The history of masks dates back 9,000 years and for a variety of uses: be it ceremonial and sacred, theatrical and entertaining, or medicinal and macabre. Regardless of how one is used, it has one ultimate purpose- to hide the wearer’s own face and features from others that view them. But what does the wearer of the mask experience? Does it change the way they perceive themselves? It certainly aids actors and performers transform while they portray other men, beings, and beasts. It could be considered a psychological aid of sorts. This same concept applies to a layman- laymen that may or may not be serial killers, fictional or non. Even actual serial killers have used masks or used the flesh of their victims’ faces to craft perverted human masks. If a mask is self made, what does it say about the wearer’s idea of self? We’re drawn to objects, shapes, colors, and patterns for personal reasons- reasons that are purely physiological, subconscious. Here, some of the most iconic masks in horror cinema will be scrutinized for their symbolism, usage, representation, and overall appearance in order to tap into the twisted minds of the infamous killers who sport them.
Jason Voorhees: The Hockey Mask
Perhaps the easily most recognizable mask in cinema, the deformed killer’s now famous mask evolved from his first crudely made, burlap sack seen in Friday the 13th: Part Two. Jason could have adopted this habit of wearing masks to cover his grotesque disfigurements, in fear of ridicule from any of his potential victims. He receives the hockey mask in Part 3, a sort of trophy from the ill-fated Shelley. Whether or not he identified with the sport- or if he even knew of or understood hockey to begin with- is unknown. It is interesting that he acquires a goalie mask though, as the position is generally reserved for the brutish, bigger players on the team. Regardless, this mask was both a token and a shield he used to slaughter helpless teenagers. The markings and wear change from film to film, each one telling a different story about Jason, at least in that film alone. What makes this mask stand out is the fact that it is actually very ordinary. It’s a piece of sports equipment we’ve all seen in our lifetime, yet once it’s implemented in a foreign setting and used for a malicious purpose, the fear and notoriety of it affects our future perception of it. This is without a doubt masterful use and clever storytelling on Cunningham’s part. Other films that made the ordinary into horrifying include The Wickerman and You’re Next. Both films feature murderers donning innocent animal masks. Even though sheep can sometimes be leery.
Michael Myers: The White Mask
Most horror fans know the true face of Michael Myers’ mask (William Shatner) but it’s fascinating that Michael chose a mask resembling another human being, albeit white and emotionless. The placid face he wears over his own is certainly intimidating. (Just imagine being confronted by any looming stranger with zero expression and dead eyes.) Like Michael himself, the mask resembles a human, as it contains all the regular features of a human male, but does a poor job of representing what it means to be human. Instead, Michael and his mask demonstrate empty, sociopath qualities. Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake delved into the progressive obsession Michael had with masks. Simply crafted, paper masks were adequate for a young Myers but he needed to complete his human regression fully by transforming into the voided, cold monster he was sadly and inevitably made into. The white mask helped him achieve this change and allowed him to be seen as he truly felt inside.
Dr. Decker/ The Collector: Depthless Masks
These two masks are similar in appearance: Both are unnerving because they lack resemblance to the human visage. They both are donned by seemingly normal, everyday men. Their materials of construct are highly suspicious, and they’re both fucking creepy. David Cronenberg plays the calm, collected, and arguably suave Dr. Decker; who moonlights as the sadistic Buttonface killer. He uses his mask as a transition from doctor to vicious murderer. Once the mask is on, an internal switch is flipped and he can allow himself to lose control. The plain, brown mask is haphazardly stitched together, either from some burlap material as its often perceived, or of another- some fans speculate human flesh. It’s mouth is an ordinary zipper, loosely sewn and slack, and the buttons for eyes could be viewed as doll-like. Once Decker realizes his demise is present, he ditches his mask, disconnecting himself from his crimes and the killer he cannot help but to be in his final moments.
The Collector is an undeniably disturbing figure in the horror/thriller genre. His mask is pitch black and morphed in appearance, revealing his odd and haunting eyes through two slits. What it is made of is unusual as well. Stills from the film make it seem fibrous; the back is tight laced and is only secured by the wearer’s strength of pull. He too is uncovered as a Joe Schmoe with a nice house and who wears nice clothes when he’s not torturing innocent people. His mannerisms change while he’s wearing the mask in an almost animal fashion, hinting again at an acceptable loss of control in his mind. These two killers rely heavily on their ‘costumes’ to assuage their cravings for homicide. They have more to lose than other man slayers simply because they also maintain a life of pseudo-normalcy, something that goes against their brutal nature.
Hannibal Lecter: Retainer Mask
This minimalist, medical apparatus does wonders for the imagination; its metal bars, its few ventilation holes, the forceful nose guard. What kind of person would need to wear this human muzzle? The brilliant cannibal sent a powerful message to viewers February 13th, 1991, when he appeared on screen donning the bite guard. It still let onlookers see the man and for everything he was- a bloodthirsty and sometimes crazed murderer, who is easily mistaken as a polite, intelligent, and cultured man at first glance. The dull plastic construction screams hospital patient and in this case, it’s mental hospital patient. The Lecter mask stands out because it’s not worn by choice nor is it worn for any psychological payoff; its simply for protection and not from himself. The man-muzzle conveys the doctor’s savagery with subtlety, more delicately so than his hunger for the flesh of men and women.
Ghostface/Father Death: The Costume Mask
Probably one of the most hokey of the bunch, the cartoonish ‘Scream’ mask was a part of a prepacked costume set, entitled ‘Father Death’. It’s completely hooded, covering up any clues as to who is sporting it. The killer(s) throughout the series wear it for a very crucial reason and that is to conceal identity, the very basic purpose of a mask. However, the simple black and white, warped face became more unsettling the higher the body count got. Fear by association began to spread and the image of the Ghostface mask made every citizen in Woodsboro unhinged. The killers hid behind the image and used it to not only get away with murder but perhaps to empower and assure themselves of success. In other words, the mask is certainly the one with the power, and not the murderers who superficially wear it, unlike monstrous men Jason and Michael. Other masks that were used for solely covering up identities include the three masks from The Strangers, the fantastic, plastic garbs of The Purge, and the eerie, clownish Alice, Sweet Alice piece.
Leatherface: The Flesh Mask
A much more brutal and primal killer, Leatherface’s name is quite literal. He made a rough mask of skin from one of his victim’s faces and the rest is history. The practice could be contributed to his family’s cannibalism; he may very well feel a sense of normalcy when the dead flesh is against his own, for he has always been around morbid remains. Bubba Sawyer was known to be a simpleton, a rage filled teen who only knew the reality of his jacked upbringing. His self-esteem is non-existent and the mask may satisfy the urge to be someone else or simply scare off those who wish him harm. The flesh mask and chainsaw combination really convey the fact that he is a typical bully, for he gets off on the fear he easily induces. Similar to warriors scalping their victims and carrying them around, the mask could be a sort of intimidation tool, although his sheer size is enough for most in his way. According to Gunnar Hansen, Leatherface wore different masks to determine his personality for the moment or day. The Old Lady mask was paired with an apron, for he wanted to be domestic and helpful. The general idea for this character’s personality was that there is no personality. The masks are the only means of identity for him.
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