15 of the Greatest Masked Villains of Horror

“Horror is the removal of masks.” –Robert Bloch

Masks have the ability to evoke something primal and visceral in us, something that resonates all the way down to our reptilian brains. It’s an attraction to the iconic mixed with our natural fear and aversion to various subversions of the human face. While designed to camouflage and promote anonymity, certain masks seem to exert their own sinister influence, blurring the line between the shell and the consciousness. Andre Berthiaume wrote, “We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.” Similarly, Patrick Rothfuss noted, “We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be.”

In a genre filled with terrifying fiends and dreadful faces, certain masks are so evocative and striking they’re burned into our consciousness. The list below represents my favorites.

15 of the Greatest Masked Villains of Horror

1-michael

Michael Myers from Halloween: Take a rubber Captain Kirk mask, spray-paint it white, and you’ve just created one of the most iconic faces in horror; the pale skin and dead eyes are a perfect match for the inhumane, remorseless killer they disguise. A dark mechanic’s one-piece completes the imposing, relentless villain; driven yet controlled—nearly robotic. Beneath the mask: He was a child once, but as an adult we never see him.

jason-friday-the-13th

 

Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th: Although he didn’t don it until Part 3, we just can’t imagine Jason without it—or anyone else behind it. A fiberglass hockey mask, cracked and bloodied from battle. The eyes behind are asymmetrical, hinting at deformities; uneven tufts of hair stick out haphazardly. Cold rage and burning sorrow intertwined. Beneath the mask: Not much more than a maggoty corps at this point—in the original franchise that is. We still haven’t gotten a good look at rebooted Jason yet.

3-leatherface

Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Leatherface, along with Michal and Jason, compose the Unholy Trinity of masked horror villains. Based on the real-life grave robber and serial killer Ed Gein and his actual skin-masks, inarticulate Jed Sawyer delights behind his veil of choice. With wild human hair and a patchwork design, his mask compliments the torn soul it covers. Beneath the mask: An unkempt man-child, a malformed transvestite; once he was an old man and, rumor has it, we’ll soon see an incarnation of Leatherface as a teenager.

4-decker

Dr. Decker from Nightbreed: Pale green vinyl, emotionless button eyes, and an off-center zipper mouth hide the brilliant and manipulative psychiatrist, Dr. Decker. The GQ vibe of his suit and trench coat make for a striking juxtaposition of control and madness. Beneath the mask: A calm and logical chameleon indistinguishable from anyone else of his class and status—a dangerous monster indeed.

5-ghostface

Ghostface from Scream: Leader of the masked horror icon of the 1990, Ghostface is a hybrid of the Grim Reaper and The Scream by surrealist painter Edvard Munch. In his mass produced Halloween death-robe, he’s a teacher and a taskmaster. His main lessons: The mask hides several identities and, sometimes, there’s more than one of them. Beneath the Mask: Too numerous and spoiler-ish to list.

6-hannibal

Hannibal from The Silence of the Lambs: We’ve seen prisoners and mental patients with hoods and facemasks, but nothing quite like Hannibal’s unique contraption. You don’t have to worry about him spitting on you—just eating you. So his mouth is in jail, behind bars but still close enough to breathe the same air as his (supposed) captors. Beneath the mask: The picture of cultured elegance with a refrigerator filled with human organs. Bon appetite.

7-frank

Frank the Bunny from Donnie Darko: Now wouldn’t he be ridiculous if he wasn’t so fucking creepy? From the neck down he’s a grown-up version of Ralphy from A Christmas Story, but that mask—well that’s something utterly unnerving. Those crooked ears, the wide eyes, and teeth that bare the same permanent grin as a skull. Beneath the mask: A teenager from an alternate universal tangent with a bullet in his face.

8-babyface

Babyface from The Hills Run Red: Tragically under-known, Babyface has a look that’s horrifying, striking, and original enough to stand proud amongst the most well-known of icons. The fractured chunks of doll face add a childlike juxtaposition to the hulking, lustful fiend they adorn—a complete subversion of innocence. Beneath the mask: We don’t know for sure, but we can imagine the scars—so many scars.

9-mr jones

Mr. Jones from Mr. Jones: Mr. Jones represents a new Freshman Class of masked icons. The outsider artist and extreme recluse has himself become a work of dark art, a look that hints at supernatural powers within. The mask, and all of the sculptures in Mr. Jones (Review) were created by the mysterious Pumpkinrot, who may or may not be the real life inspiration for this tormented metaphysical surrealist.  Beneath the mask: If I knew, I’d probably be dead.

10-the stranger

Sack-face and The Dolls from The Strangers: A 3-for-1 crew of horror icons, Sack-face and The Dolls reflect a new brand of social anxieties surrounding the post-Gen-X generation: That they’re detached and desensitized, with a complete lack of empathy and a dangerous sense of entitlement. His mask harkens the classic evil scarecrow and a smiling version of the villain from The Town that Dreaded Sundown. The Dolls are a disturbing twist on old-school Halloween costumes, most chilling for the black voids behind their plastic smiles and carved-out eyes. Beneath the masks: If they ever make a sequel, perhaps we’ll finally know.

11-lv

Leslie Vernon from Behind the Mask, The Rise of Leslie Vernon: The fan & protégé comes of age behind a frowning blue visage with deep, hollow eyes; Leslie Vernon’s mask is both corps-like and alien, bizarre and very cool—iconic by careful design. Beneath the mask: An intelligent and personable aficionado of all things horror related, just like most of the writers at The Blood-Shed (draw your own conclusions).

12-my-bloody-valentine-miner

The Miner from My Bloody Valentine: Industrial, fortified, and almost militaristic, The Miner is the epitome of subterranean horror. He’s emotionless and incapable of empathy or love. With unblinking glass eyes this killer dispatches with the efficiency of an insect; his stinger: A pickaxe. Beneath the mask: Sorry, no spoilers.

13-thomas

Thomas from The Orphanage: Question: What’s scarier than a creepy kid? Answer: The ghost of a creepy kid. Question: What’s scarier than the ghost of a creepy kid? Answer: The ghost of a creepy kid wearing a creepy mask. Constructed of cloth and paint, Thomas’s mask reminds us of those vintage Halloween memes that circle the net every October. Beneath the mask: Secrets and sorrow; the tragic personification of childhood abandonment.

14-Sam_Trick_r_Treat_2

Sam from Trick ‘r Treat: While the burlap construction and button eyes of Sam’s mask are reminiscent of the classic evil scarecrow, its oversized orb paired with one-piece orange pajamas creates a deceptive aura of innocence. Mischief personified, he’s the embodiment of the Halloween Spirit with a sinister underbelly. Beneath the mask: One dangerous little devil.

15-machine

Machine from 8MM: There’s nothing gimpy about this S&M mask that looks alarmingly (and fittingly) like a medieval executioner’s hood. It’s the perfect attire for the dark master of underground snuff films, reflecting his determination to deal some fatal blows. Beneath the mask: The banality of evil, a face that vanishes into a crowd, practically invisible. For Machine, his human face is the most effective disguise.

Did I exclude your favorite masked villain? Sound off in the comments!

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2 Comments on this post.

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  • Evan Baker
    17 November 2014 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    Nice list, and I liked the evocative, almost poetic approach you took in your descriptions! A great read!

  • Josh Millican
    17 November 2014 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    Thanks Evan!

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