Masks are probably the most obvious and common way of disgusing oneself. In horror movies, there's something about a mask that makes a knife-weilding serial killer even more menacing. Sometimes, even the most innocent-looking mask can end up being fuel for many future nightmares. In no particular order, here are 12 movie masks that definitely make me want to say, "uh...no thank you."
1. The Strangers (2008) Rated R
Director: Bryan Bertino | Writer: Bryan Bertino | Stars: Scott Speedman, Liv Tyler
These home invasion-themed horror movies are definitely not for everyone. Even within The Bloodlust quintet, there is at least one who doesn’t find the idea of someone randomly choosing to break into your house to torture and kill you to be a frightening one. I am most certainly of the ilk that finds the notion of “home invasion” to be a terrifying one. The Strangers not only managed to create a palpably tense atmosphere, but it introduced three very unsettling masks. Personally, I find the two uncanny valley-esque face masks to be the worst.
2. You're Next (2011) Rated R
Director: Adam Wingard | Writer: Simon Barrett | Stars: Sharni Vinson, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Barbara Crampton
I have seen You’re Next multiple times and have enjoyed every viewing. I love it for many reasons: the bad-ass, survivalist chick, an unexpected scene involving piano wire, a weird family weirding their way through some horribly awkward family gathering, and last but not least, murderous intruders donning plastic animal masks. Between the unchanging, plastic smiles and the fact that they look like an impulse purchase from the local dollar store, it’s surprising how successful these animal masks were at adding to the overall tension of the movie.
3. Hush (2016) Rated R
Director: Mike Flanagan | Writers: Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel | Stars: John Gallagher Jr., Kate Siegel, Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan
This recent home invasion thriller premiered at SXSW and was immediately picked up by Netflix. Minimal cast, minimal dialogue, and surprisingly wonderful sound design (especially for a movie about a deaf woman) come together to create a tense and brutally gory horror film. I’d be ok if the future of horror meant more of these “straight-to-netflix” releases, as opposed to the 5th and 6th installments of some dumb theatrical release. That all being said, the mask worn by the killer in Hush, despite not being worn for very long, is not something a woman who lives alone wants to see out her window at night.
4. Creep (2014) Rated R
Director: Patrick Brice | Writers: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass | Stars: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Mark Duplass. Somehow, this goofy-looking comedy director/producer managed to team up with another horror noob to create one of the most uncomfortable movies I have watched in a long time. There was a particular scene about “tummy time” in the bathtub that, ironically, made me feel the need to shower. But it was the wolf mask, affectionately named “Peach Fuzz”, that really got under my skin. Already seriously uncomfortable by the time “Peach Fuzz” makes his debut, I found this rather brief appearance of a wolf mask to be more than enough to creep me out.
5. Donnie Darko (2001) Rated R
Director: Richard Kelly | Writer: Richard Kelly | Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, James Duval
A controversial entry, I know. “Donnie Darko?! That’s not horror!” I know it’s not technically horror, but I find it to be plenty scary and this movie messed with my head for days. Time travel movies are a personal favorite of mine and this movie had that plus an amazing soundtrack, morose teenagers, and the visual terror of Frank the bunny.
6. Nightbreed (1990) Rated R
Director: Clive Barker | Writer: Clive Barker (novel “Cabal” & screenplay) | Stars: Craig Sheffer, David Cronenberg, Anne Bobby
Somehow, despite looking a little derpy at times, there were enough moments where this mask looked like something out of a nightmare. Tiny little button eyes?! I hate them. Let it be known. This terrifying mask isn’t even the craziest thing about this movie. It’s based on the book, Cabal, by Clive Barker, which I have never read, but can only imagine is more nightmare fuel. A fun and creepy, 90’s-heavy horror flick, if you haven’t seen Nightbreed - you should remedy that.
7. Wicker Man (1973) Rated R
Director: Robin Hardy | Writers: Anthony Shaffer (screenplay), David Pinner (novel “Ritual”) | Stars: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland
The mask is, in no way, the creepiest thing in this 70’s horror classic. The people living on the remote Scottish island are into some weird shit, including burning people alive and singing creepy songs. These animal masks seem much more sinister than the plastic ones in You’re Next. Maybe because they’re being worn by little children with human sacrifice on the brain.
8. Alice Sweet Alice (1976) Rated R
Director: Alfred Sole | Writers: Rosemary Ritvo, Alfred Sole | Stars: Linda Miller, Mildred Clinton, Paula E. Sheppard
Poor little Alice. It’s not easy being a 12 year old girl. No one understands you, parents are the worst, and you may or may not be guilty of offing your little sister. Alice Sweet Alice is just as creepy now as it was in 1976. Some masked madman is killing people all around town, and it’s not just any mask that they're wearing. It’s a terrifying, light skin-toned plastic mask with colorful makeup painted on. It doesn’t sound like much, but it manages to be sorta funny and quite creepy at the same time. Maybe the "funny" part was just my nervous laughter.
9. Curtains (1983) Rated R
Director: Richard Ciupka | Writer: Robert Guza Jr. | Stars: John Vernon, Samantha Eggar, Linda Thorson
A group of dancers are being knocked off one by one, and no one knows the identity of the killer in the horrifying old hag mask. The lack of real expression is really what gets me. Or that it has dark, gaping holes for eyes and a sad, unfortunate mouth. This is a fun movie packed full of 80’s slasher-movie charm. If slashers are your thing, you’re missing out if you haven’t seen this gem yet.
10. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) Rated R
Director: Scott Glosserman | Writers: Scott Glosserman, David J. Stieve | Stars: Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Zelda Rubinstein, Robert Englund
Similar to the idea of Scream, this horror-comedy satire focuses on the many cliches and tropes found in almost all of our favorite slasher flicks. Shot in a faux documentary style, Behind the Mask follows the story of Leslie Vernon, who is a big shot in the world of horror movie killers. Oh yeah, I should mention that horror movie killers are real in this particular universe, and documentary crews want to shoot movies about them. Crazy concept but it makes for a fun faux doc-style film. But the titular Leslie Vernon just so happens to wear a very creepy mask. It looks like it’s carved out of stone or something and it has this creepy, non-smile look to it. No thanks.
11. Eyes Without A Face (1960) Unrated
Director: Georges Franju | Writers: Jean Redon (novel), Boileau-Narcejac (adaptation), Claude Sautet (adaptation), Pierre Gascar (dialogue)
We covered this movie in episode 20 of the podcast and, even though I don’t always enjoy the older movies, this movie was visually quite unsettling. A creepy and depressing story about a surgeon who caused an auto accident, which left his daughter horribly disfigured. Pressured by guilt (and probably just wanting to see his daughter’s face again), the doc goes to very extreme measures to get his daughter a new face. The mask is devoid of much detail and emotion and it gives the impression of a fragile, porcelain doll. Tres terrifiant!
12. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Rated R
Director: Tobe Hooper | Writer: Tobe Hooper, Kim Henkle | Stars: Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Allen Danzinger
This movie is one of horror’s classics and has made the chainsaw a “must” for haunted house workers everywhere! I mean...the killer’s name is “Leatherface.” With a nickname like that, you basically have to have the scariest mask in the business. What are the scariest masks made of? Human faces. Lovely. Bonus photo: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, with J Biel, also had a pretty epic human face mask.
Obviously there are a crap-ton of other terrifying movie masks and I couldn't include all of them on my list. So, if I missed any that absolutely must be included, leave a comment below!