in that regard, as the film’s producer, Marianne Maddalena, discovered a tattered version of it while she was out scouting shooting locations. Sold at Halloween stores by the Fun World company, director Wes Craven and his team secured the rights to use it for the film, and the rest is horror history.
The design of the black and white mask is striking with the sagging eyes and elongated mouth. That popular look has led to the mask to become a staple at costume stores. It's modernized version featured in the MTV series? Not so much.
2 MICHAEL MYERS (HALLOWEEN)
What else can be said about the Haddonfield killer that hasn’t already been covered countless times before? Even though Leatherface predates him, Michael Myers is the standard-bearer by which all other masked maniacs are compared to. John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween not only introduced us to Michael but also changed the landscape of horror forever. The success of Halloween ushered in the era of slasher movies, setting the templates for story structure, sequels, and the final girl.
By now, the creation of Michael’s mask has become cinema lore. Described only as ‘the Shape’ in Carpenter’s script, the production team was tasked with bringing him to life. Buying two masks at a costume store, their choices were narrowed to a clown mask and a William Shatner Captain Kirk (Star Trek) mask. Going with the Shatner mask, they painted it white, altered the eyes, touched up the hair, and thus, Michael Myers was unleashed onto the world.
Looking at that cold, soulless face, the uncanny valley definitely holds true when it comes to Michael Myers. More than any other villain on this list, Michael Myers and his mask are one in the same.
1 JASON VOORHEES (FRIDAY THE 13th)
Prior to Jason Voorhees, a hockey goalie mask was simply a means by which those poor guys in between the pipes avoided puck shots to the face. That all changed with the 1982 film Friday the 13th Part III, when Jason would finally don his signature mask for the first time. In the original Friday the 13th, his mother took on the killing duties, while in the sequel, Jason went with the good-old “baghead” look. The moment Jason puts on the hockey mask (with the distinct three red marks) for the first time, it’s as if the character had been around for the entire series. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect pairing of mask and owner, as Jason’s giant size and brutal nature gave the sports mask new menace.
The brilliance of the look is how Jason and film series transformed a piece of sporting equipment into sheer terror. Prior to the film, the mask wasn’t sold in stores as a scary or a Halloween mask. That’s definitely not the case anymore, as you can’t walk into a costume store with seeing a hockey mask for sale in the horror section. The iconic mask has become synonymous with evil. In the Mount Rushmore of Horror, Jason’s signature mask will always have a place front and center.
What's your favorite horror movie mask of all time? Let us know in the comments.
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