Ever since Michael Myers went on a killing spree in his Halloween costume, masks have been a staple of slasher movies.
Sometimes they serve to hide the killer’s identity while other times they conceal a disfigured face, and other times, well, probably the production team just thought it’d look cool. Usually the idea is that it’s what lurks underneath the mask that’s scary, but a good horror movie mask is frightening in its own right.
Here then are 20 of the scariest masks ever to turn up in horror movies:
21. Peachfuzz Mask
As worn by: Josef in Creep
The cutesy name for the weird friendly/scary wolf mask, worn by a grown man with serious boundary issues makes his look extremely off putting. The fact that Josef (Mark Duplass) puts it on at random to freak out the videographer (Patrick Brice) he’s hired to (apparently) make a film for his unborn child only makes it more unsettling in this very odd, excellent ‘mumble-gore’ horror two-hander.
20. Pig Mask
As worn by: Jigsaw’s various acolytes in the Saw franchise
There’s so much going on in the Saw movies that this mask is far from the most iconic thing in the movies, but since Billy is a puppet and not a mask, he couldn’t be included on this list. With its straggly black hair and gloopy eyes, the pig mask is pretty terrifying in its own right – especially for swinophobes like, um, me.
19. Wind-Up Frog Mask
As worn by: The unfortunate Dr. Hargreaves in The Abominable Dr. Phibes
This decorative frog mask isn’t particularly scary to look at. What makes it scary is what it does. Rather than being used as a disguise by the killer, this mask is designed for his victim: Once switched on, a built-in mechanism causes the mask to tighten until it crushes the skull of the unfortunate wearer. Ouch.
18. Lamb, Tiger, and Fox Masks
As worn by: Assorted killers in You’re Next
Out of context, these masks are kind of adorable – they’re just animals, after all. But in context, the cutesy masks are pretty frightening. They’re worn by black-clad killers who loom out of the darkness, lurking under beds or unexpectedly smashing through windows, and all that violence makes the pleasant, blank expressions on the masks seem distinctly horrible.
17. Night Owl
As worn by: The killer (and one of the victims) in Stage Fright
Yeah, yeah, owls are wise and quirky and meme-worth and all that, but they’re also birds of prey, and there’s something unsettling about their huge, dark eyes. Michel Soavi’s Stage Fright might have been a fairly unremarkable slasher, but the killer’s owl mask is beautiful and horrifying all at once.
As worn by: Various members of Anonymous in Smiley
You’d think a mask based on an emoticon would be kind of cute, particularly a smiling one, but the execution of this one makes it grotesque instead. The smooth skin hiding the killer’s facial features is mildly unsettling to begin with – it makes it seem like their eyes and nose are missing – but it’s the jaggedly stitched up gashes that form the ‘smiley’ that makes it really repulsive.
As worn by: ‘JM’ in Valentine
I think this one might be supposed to be cute. It’s meant to be Cupid, the winged baby that goes around shooting people with arrows, but there’s something about it that’s sinister. Maybe it’s the combination of a baby face on a grown man’s body, or maybe it’s just not a very nice looking baby face. Either way, the Cupid mask brings a weirdly baroque creepiness to this early 2000s slasher.
14. Unnamed Serial Killer Mask
As worn by: Leslie Vernon in Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Leslie Vernon knows better than most how important a good serial killer mask is; he’s studied the classics and is working on building his own serial killer mythos. Although this is a strikingly weird-looking mask, he kind of missed a trick by not giving it an equally creepy name.
13. Hag Mask
As worn by: The ice-skating killer in Curtains
It’s the uncanny valley effect that makes this mask scary, really. It doesn’t have any particularly terrifying features; it’s just kind of blank, and a bit shapeless. But the way it looks like a human face gone ever so slightly wrong makes it pretty horrible to look at.
As worn by: The unidentified killer in Satan’s Little Helper
It looks like a cheap Halloween mask. It’s meant to be a cheap Halloween mask. But as “Satan” starts killing people for real, aided by a nine-year-old computer game addict, the horrible face of the mask starts to look super creepy.
11. Demon Mask
As worn by: No-one, really, but it’s from Demons
Another one that’s scary for what it does rather than who it’s worn by, this shiny demonic mask has sharp edges and will turn anyone daft enough to cut themselves on it into a ravening demonic… thingamajig. Which is scary. Other than that, it actually looks pretty cool.
10. The Phantom’s Mask
As worn by: Winslow Leach in Phantom of the Paradise
The Phantom of the Opera might be the original masked killer, but while the Phantom’s traditional half-mask is pretty cool, it’s got nothing on the weird metal bird mask donned by the Phantom of the Paradise. It’s vaguely robotic, looks decidedly uncomfortable, and is deeply creepy.
As worn by: Preacherman in Slashers
Preacherman might not have been the scariest killer in the ‘slashers’ arena, but he probably had the most frightening mask. It’s another one of those faces-going-wrong deals. He sort of looks like a plasticky decayed guy, and that, combined with the ridiculous preacher outfit, makes for a pretty nasty combination.
8. These Horrifying Grinning Faces
As worn by: The Polite Leader and co in The Purge
What kind of mask should you wear to murder your neighbours? Maybe something with exaggerated features and massive insincere toothy grins? The gang in The Purge definitely had good taste in horrible masks. (And in an amazing bit of casting work, the Polite Leader had almost exactly the same face underneath his mask, which made it extra terrifying.)
7. Dead William Shatner Mask
As worn by: Michael Myers in the Halloween franchise
This is yet another one of those uncanny valley things. Michael’s mask is based on a human face, but it’s blank, baggy, wrong. And somehow, knowing it was based on a death mask made from William Shatner’s face for an episode of Star Trek makes everything much, much worse.
As worn by: ChromeSkull in the Laid to Rest franchise
Laid to Rest is a terrible film. Its sequel is vaguely better, but not by much. But the mask is so incredibly cool-looking that it’s hard not to wish that wasn’t true. Look at it! It’s almost anatomically correct, but sort of distorted, and incredibly shiny. It’s definitely a mask to strike terror into your enemies with.
5. The Mask of Satan
As worn by: Asa and Javuto in Black Sunday
Black Sunday is an incredibly stylish horror movie, and that style extends all the way to this amazing mask. It’s another one that you really wouldn’t want to try on, though; it’s got spikes on the inside, and is used to torture and kill accused witches. If you see someone wandering around wearing it, they’re already dead. Yikes.
4. Rabbit Mask
As worn by: Frank in Donnie Darko
You’ve never seen a rabbit that looks like that, and you’d never want to. Frank’s rabbit mask is eerie, distorted, grotesque, and utterly unforgettable. Imagine seeing that looking back at you from the mirror. You’d never sleep again.
3. Machete Mask
As worn by: Jason Voorhees in Jason X
Jason first donned a hockey mask in Friday The 13th Part III, but that was basically just a piece of sporting equipment. Accessorizing it with a massive knife upped the fear factor, but the mask itself just wasn’t that scary. Until Jason X, when a spaceship’s medical computer accidentally rebuilds the serial killer using his machete as a template. A mask made out of a massive knife? Yeah, that’s scary.
As worn by: Various killers in the Scream franchise
It’s simple, striking, and kind of brilliant. Based loosely on Munch’s The Scream, and originally created by Fun World as a Halloween costume before Wes Craven nabbed it for Scream, it’s deceptively simple. It might only have black blobs for features, but it’s surprisingly expressive. (And it’s usually expressing “I’m going to kill you now.”)
As worn by: Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
There are so many things an aspiring murderer could choose to make their mask out of – plastic, wood, metal, or cloth, for instance. Even an off-the-peg number can be terrifying in the right circumstances. But the scariest material for mask-making has got to be human skin. It’s gross, it’s threatening, and yeah, there’s not much scarier than that. Bleurghhh.
Other scary masks that didn’t quite make the cut: The masks in Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, the dolls from The Cabin in the Woods, the burlap sack from The Orphanage, the white mask from Eyes Without A Face, Hannibal Lecter’s muzzle from The Silence of the Lambs.