We’re afraid of things that go bump in the night because we’re afraid of what we can’t see. Perhaps that’s why masked killers so common in horror movies, because we can’t really see the face of the knife-wielding maniac underneath, just their emotionless false face.
In an article for LiveScience, Benjamin Radford wrote that we find masks so menacing is because “our brains are specialized for recognizing faces. A person’s face provides a wealth of information” and once that veil of information is removed, the thought of being killed by an unidentifiable stranger gets instantly more terrifying.
While masks in horror are mostly associated with the slasher subgenre, they’d been used for decades before the disfigured face of William Shatner found its way into Michael Myers’ hands. Theatre actors have been using masks for centuries (think of the comedy and tragedy mask motif). In films, masks have long been used to hide the identity of the villain.
With the new Halloween making a splash at the box office this past weekend, it’s time to take a look at the best masked killers in horror movies.
Christiane in Eyes Without a Face (1960)
A French horror film about a horribly disfigured young woman forced to wear a haunting mask over her face. Driven to madness by the guilt of causing the accident that disfigured her daughter, a plastic surgeon becomes obsessed with murdering young women to try and perform a face transplant on his daughter.
The reason the mask is so effective is that it looks like a regular human face, but smooth and featureless, creating an eerie and almost sad figure. It’s a simple design that is made horrifying thanks to Edith Scob’s haunting performance.
As an added bonus, this film is also said to have inspired the idea of a featureless mask for Michael Myers in Halloween, and the mask in Mike Flanagan’s Hush sure looks like Christiane’s.